Several years ago Grace Church of Alexandria, Virginia, hired me to redesign the church’s identity and website. Alexandria is a beautiful town situated on the banks of the Potomac River right near Washington, D.C. The church — still kind of new, having been established a few years prior — did not have a building of its own and had recently moved its worship space to a school facility.
Grace Church wanted an identity that rooted its place among the City of Alexandria and held its own among the professionalism of a D.C. suburb without blurring the focus on the tenets of Christianity, the heart of what made them a church. What follows is a summary of the brand that came out of the process of being in the city, attending a church gathering, speaking with pastors and members, and shaping that collective experience into a visual guidepost.
The same blue from the old identity was used to form a link from the past to the present. It was a good blue and there was no reason to change it. It continued to distinguish them among other churches and kept a familiar feel for founding members of the church. Black and white were then added to create an accent-driven color palette.
The typeface chosen for the identity was Messina Sans. Messina San’s great strength is that it feels “at home” in many different settings — website, slides, signs, print material — but not bland. It does this by being both neutral, a characteristic shared by nearly all Neo-grotesque typefaces, and captivating at the same time with its subtle personality worked out in the details of its letters and spaces.
There are many things to like about Messina Sans, for one its lowercase “a” is well-constructed which is good because it appears twice in the wordmark; and the uppercase “R” is one of the more unique characters in the typeface with its extended leg (again good because it shows up twice as well). The built-in spacing between the letters is top-notch as well, the typeface never feels too cramped or too loose, just right.
The old wordmark included the word “of”, in the new wordmark it was dropped. First, it complicated the form of the logo. To have it in front of “Alexandria” breaks the cohesive “GCA” column and to have it on the right after Church broke the cascade from top to bottom.
Second, it made the wordmark verbose for a logo, more of a phrase than an identity. It may seem silly to say one two-letter word is cause for an accusation of such, but with a logo each word is immensely valuable. The same message was conveyed with three words as with four. In light of this, the word “of” did not carry its weight like the rest did. The result was a wordmark with three very intentional words.
The symbol, my tortured attempt to represent everything about Grace Church, came from a couple main things:
Water. The flowing shape mimics small waves or ripples on the water. It’s a place reference to Alexandria and is representative of the primacy of the role the Potomac has played in Alexandria’s history. It’s a visual and constant reminder of the commitment to the mission in Alexandria.
The open Bible. An aspect of Grace Church of Alexandria that was impressed upon visiting was the emphasis on strong, deep teaching of the Bible. The mark captured this as a distinguishing feature of the church by presenting the Word of God as open and active.
The Greek letter “chi” was also an influence on the mark. It is the first letter of the Greek word for grace. It is typically written like an “x” but with a cursive-esque backslash: χ. It’s a looser connection than the water and word metaphors, but the curve of the letter chi was a catalyst in coming to the final form.
In terms of construction, the mark has an original skeleton made of circles that were taken from the approximate shape of the “C” in the wordmark which were then mollified to be more humanistic as opposed to extremely geometric. The line widths also match the width of the letters in the wordmark
Years later I found this logo created by Total Design for the Dutch participation in the 1970 World’s Fair. To my recollection I had never seen the World’s Fair logo when I was creating the identity for Grace Church and I had what you would call a special moment thinking that Wim Crouwel was likely some way involved in its creation.
There were two elements to the identity: the symbol and the wordmark. Together they formed the full logo. The full logo was used most of the time, the wordmark on its own hardly ever, and in cases where a square icon was needed, like in most social media settings, the symbol was used on its own.
As a bonus, a small stylized acronym was created as an alternate logo for very small spaces or esoteric scenarios. I’m not sure if it was ever used, but for some reason I really liked this mini logo, I think because its natural lockup that came with hardly any thought involved helped confirm the completeness of the brand identity as a design framework.
“Mixed with a move to a larger worship space, the new brand has instilled new and fresh energy in our church. David captured the mission and feel of our congregation through his visual representation. The brand serves us wonderfully.”Jonathan Matias, Lead Pastor