Responding to our New Normal

We're in this together. We will persist.We’re in this together. And together we will learn, grow… and persist.

We are all facing a new normal. Amidst the chaos of worrying about the safety of our loved ones, the future of the world and learning what it really means to “shelter-in-place,” business is continuing. It must continue. But it will be different. Because with crisis, comes change and opportunities for invention and creativity.

Our reason for being at Willoughby — to use the power of design-thinking to make our world better — has never been more relevant.

Like so many others, we are officing from home, homeschooling our kids and humming silly tunes while washing our hands. We are simultaneously working with clients to help navigate this new territory. Across every brand category, business leaders are all asking similar questions:

  • How can we be of service?
  • How can we pivot our business to remain solvent and take care of our team?

And while no one has all the answers, some of the most inspiring solutions have come from brands that have stayed true to a strong core vision and clear reason for being. It’s that visionary strength that leads to a distillery converting to produce hand sanitizer and a curbside pick up website launching overnight.

As you are thinking through how to be a servant brand in a time that needs all hands on deck and how to keep doing business in a mindful and compassionate way, going back to your core is a good place to start.

Core Values

When we guide clients through developing a set of core values, we define 4-6 tenants that are so core to their culture that no matter what happens in the world around them, they will never change. If there was ever a time to test the solidarity of your core values, it’s now. They should be at the center of every decision you make.

Core Purpose, Reason for Being or Why

Revisit why you get up every day to do what you do. We think of this as the star you chase every day and, when you reach it, you know you’ve achieved something great. Figure out how you can continue pursuing your why in this new climate.

Positioning or Mission

Who are your audiences and how have their needs changed? If you have the means, this might be your time to give back. If your income stream is being affected, this might be your time to look for new partnerships, a new product solution or a different service offering. Now is a time to test those new ideas, move quickly and ask for feedback as you go.


As jarring as the current global situation is, it is important to remember that we are all in this together. Society as we have known it will come out of this changed. If we come together to support our communities with imagination and hardwork, perhaps we can emerge from this unprecedented moment changed for the better.

Stay safe, stay positive and know the hive is still buzzing from the shelter of our individual places should you need anything.

Meet the Bee.

Willoughby Design - Brand Design in Kansas City

We love bees at Willoughby. They’re industrious, collaborative and dedicated to making the world a better place. Bee references, inspired by our name, have become a natural part of our world — from our newsletter, the Beeswax, to @willobuzz on Twitter.

We fondly refer to our founder as the Queen Bee (if you’ve ever met her, you would agree) and ourselves as the Willobees. And while the Willoughby Design Barn remains our restorative retreat and an important part of our identity, the honey is made in our studios, the KC and SF Hives. It might all be a little too adorable if it hadn’t happened over many years.

With all that said, recently it occurred to us design geniuses that there was all this bee language but no actual BEE. So, heading into our 40th year of business, we decided the time was right to evolve our brand into a better representation of our new ownership and the team we are today.

Meet the Bee - Willoughby Design - Brand Design in Kansas CityWe’re proud to announce what we call in the biz, our brand evolution. Our logo is a little tighter and our design elements and type a little bolder. We reenergized our colors and finally, we found our inner bee.

Welcome to the hive.

FeaturedWilloughby Design Announces New Ownership & Client Additions

Megan Stephens - Willoughby Press Release
Zack Shubkagel - Willoughby Press Release
Nicole Satterwhite - Willoughby Press Release

Leading Brand Design Firm Positioned for the Future

KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI — Willoughby Design, Inc., a nationally-acclaimed brand strategy and design firm based in Kansas City, MO, and San Francisco, CA, announced today that Megan Stephens, Zack Shubkagel and Nicole Satterwhite have purchased the company and assumed key leadership roles.

Welcome #801, we’re so glad you’re here!

A behind the scenes glimpse of what went into the creation of the KC Streetcar brand.

Kansas City’s first modern streetcar made its debut today. It will be traveling up and down the tracks for a few months to get acquainted with our fine city before the first passengers board in the spring. We’re jumping up and down because this is the moment we’ve been waiting (and working) for since we began down the streetcar branding track two years ago.

In January of 2014, Willoughby was chosen by the Kansas City Streetcar Authority to create the brand identity system for the streetcar. Simultaneously, we engaged with the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority to develop a new regional brand. Because we knew the streetcar would be a pivotal addition to the regional system, it was important to make sure that it integrated with the day-to-day transportation environment that was also going through a unification.

