Cedar River Montessori
A logo becomes a learning experience
For four decades, Cedar River Montessori has focused on fostering lifelong learning skills in students—with an emphasis on environmental stewardship and social responsibility. The independent K-8 school is very highly regarded and has a track record of developing engaged, global thinkers.
However, when Cedar River contacted Chalkbox, its branding was outdated: The visuals did not reflect the school’s values, its forward-thinking approach, or the exceptional education it provides. The brand needed to match where the school was at the moment, but also speak to where it was headed in the future. Another key concern was addressing the evolving sensibilities of both parents and students.
Discovery and research
We worked closely with Cedar River Montessori staff to learn about its audience, business goals, and vision for growth, rolling all of the detail into a creative brief to guide the project. Then we performed extensive research into the designs of local and national competitors, which uncovered several common themes (and not necessarily positive ones):
- Reliance on primary colors
- Poorly rendered cartoons
- Plenty of cliché elements, particularly locally—pine trees, images of the Space Needle, etc.
When we began sketching, we knew we wanted to avoid these easy choices. Primary colors would feel too basic, a cartoonish design potentially could undermine the image of the school as a place of thoughtful learning, and rote imagery such as trees would fail to differentiate Cedar River from its competitors.
Our designs took Cedar River’s long history into consideration, as well as the school’s expansive and beautiful 12-acre campus. We also considered the expertise and personalities of the staff along with the notion of a tailored Montessori experience.
This was one of the first projects in which Chalkbox invited clients deep into our process—and it was the first time we showed all of our sketches, from the good to the bad to the ugly. (“The ugly” is actually an important part of the design process, because it’s important for designers to feel free to explore any idea that comes to mind. Even if it is completely wrong for the project, a bad idea can lead to a great one.)
We walked through everything with the school’s leadership, discussing what worked, what didn’t, and what we recommended. This helped ensure Cedar River felt a sense of ownership, and made everyone feel confident about the direction. It wasn’t always comfortable, but it was an eye-opening moment for us, one that has made our process for subsequent projects more inclusive and collaborative.
A brand that reflects both
the business and its owners?
The final brand package features an image of the night sky with a constellation unique to Cedar River Montessori, based on foundational teaching materials and methods. Framed within an archway, this image blends into a shape at the bottom that can be interpreted as a winding pathway or a river. The color palette is comfortable and positive, balancing muted deep blues with pensive sea greens and a splash of orange for a bit of energy.
Together, the elements create a sense of inspiration and curiosity—incorporating hints of a “cosmic” education that presents limitless opportunity, the natural environment of the school itself, and an independent approach to learning. The refined appearance also subtly reinforces to parents that Cedar River is a place where their children can safely learn and grow.
We included a flexible system of logos and components that allow the school to apply its identity across a variety of materials and online applications.