Micro-adventures with major impact: Crafting a visual story for the Seattle Southside region

Explore Seattle Southside’s new visual identity is a testament to the power that a creative design can have in shaping perceptions of your place. Bringing together three distinct cities under one brand narrative, this new strategy celebrates micro-adventures and the quirkiness you can find under the surface of the most unexpected of places. To understand what the secret was to Seattle Southside’s success, we sat down with CEO Mark Everton to find out how they breathed new life into the region’s tourism marketing.

Congratulations on winning the Best Use of Design for your new identity! What prompted you to develop a joint brand for SeaTac, Tukwila, and Des Moines? 


Since its inception in 2002, Explore Seattle Southside (formerly Seattle Southside Regional Tourism Authority) has evolved significantly. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the brand was performing adequately, but there was a growing need for a refresh to better align with our mission. COVID, travel disruptions, and the change in traveller expectations that we all experienced placed pressure on many organizations to re-imagine what travellers to their destinations were seeking. Our goal was to re-image what opportunities the Seattle Southside region can provide to travellers. Our region surrounds the 9th busiest airport in the US, and the 52 million passengers traversing our region annually allowed us to focus on not ‘how to attract travellers’ but instead how do we distract them to have them stay in our region a bit longer.


We talk about finding your point of differentiation when talking about your place, but as a regional brand, you also needed to identify what brings the three cities together. How did you land on “Curiously Wonderful” as your brand platform?


The irony of the ‘Seattle Southside Region’ is that according to Google, it does not actually exist and is not identified on maps. An additional challenge we face is with the names of three cities that make up the region, SeaTac, Tukwila, and Des Moines. SeaTac shares its name with the Sea-Tac Airport and many people do not realize that there is a city of the same name. Tukwila is well known to residents in the Seattle area as it hosts the largest shopping centre in the Pacific Northwest but is not widely known outside of the Seattle area. Des Moines shares its name with the state capital of Iowa.

An added challenge we face is that the millions of people arriving in our region have intentions that take them outside of the region. The primary focus of the Explore Seattle Southside re-brand was to get the travellers to slow down for a bit and explore our region.

The unique character of each city within the Seattle Southside region is what unites them into a compelling destination. Tukwila, with its bustling retail centers and vibrant entertainment offerings, serves as a lively urban hotspot. SeaTac, home the region's primary airport, is a nexus of hospitality and transportation, boasting an array of hotels and transit links. Des Moines, steeped in history, captivates with its waterfront charm. By collaboratively branding themselves as Seattle Southside, these cities synergize their distinct strengths, creating a diverse and dynamic area that offers an unparalleled experience for visitors.

A photo of Seattle Southside's brand in action. There is a blue vinyl on an escalator that says 'Find curiously wonderful microadventures'.

We felt that the ‘Curiously Wonderful’ tag was the quintessential way of piquing people’s interest. Who isn’t intrigued by something that is both curious and wonderful? We all know that Seattle—with its Space Needle, Pike Place Market and Original Starbucks—has world‑famous things you can see. But Seattle Southside has curiously wonderful things you can do. Down here we believe the bizarre-er the better. Whether you’re into X-rated fish statues, UFOs, or the marvel of flight, Southside is where you’ll uncover mysteries and discover things you can’t find, or do, anywhere else. So come as you are, but don’t forget to bring your curious side to explore curiously wonderful Seattle Southside. Our destination is creative, eclectic, obscure and spirited and we want visitors to feel intrigued, surprised, curious, and welcomed. 


Your new logo represents the three cities, but also the micro-adventures that your audience want to experience. Given your experience developing this new identity, what would be your advice to other destinations who are looking to create a flexible design identity?


As I have mentioned, we are marketing a region that doesn’t really exist (at least not on maps), a region made up of cities that most people are unfamiliar with, and an area that doesn’t have any multi-day attractions. There isn’t a Disney park, or a Getty Museum, we don’t have a Space Needle, or a gigantic model of Noah’s Ark. What Seattle Southside has is an abundance of visitors, easily accessible transportation, and a multitude of curiously wonderful places to visit and explore. Individuals, couples, and multi-generational visitors can find something in our region that will intrigue them, whether it is a chocolate factory tour, sitting in the first Boeing 747, or seeing where the first ‘Men in Black’ visited. We call them micro adventures because we understand that people find themselves in our region and are looking for something to do.

The graphic shows 20 different iterations of the Seattle Southside icon, all recreated to symbolise a micro-adventure that can happen in the region. The icon is made up of three stacked bars to look like an 'S' and to represent the three cities in the region. Some of the variations include an 'S' coloured with the Pride flag, one with a rocket overlayed on top, one looking like a golf course, and one looking like a burger.

By going outside of the typical tourism marketing box, we took a risk with this new brand, but it paid off. We also downplayed the launch of the new brand and integrated it throughout a redesigned website and new marketing materials. By not focusing on the new brand, it organically garnered its own attention since it naturally fit in with all of our new assets. In selecting a creative agency to assist us, we went outside of the traditional tourism advertising/marketing agency box and selected an amazingly innovative agency from British Columbia, 123 West. Choosing an agency that was not primarily tourism-focused was a bit risky, but the benefit of having a fresh approach to marketing our region has paid huge dividends.

One of the big drivers of this project was to increase awareness of Seattle Southside. How are you measuring whether the new identity is moving the needle for your place?


We are engaging in several perception studies to identify the impact we are having on awareness of the region by visitors. As the brand launched in 2023, we wanted to wait for it to mature a bit before surveying. The overwhelmingly positive reaction we are receiving from our residents and city leaders is a strong indicator that we are moving the needle in the right direction.


Was there anything unexpected that you learned through this design development that you would want to share with your past self?


Our focus in developing the Explore Seattle Southside brand and the channels that were employed to market the region was to attract the attention of visitors and potential visitors. An unintended consequence has been the embracing of the brand by the local community. We are partnering with our local chocolate company to create labels for their chocolate bars that display our brand. One of our cities recently developed their own tourism masterplan and has included Explore Seattle Southside as an integral part of marketing of the city. We were also recently recognized as one of the top 100 best places to work in the State of Washington. This recognition wasn’t a direct result of the new brand, but I believe how we feel about where we work and who we work alongside has a big impact on how we are perceived by stakeholders and visitors.

And well-deserved, I’m sure! We look forward to seeing more exciting developments from the Seattle Southside region!


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