Designing the Brand

Only at Curious Cardinals would a designer get the feedback: “can you make the beak more smiley?” Comments like these were commonplace for Eva Hoffman, the designer who developed our brand concept. Every day at a startup is a learning experience, and everything we create, from the syllabus template to our email signature “Stay Curious”, has a backstory. We began the logo design process in June. In August, we settled on the graphic. But that version alone took nearly a week to complete!

But beyond the “when,” you’re probably wondering about the “how.” So I spoke to Eva about her design process!

Eva’s work culminated in a Curious Cardinals brand book that contains a range of guidelines from our social media strategy to the exact HEX codes for the brand colors! One of her first projects was designing the logo. The biggest challenge she faced was balancing a polished look for parents and a fun, inviting feel for students!

Eva:“We tried putting glasses on. We tried making it smiley. We tried making it look more cartoony. We went through all those iterations trying to balance that it needed to be serious for the parents but fun and inviting for the kids. We ended up with that little bird holding 'Curious Cardinals', which was a last minute addition that made it more fun. We played around with the beak a lot to try to get it to look like it was smiling. We played around with a lot of different styles for the wings and the body. We landed on this one which we were pretty happy with. But it wasn’t quite there. The only thing left was the facial expression of the bird. The eye used to be a circle, but we changed it to a little half moon to try to get it to look more smiley!”

As soon as Eva finished a draft for the logo, she would send it to Audrey and Alec who would then pass it on to the Core Cardinals for comment. Here are a few of Eva's designs we considered:



To turn abstract concepts like “passionate” or “curious” into concrete images, Eva asked the co-founders to pick keywords that reflected the Curious Cardinals mission.

Eva:“Audrey and Alec picked ‘curious,' ‘fun/cheerful,’ ‘passionate/energetic, ’enriching,’ ‘educational,’  ‘inspirational/hopeful,’ ‘challenging,’ ‘empowering,’ ‘fresh/youthful’. That already gave me a pretty good idea of where they wanted to go."

As a designer, Eva’s goal isn’t only to implement her clients' initial vision, but also to challenge their initial conception of the brand personality. Her method is to come up with antonyms for the key words her clients choose.

Eva: "Audrey and Alec chose the word 'challenging'. Whenever I get a list of words, I try to come up with, not opposites, but kind of opposites, because I like to make sliders. It’s not challenging versus easy, so on the other side of the slider I put 'accessible'. 'Challenging' can be seen as a positive for kids who have a lot of help with school. But for a lot of kids, 'challenging' is scary. I wanted to prompt the team to think about how labeling something as ‘challenging’ might not be as inclusive. It has to be challenging, but it also has to be accessible."

Eva then put the key words and opposites together on sliders to create a Curious Cardinals brand personality spectrum:

At every step of the design process, Eva considered how she could create inclusive branding:

Eva: When we were making the brand, the bright colors were not super gendered colors–it’s not all blues or all pinks or all purples, which I don’t think should be gendered but that’s a whole other issue. The primary colors are very inclusive, and the shapes are just shapes. When Audrey asked me to draw a woman for her Women's Revisionist History class, we discussed whether it should be someone famous or not famous. I wanted the face to be colorful and not use a skin tone. I don’t know if that’s the best way to go about it. I’m still learning a lot on that front. But it is something that I consider, especially when drawing people.

You can find Eva's ultimate graphic for Audrey's Women’s Revisionist History workshop on our Instagram @curiouscardinals:



It takes courage to pursue a creative major like Eva did when she chose Product Design at Stanford:

Eva: “I was really lucky in having a family that would have supported me regardless, although I don’t think they would have encouraged me to do Art. I’m probably going to end up with a similar job regardless of whether I had done Art. On the other hand, I did have a lot of friends who needed to pay off their loans as soon as they could and chose a high paying major like Computer Science. Sometimes that is what you have to do. But if you do feel like you have the choice, I would say you are probably going to end up doing what you want, what you are good at, and what you love whether it’s right after graduation or forty years after graduation. Delaying the inevitable probably isn’t going to get you very far.

You are probably going to end up doing what you want, what you are good at, and what you love whether it’s right after graduation or forty years after graduation. Delaying the inevitable probably isn’t going to get you very far.

Eva has taken a full major’s worth of Product Design classes. So as we like to do at Curious Cardinals, I asked how she might rethink the education she got. Here’s what she said:

Eva: It was awesome, but I definitely have a couple things I would change. The Product Design core is based on the design thinking process, which is empathy, need-finding, prototype, iterate, test, and finish. A lot of the classes were more based on interviewing people and coming up with an idea but not actually implementing it. I loved doing the interviews. I would definitely keep that. But I love, love, loved all of the art classes I took, because that was sort of the only opportunity I got to actually design stuff! 

Product Design is in the Engineering Department at Stanford, so I know a ton of mechanical engineering stuff that I’m never going to use. I’ve always felt there should be a Product Design major in the School of Engineering, and one outside. The one outside would teach you design; graphic design, UI / UX design, branding, photo styling and videography. You could take more art classes like I did. 

Like many of us in the Curious Community, Eva had to teach herself foundational skills to explore her passion. The summer before Eva became the head designer for her high school newspaper, she taught herself how to use the Adobe Suite. Since then, she’s been learning about UI / UX, graphic design, videography and more independently and through internships and by entering design competitions!

Like many of us in the Curious Community, Eva had to teach herself foundational skills to explore her passion.

But autodidacts need mentors, too, which is why Eva is shifting from freelance work to seeking a job with a creative agency: 

Eva: "I’ve mostly learned what I can on my own, and I need creative mentors and guidance!”

Since I know our Curious Community is full of burgeoning designers, I asked Eva what advice she has for all of you!

Eva: First piece of advice is start with what you love and start with what you’re good at. If you love illustration, start with that, and then you can make it into a poster someday. Or if you love filming, get a cheap used camera, start filming stuff, and try to stitch it together using iMovie. I sort of started everything with photography, and it developed from there. 

Don’t get daunted by the tools. There are so many tutorials. You start with making a box. Then you put text on the box. Then you can do all these crazy things to the box! One summer I downloaded the Adobe Cloud, which I realized not every kid can do, but now there are free tools like Figma.

From our teachers to our designers, the Curious Cardinals team is brimming with passionate mentors. Outlining Eva's design journey gives you all a taste for how our team collaborates to share our mission with the world, visually. If you want to learn more about Eva's design process check out her website!

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Cece King is the Editor of The Lightbulb. Have a question we can investigate? Curious about a speaker, class, or teacher? Email The Lightbulb any story tips at

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