Case Study: IAVA Visual Identity: A New Way to Celebrate Our Troops

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA)
Project Title
IAVA Visual Identity: A New Way to Celebrate Our Troops
May 2010–January 2014

Ed. note: This case study is a selection from the 2014 “Justified” competition, for which an esteemed jury identified 19 submissions that demonstrate the value of design in a clear, compelling and accessible way. To learn more about the jury’s perspective on this selection, see the juror comments below.

IAVA (Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America) is the country’s first and largest nonprofit organization for veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Its mission is to improve the lives of our newest generation of veterans, providing support in health, education and employment. IAVA enlisted Landor to create a stronger, more appropriate identity – one that captured the spirit and youth of its tribe. Ours was a dual assignment: to design IAVA’s overall identity and identities for its various initiatives and “squads.”

Capturing the uniqueness of the organization and the dynamism of its members meant celebrating IAVA’s grassroots nature and diverse member base. Our design also needed to have credibility in every situation, from community activism to political advocacy.

Made up of the organization’s initials, the word mark is reminiscent of the military ribbon bars awarded to service members. But the true genius is in its flexibility – inviting members to personalize the logo to suit their needs.

We leveraged this bold attitude for Pathfinder, IAVA’s career resource. The “A” echoes the IAVA logo while simultaneously suggesting upward mobility.

IAVA: The making of the new identity (credits: Steve Haslip and David Ricart)

Project brief

The project was designed to aid in the growth of IAVA’s membership and the development of corporate partnerships and influence on Capitol Hill. Key goals were to capture the uniqueness of the organization and the dynamism of its members while building credibility among the wider veteran community, business partners and elected officials. As the largest non-partisan group representing veterans who have served in Iraq and/or Afghanistan, the program would have a significant impact on the wellbeing of more than two million American families.


While IAVA does not have direct competitors, many aspects of its efforts do overlap with other special interest groups and resource providers. Standing out as the main representative of a large community in political and editorial environments is a constant challenge.


Development budget: Pro bono
This project is: A retainer relationship
Production/execution budget: $30,000–$100,000
Source of funding: Nonprofit/NGO/trust fund


A new generation of veterans needed an organization that understood what it’s like to be a veteran in today’s society. We understood that we needed to imbue their identity with an attitude that is bold and edgy, but still keep intact the pride and service of these men and women in uniform. With strong direction from and collaboration with IAVA’s founder and CEO Paul Rieckhoff, Landor read the pulse of this active organization and understood their ambitions. This was a group of individuals who operated efficiently, always in action, always moving forward. After the project first initiated in 2010, the initial identity was launched during IAVA’s annual gala in 2011 to a tremendously positive response.


The most important formative stage research was speaking to veterans one-on-one. We learned about the practical and emotional issues they faced upon returning home from service. Hearing firsthand their struggles to build lives as skilled and valuable members of their respective civilian communities revealed the breadth and depth of the challenges they face.

Those interviews were the catalyst for the final approach. It was clear that no two veterans faced the exact same issues. It was also apparent that IAVA was filling a strong need for the veterans to belong to a group of peers. The conclusion was that the solution would need to be both highly adaptable and be able to become the property of each individual veteran, teams of veterans and the entire community.

Design solution

Made up of the organization’s initials, the word mark is reminiscent of the military ribbon bars awarded to service members. But the true genius is in its flexibility—inviting members to personalize the logo to suit their needs. The adaptable nature of the logo allows IAVA to apply it to the different situations required of them and for the veterans to take ownership of the identity and build their own versions. Our client immediately embraced the concept and the final result has remained true to what we initially presented. Its execution has however continued to evolve over time, as intended.


Since IAVA is a not-for-profit grass roots organization that does everything from welcoming troops home with a beer and a ball game to meeting with the President at the White House, the logo needed to be flexible enough to adapt from the rough and ready to the highly polished. That challenge was seized as the opportunity to make a logo that embraces inconsistency and unlocks the community’s creativity.


The goal was to increase visibility and credibility and hopefully bolster membership. The graphic logo is highly visible making the community’s presence much more marked, especially in parades where thousand of veterans literally wear the brand. That visibility and exposure has contributed greatly to the increase in membership. Membership had been growing steadily between IAVA’s founding in 2004 and the identity/branding/programming launch in 2011, but in only two years following the launch, IAVA already saw a 100% increase in membership.

Additional information

Our work on IAVA has been published in the August 2011 issue of Creative Review and the identity has been praised as “a mark that hits the mark with its young members. IAVA has moved IAVA on from a dutiful but highly forgettable military-style badge to a wordmark whose heavily simplified forms and beefy, stenciled strokes imprint themselves like tank tracks in sand. It is urban, contemporary and fit for the IAVA’s campaigning purpose.”

The identity has also been reviewed on the popular design blog, Brand New. Receiving a lot of positive responses form a highly critical design community.

However, the ultimate in positive feedback has come from the many IAVA members, which includes those who have tattooed versions of the logo permanently on their bodies.

IAVA: Indelible, a personal search for identity (Paper Fortress Films)

Comments from the Jury

“This identity captures the spirit and importance of this organization without pandering to tired and predictable graphic conventions often associated with this subject matter. The program is powerful, consistent and inspiring.” —Dana Arnett

“What an example of phenomenal identity design. The new mark is simple, bold and meaningful to the veterans who wear it. Identity should be embraced and owned by the group it represents and this design delivered this in spades. To see the veterans get this mark tattooed on their arms was moving and a clear indicator that this project was a success.” —Kate Aronowitz

“People who serve their country in the military deserve an organization they can stand behind. The IAVA logo is a huge step toward a visual understanding of our veterans’ needs in contemporary context. I was especially excited about how veterans can use the logo as tattoos or stencils.” —Cameron Campbell

“You know you've landed on a strong identity when it's easily tattoo-able.” —Joe Gebbia

“What it means to be a veteran is ever changing. Iraq and Afghanistan veterans needed a flag to fly that looked nothing like the veteran symbols of the past, but played off the same military language. The design team gave them just that, literally, as the project was pro bono.” —Jennifer Kinon

“This is a surprisingly contemporary, abstract and progressive logo in a sector that’s known for the opposite. Besides being attractive and on-message, it represents a significant achievement by pivoting away from literalism and patriotism while still expressing a strength of spirit and integrity of character.” —Christopher Simmons