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A name and identity with an entrepreneurial spirit


Just over 100 days after its grand opening, 1871 has found firm footing as the center of Chicago’s digital startup community, serving up space, resources, education and inspiration. VSA Partners is proud to have helped shape the vision of 1871 through the development of its brand identity, positioning and name.

The project began last fall, when a group of startup community leaders approached VSA to help create an identity concept for a new technology center. The center’s goal was to become a community for the city’s wealth of digital entrepreneurs—not only providing these individuals and small companies with a place to work, but the opportunity to come together to help each other succeed and help Chicago emerge as a major tech hub.

VSA kicked off the work by hosting a brand summit, inviting some of the city’s top entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, educators and government officials to convene at our offices to help define the purpose of the center. Out of the summit came the idea of Chicago as a city of builders, which became the inspiration for the name we developed—1871. Yes, that’s the year of the Chicago Fire. But the real story isn’t the fire but what happened after, when Chicago emerged as the model of a modern city. The fire had become a magnificent catalyst, initiating the most positive transformation in Chicago history. Similarly, this new center would also serve as a catalyst in helping to build a new Chicago. The other key aspects of the name were that it was unique (a number), it was Chicago-centric and it would always be more than just a name—it was a story.

The tale of 1871 continued with the creation of the identity, which was a true collaboration with former VSA designer Luke Galambos, and Gensler, the architects of 1871. With VSA leading the development of the brand identity, the mark became a true reflection of the space: organic, ever changing. The stencil design is intended to capture not only the blueprint of the city (you can see the Loop in the 8 and the diagonals and horizontals of Chicago’s streets in the other numbers), but the ever-changing nature of the space. After all, small companies come here, incubate their ideas and, when they get big enough, move on. Likewise, 1871’s brand identity can evolve as the companies occupying it evolve. And because the logo is a stencil, companies can merge their own identity with 1871’s, taking the stencil and creating a personal artistic expression with it. VSA also developed the brand positioning and other brand elements for 1871, as well as its tagline, “Where digital startups get their start.”

Since 1871 opened its doors in May, the center has been featured in countless national and international news articles and blogs and has hundreds of applications from entrepreneurs looking to join the community. Perhaps more importantly, 1871 has also become a true landmark for Chicago—a destination for dignitaries like British prime minister David Cameron, a muse for Chicago’s creative types (including a local poet who penned an ode to its very name) and a dedicated space for tomorrow’s innovators to come together to share ideas, motivation and insight.

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