When we launched the Girls Opportunity Alliance, we found ourselves facing a seemingly impossible design challenge: how do we design a logo that appeals to women of all ages—one that is inclusive and resonates with people all across the world?
We knew it needed to be something that everyone could see themselves in—that represented not only what this initiative is now but what it aspires to be. And since it was a global initiative, we wanted it to have a global feel from the start. So we reached out to 25-year-old Chaaya Prabhat, a freelance graphic designer from Chennai, India, to help.
Impressed by her creativity, point of view, and the poise of her work on the initiative’s logo, we then asked her to design a Community Map for the Obama Foundation Summit in 2018, which became one of the most popular pieces at the event.
Q: So much of the programmatic work of the Obama Foundation is about storytelling—recognizing that everyone’s background and journeys are different, but that our stories shape who we are and our community life. Tell us your story. What led you to become a graphic designer?
I’ve been drawing since I was very young. As a kid, I used to draw a bit of everything—the family members around me, the stories people told me, the monsters that scared me.
My parents were different. They didn’t push me down a traditional career path. A lot of my peers became doctors, lawyers, engineers—careers that easily earn you money. But I used to draw so much at home that my parents started encouraging me to take part in art competitions. Through those, I realized that art is something I could really pursue if I wanted to. That’s when I decided to go to Savannah College in Hong Kong to get my degree.
I’ve been freelancing for a year now and have been taking on all kinds of projects to figure out what I really want to do. I was drawing a lot of book covers and logos before I started working on projects with the Foundation.
But working with the Foundation has been a big deal for me. Whatever I produce proves to me that art can help people—and that means a lot.
Q: Looking through your art, it’s very clear you pay attention to the colors you choose and shapes you draw. Tell us about your illustration style.
The buildings around Chennai, where I grew up, have influenced my artwork a lot. There is so much color in India—I see these colorful places around me and I draw the world that way. I also tend to draw a lot of geometric shapes.
Q: The Girls Opportunity Alliance is an ambitious initiative with a big scope. Designing a logo that catches the attention of people around the world must have been tough. Tell us about your process designing the Girls Opportunity Alliance logo.
My goal with the Girls Opportunity Alliance logo was to create something that easily communicated what the brand is about. But I also wanted to make sure it was memorable and unique.
I knew that women of all ages would be looking at this so it had to be something understood by all people, irrespective of language, ethnicity, and background. I also wanted to make sure the mark celebrated girls but at the same time was not stereotypically feminine.
When I started drawing, it began with a simple image of a globe combined with the letter G. Initially, I added two lines on the globe that would visually depict the globe in motion. However, as I reflected on the image, I started to see the the two pink lines on the globe transforming into an equal sign to denote global gender equality.
Q: The Obama Foundation Summit was the first time we gathered the Foundation’s program participants from around the world together to meet and learn more from each other. For many the Community Map was the first way for attendees to truly see where everyone was from. How did you go about designing it?
I based the Community Map for the 2018 Obama Foundation Summit off of the circles and lines that are featured on all of the Summit branding. Making a map takes a lot of time because there are so many details—like making sure you get all the locations correct! I wanted to make sure the map did not look stoic or machine-made, so I added hills and trees so it looked hand drawn. The cities I featured were some of the cities the Foundation has visited.