So we traveled down parallel paths to create two brands that would need to stand alone through different timelines, stakeholders and approval processes but, at the end of the day, would need to stand together with a strong and united message.

We began by examining  best practices in transportation design around the world, researching successes and failures alike, to discover what could work (and not work) for Kansas City. We consulted with many of our city’s longtime advocates who have been working to bring a streetcar to KC for decades. Not surprisingly, we all agreed that the most successfully branded systems were intuitive, flexible, memorable and simple.

Why is it white?

We found inspiration in some of Kansas City’s newest jewels: the stunning and modern Bloch building at the Nelson-Atkins Museum and the majestic Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. Both are timeless, sophisticated, progressive and confident.

Other consumer products that exude this feeling use a similar white and silver color palette, such as American Express Platinum and the iPhone.

With this in mind, we designed the exterior finish pattern to be sleek like a luxury train. The pearl, silver and graphite color palette completes the look, creating a modern canvas for the energy and creativity that will surround it.

The interior color palette, cobalt blue and silver, gives a nod to the Metro blue that is familiar to current riders and works to help unite the streetcar with the regional system.

The Icon

Simple iconography appears in almost every transportation system worldwide. It’s a proven universal wayfinding tool for identifying transportation. So we started with the universal icon for rail transit and then modified it to feel more like our streetcar. It even has a friendly smile.

The Name and Identity

KC Streetcar was the name that had been in use since the concept was introduced to the community. We could have called it the Super Sonic Rocket Rail or the KC Electric Jazz. But is a “cool” name worth the confusion it might cause for riders trying to navigate the system? Would it really catch on or would people just keep calling it the streetcar?  We also didn’t want to feed into the notion that the streetcar was a novelty or the tram at an amusement park. Instead, it is a big step towards a sea change in public transportation in Kansas City.

After much consideration of many other naming possibilities, we determined that the name KC Streetcar wasn’t broken. It did all of the things that it needed to do in a classic, intuitive and simple way.

The Regional Name and Identity

The need to maintain a simple name for the streetcar became even more obvious when considering its relationship with the Regional Brand. We tried hundreds of regional names from acronyms like GKCT (Greater Kansas City Transit) or HRT (Heartland Transit) to elevating the Metro name or the Connex name. But nothing felt very memorable.

RideKC was put into play as a possibility very early in the process and it consistently rose to the top in conversations. We are one of only a few US cities that is immediately identifiable by two letters: LA, DC, KC. So why not embrace it? It extends the KC nomenclature that has been growing as a regional identifier since fans started cheering on the KC Royals, KC Chiefs and more recently Sporting KC.

The KC name is also used for regional organizations like the KCADC, Visit KC and KC Chamber. It is an action phrase that reflects exactly what the rider is looking for: catching a ride around the greater Kansas City area.

The proposed regional brand and the streetcar brand pair succinctly together for one unified rider message: RideKC Streetcar.

This system also extends to other modes of transit.

The Identity System

Once we had the name and primary mark finalized and the fleet design complete, it was time to think about how the brand identity system would extend to create excitement and engage the community.

We moved on to the design of the streetcar stops and the wayfinding signage.

We also brought out the personality in our universally-inspired icon.

The simplicity of the streetcar icon means it can become a favicon adaptable to any situation or event. The heart was added to draw on the growing culture of KC love and our heartland heritage. In honor of the KC Royals 2015 World Series victory, she was even crowned.

The safety campaign came next to help Kansas Citians get ready to share the road with the streetcar.

And, most recently, because every test run needs test passengers, we created some window people to tell future riders why they can’t ride yet and what is being tested.

We are so proud to have been able to help usher in this new era of public transportation to our city. Kansas City is being noticed all around the world for our quality of life, our arts and culture and now for our vision. We would like to thank the thousands of people who have worked so hard to make this vision a reality and the streetcar leaders who put their trust in us to bring the brand to life.

Ride on, Kansas City.

Celebrating 100 Years of Design


In 1914, Henry Ford introduced the assembly line, Charlie Chaplin gave the world a Little Tramp, Babe Ruth made his pitching debut and a group of designers in NYC led by Charles DeKay formed the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA).

A century later, with 67 chapters and more than 23,000 members, AIGA is the largest and longest enduring professional organization for design.