Property of the People Releases New Branding and Website Effort Led by Balestra
When Property of the People (PoTP) came to Balestra Media, they were already getting tremendous media coverage for exposing and cataloging Donald Trump’s violations of the US Constitution's emoluments clause for a small, remarkably scrappy shop of FOIA litigants and experts. But, with only a simple webpage that could no longer accommodate their growing body of work, the organization was often misidentified and missed opportunities to share their resources with the public.
Given their current and future needs, including ongoing litigation and almost weekly court-ordered government agency document productions, Balestra Media jumped in to provide PoTP with a distinct brand identity, content management and publishing solutions for the growing trove of documents, and a new website where visitors can search, filter, and download information obtained through PoTP’s FOIA litigation.
With project management from Courtney Holsworth; creative direction and media strategy from Andy Stepanian; brand identity from Anthony Carlucci; and development from our partners at Creating Digital; Balestra Media oversaw the launch of PropertyOfThePeople.org in July 2018. Since its launch, the site provided source documentation for hundreds of top-tier media reports.
When we began the branding process with Property of the People, we asked them to supply us points of inspiration for the aesthetic they hoped would envelop the brand. PoTP came back with three leads; first, they wanted to straddle the line between punk and academia; second, they wanted to pay homage to the seminal transparency magazine CounterSpy which was in print from 1973-1984; and third, they wanted their identity to communicate their FOIA and transparency work directly.
After several weeks of research and dozens of iterations, Balestra Media helped PoTP find their brand mark, a brutalist sun icon with rays illuminating a dog-eared page. Building off of the brand mark, the typographic elements in the identity remained thoughtful to both PoTP’s work and to the look of the documents they obtained from government agencies.
To capture the spirit of CounterSpy, Balestra set the PoTP word mark in Franklin Gothic, a ubiquitous 1970s typeface available at printers and sign shops everywhere during that period. Running copy and captions for PoTP documentation and web products were also set with a nod to the 1970’s CounterSpy aesthetic with body copy set in ITC Clearface and website caption copy using Letter Gothic - a typeface originally designed for the IBM Selectric, one of the first electric typewriters heavily used by US government agencies.
Website & Publishing Platform
Helping PoTP develop a publishing platform presented a unique challenge. The group had already received tens of thousands of pages of government agency documents, tens of thousands more were expected to be produced in the years ahead, and it was in the public interest to develop a user-friendly archive that could easily be searched, shared and downloaded by visitors.
The solution that we created allows the group to scale up the volume of government files accessible to the public as required while simultaneously reducing the need for constant development updates. Our team harnessed the public API of a popular document hosting service and developed a front-end user experience on the PoTP website that allowed users to search by tag, the interior contents of the materials themselves via OCR, or descriptive copy - in cases where documents are hand-written and unreadable by machine.
The user experience of the PropertyOfThePeople.org website was built around PoTP’s document archive, with elegant front page features, video call outs, and blog content pointing back at highlighted sections within the archive. Each step of the way the user experiences the most of what HTML5 in 2018 can offer, while still carrying the 1970’s aesthetic by way of the PoTP typography, photocopied paper textures, hand clipped FOIA redaction marks, unique monochromatic multiply layers and a mimeograph ink blue used throughout their blog.
When PoTP was ready to launch their new website and brand identity, Balestra’s Andy Stepanian worked with them to create a moment of maximum exposure in the media by partnering with ProPublica to show Trump’s inappropriate spending of taxpayer dollars at his Doonbeg and Turnberry golf courses. The resulting “Paying the President” feature highlighted violations of the Domestic Emoluments Clause on NPR, WNYC’s Trump Inc., and media outlets in the UK and Ireland.
Since launch in July of 2018, PoTP has been mentioned over 890 times across unique stories in top-tier media, the coverage keeps coming, and no one is calling them by the wrong name anymore.