Five Keys Branding Project a Winner for Client and Students


Graphic design student Celina Oh shares her team’s rebrand campaign project to Five Keys representatives. Photo by Bob Toy.

On a recent afternoon, you could feel the nervous energy bubbling in room 520 at 79 New Montgomery. Fifteen Academy of Art University School of  Graphic Design students were busy making final preparations for the presentations they were about to give to some very special guests. 

Those guests included Steve Good and Sunny Schwartz, executives from Five Keys, an organization that provides prison inmates with the education and other resources they need to change their lives once they re-enter society. The students worked with Five Keys throughout the semester to create a new brand identity for their client in a class taught by School of Graphic Design Associate Director Tom McNulty. Representatives from the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department, which founded Five Keys’ original charter school in 2003, also attended the big event along with Academy President Dr. Elisa Stephens and School of Graphic Design Director Emeritus Mary Scott.

“Today’s presentations mark a new beginning for the Five Keys schools and programs,” said McNulty. “Working side-by-side with Five Keys has been a profound and rewarding experience for the students and the university. From our initial design brief, internal work sessions and field trip visit to the county jail, your brand message became clear: Change is possible.”

Earlier in the semester, each student designed and presented a brand identity concept that conveyed that message to Good and other Five Keys representatives who had the difficult task of selecting two finalists. Once the finalists were selected, the students formed two teams. Celina Oh headed Team 24/7, which also included Che Chiang, Xin Du, Wei Yang Hsu, Minglang Jiang, Patcharin Opattarakul and Gloria Irish Sukamto. Pauline Capote led her teammates on the 8 Bees: Yvonne Anaya, Katarina Gentry, Dan He, Yi Jun Lin, Apirat Norapong, Jiaxin Xie and Dongni Yang.


Two student teams from the School of Graphic Design presented their final brand concepts that they created as part of the Five Keys rebrand project. Photo by Bob Toy.


Two student teams from the School of Graphic Design presented their final brand concepts that they created as part of the Five Keys rebrand project. Photo by Bob Toy.

Each team refined one of the final brand concepts and created a variety of related deliverables. Examples included a new Five Keys website, logo, promotional campaigns, graduation materials and stationary packages. Both teams incorporated powerful black and white photos of Five Keys students and staff taken by Academy M.F.A. photography graduate Santosh Korthiwada in their work. In addition, each team produced a comprehensive manual explaining how to correctly use their brand identity in various applications.

Team members took turns introducing components of their brand project and explaining the thought process behind it. Opattarakul described how Team 24/7 kept the Five Keys students’ dislike of orange—the color of their prison jumpsuits—in mind when designing their logo.

“We chose a beautiful sky blue because it’s the opposite of orange,” she explained. “Also, in prison, Five Keys students only had a tiny window to see outside. This blue symbolizes the wide-open space of the sky and hope for the future that Five Keys provides. We used a sans serif font because it is clean, modern and powerful.”

Capote laid out the issues Team 8 Bees sought to solve with their redesign of the Five Keys website: “The content was out of place and often repetitive, which made navigation confusing. And there were important functions missing, particularly ones that would increase funding and student enrollment.”


Academy of Art University President Dr. Elisa Stephens (center) joined School of Graphic Design Chairman Emeritus Mary Scott and Director Phil Hamlett, Five Keys representatives and Academy staff in congratulating the students who worked on the Five Keys rebrand project. Photo by Bob Toy.

Both 24/7 and 8 Bees wowed the Five Keys staff and other attendees with their presentations, creativity and professional-level work. Once again, Five Keys staff faced a difficult choice when it came time to choose the winning brand identity. In a moment that she compared to the only tie in the history of the Academy Awards, Sheila Von Driska, a brand consultant for Five Keys, informed the teams that they’d both won. Five Keys was so impressed with all of their work that they plan to use elements from both brand identity designs.

“You guys really got the essence of who we are and what we’re re trying to do said Good, Five Keys Charter School executive director. “Your messaging was so on point, it’s as if you’ve been doing this your entire lives.”

Sunny Schwartz, Five Keys co-founder, echoed Good’s sentiments. “The work the students produced is beyond stunning,” she said. “It was profoundly impressive how they got the compelling issues that face incarcerated people, and enveloped the principles of what we do, in such a short amount of time. From the students to President Stephens, the directors and other staff, everyone at the Academy jumped in feet first to help us.” 

Dr. Stephens praised Five Keys for their honorable mission and congratulated both teams. She credited their accomplishments, in part, to the Academy’s commitment to encouraging diversity in the look of each student’s portfolio. 

“We have two teams and we have two very different presentations,” she said, addressing the students. “That’s what makes the school strong and that’s what makes you strong.”