After helping so many others launch their projects, from Opening Ceremony, Belstaff, Little Burgundy & Call It Spring, it was only a matter of time before Gerard Cleal would dive into his own venture. As the Creative Director for norda, Gerard would finally face the opportunity to bring his decades of experience into building the brand identity for trail running’s newest, most advanced and most inclusive footwear brand.
From the look and feel to the voice and mission, Gerard has helped develop a brand identity for norda that approaches the sport and all of its athletes differently than any of its competitors, which has positioned norda as a major player within months of the launch. We were fortunate enough to speak with Gerard about how he approached the creative direction for norda, how they treat runners differently than any other brand, tips for new brand builders and of course, what it’s like to be the non-runner at a company of runners.
Hey Gerard! Thanks for making the time today to chat. Can you walk us through the process of developing the norda brand identity? What were some of the key things to focus on to develop a brand identity for norda that would stand out from its competitors?
Hey guys! Excited to chat.
So, here it is. Traditionally, running brands have been built around performance and speed only. There’s sometimes an exclusionary factor to this in which the brands group you into the elite runners bucket or the beginner bucket. If you’re elite, you get the tech. If you’re not, then they give you a lifestyle “runner” without any of the tech or best features.
We wanted to get away from that. While we are built on highly technical, next generation materials - and we’re very proud of this - we celebrate every runner equally, whether you’ve just hit your first 5k or you’re an ultra runner. For norda, it’s less about how fast you can run and more about what your running journey looks like, regardless of how far. This led to the question we like to ask; “What do you run for?”
We built our customer triad to help us ensure that we were meeting the needs of all runners through our brand identity. There are the elite performance runners, the intermediate runners and the beginner runners or those just hanging out in the lifestyle space (me). norda has to be for all three of these groups but also be able to support people moving up or down the triad.
Authenticity was also huge in everything that we built. This was the first opportunity we had to really decide how we wanted to wear our heart on our sleeves. We wanted to be supportive and empower everyone with great products. Our focus is on buying better, not more and about making people feel like they were buying into something that would make them feel something special. It’s not just about putting a flashy logo on the shoe. It’s much more than that and we don’t want our customers to just be walking billboards for norda.
Can you talk about the visual identity of the brand? How did you land on the logo, fonts, etc?
Speed and performance have generally been synonymous with italics in branding as it denotes movement . We wanted to take a slightly different approach.
I am a huge fan of Scandinavian and Nordic design. They have a tendency to sit back more and focus on material and connection to their landscape , culture and history. It’s never overt and obvious. I love this approach and is a cornerstone to why I think branding should always get out of the way.
This is what we wanted for norda. The word “still” has really sat with me throughout my design career. We didn’t need the brand to evoke speed or movement. The materials and Louis’s design of the shoe would tell that story and we didn’t need anything to distract from that; the result: a beautiful sense of stillness living throughout.
With regards to the typeface, we wanted to explore a more mid-century look, inspired from the original identities of brands we love. That said, Helvetica Now from Monotype which is a new, re-drawn take on Helvetica became our default. Helvetica has been around for ages and is used by a ton of brands like The North Face and even Off-White. In effort to promote a ‘quieter’ presence we went all lowercase and kept it all super simple. Score one for Dieter Rams!
For the logo, we wanted to go old school. We’re all huge fans of heritage style sportswear brands like Rapha and Tracksmith. We landed on the shield that is inspired by our own Canadian Shield and that is shifted like a tectonic plate. There’s a strength to a shield, even a disrupted one, that just feels right - it’s really a love letter to this country. -.
The norda site was a pivotal moment for the brand and its storytelling. What was it like working with an agency like LG2 to develop the digital experience for norda?
LG2 is an incredible agency. They are very client oriented and having the connection between Nick (norda) and Stuart (LG2) helped kick things off really well. We had a bunch of ideas before working with them which I know can make things tricky for agencies sometimes but they weren’t afraid to push back and did so very respectfully which made for a great working relationship.
They really cared about the outcome of the project and that led to effective push and pull from both ends. They were committed to creating the absolute best site that they could and we were all very happy with the result.
What are 5 things that are important to keep in mind when formulating a brand identity?
Firstly, it’s important to define brand and brand identity because they are very different concepts. The brand (logo, wordmark, colours) is really a small piece. The brand identity is the mammoth. That’s the customer, the tone of voice, the identity, the feeling that it gives to customers. That stuff is like the iceberg below the water that isn’t seen but is massively important.
Be disciplined. Think about how you connect all of the dots. It’s ok to have different modules within the brand but be disciplined on how they all relate back to each other.
Strip away as much as you can and get rid of what isn’t important. I always say to be intentional about what you’re doing and this definitely goes for branding as well. Like I said earlier, branding should always get out of the way. Having more doesn’t make it better.
Be curious. Inspiration is going to be everywhere so don’t be afraid to be inspired by what you see and what you make of it. There’s nothing that you’ll ever see that is going to be original. That’s ok. You’ll put your own stamp on what you make to make it your own. That’s what is important.
Love those tips! Lastly, we have to ask, what is it like being the “non-runner” on a team of running enthusiasts?
I love it. I think you need an outsider on the team to advocate for that newer or non-runner if you’re going to be for everyone. We have this joke with our “What do you run for?” slogan. I run for coffee [laughs].
For more on the norda™ team, check out our Introduction to norda™ and interview with the brand's Head of Design, Louis-Martin Tremblay. Make sure to keep it locked to Pier Five for more interviews and stories with the coolest entrepreneurs, designers, artists, activists and more.