nenets autonomous okrug
Idea, philosophy, branding
Nenets Autonomous Okrug is a region in the north of Russia and the least populated federal subject of the country. The vast territory of the region is almost entirely located above the Arctic Circle. The last snow melts here at the end of July, and winter lasts 220-240 days on average.

The region is known for its tundra landscape and natural wonders like the northern lights and the polar day. The largest of the indigenous small-numbered ethnic groups of the north — the Nenets live here. There are ~7000 of them in the NAO out of 43 thousand of the total population of the region.

In 2019 Business Development Center was challenged to create a regional brand for Nenets Autonomous Okrug together with the community of local entrepreneurs
Elena Ermolina
We love NAO because it's like a successful ideal case of what we believe territory branding is. It all starts with diving in territory, following by the surfacing with ideas, friends and projects all connected with the single philosophy and vector, both literally, economically and visual.
Natalia Rybalchenko
A nomadic soul is in the heart of all people living in the region — all started with a research. First half-of-the-year was all about communicating administration, entrepreneurs, tour operators, local museum, restaurators, and those nonindifferent.
One thing was in common across all the people we had interviewed: they are not overwhelmed with things around, and have to pay close attention to what they obtain. Airplanes and navigation is a pretty much costly affair, so people used to choose wisely what they buy or can afford here. That way of life took place in historical perspective as well: "You're rich when you have nothing to what you don't need", — it says.

Nenets nomads are masters of movement and relocation. Their life and culture are based on constant movement along the tundra with reindeer herd. Some of them have to wander 100 times a year. The rhythm and duration of roaming is determined by the state of the reindeer pastures, their ability to feed the animals. As soon as this ability decreases, it becomes necessary to change pastures. Since the Nenets all the time circle the tundra, it is important for them to stay light. Everything heavy and solid does not agree with the laws of the tundra, a place where it is difficult to stay in one place.
Cutting off everything unnecessary — is our strategy in NAO
Natalia Rybalchenko

So when we've shared this conclusion of us with the residents, they had mostly supported us and we've been given a lot of (really a lot of) requests on how to unite region residents with the help of the brand idea.
Everyone's pretty happy with this minimalistic idea.
And now for the visual part. When you speak about lack of unnecessity, you'd definately won't use a lot of expressive elements, so we stick to — you've guessed it right — minimalism technique.
Local people struck us with the imagery and minimalism in everything. Just listen to this proverb, how literal, extensive and wise it is: so we went abstract.
Time is tangible. In the tundra, a second stretches out into eternity of the polar night and shrinks into a shot of tynzei (lasso for catching a deer). Therefore, tundra people do not rush time.
Vlad Vyucheisky
shapes that matter
Raindeer and nenets
N is for nenets people and their reindeers, who live in tundra. Brave and strong.
Choom, oil
A is for a place to live in tundra. Choom is the place nenets people used to live in. It is save, cozy and warm.
O is for energy and sun in the sky, that makes warms up and keeps life.
NAO region was lucky with the minimalism in its name as well: sometimes I even can't believe no graphic designer found out that before me. Square-triangle-circle. That's not a unique combination, but that doesn't matter. What matters is that it seldom can be so obvious.
Igor Makovsky
N A O — the essence of minimalism
Slogans that matter
the only town in NAO, choom and the tundra
maps are the best instrument to start with
We love maps, not only because creating them is a challenging and engaging design process, but also because it is one of the best instruments of uniting residents and showing them on a single surface of their own region, town, village. It also helps us to fully understand the scales of the territory we're working with, so this step of creating maps is important. Here, in NAO we've made several type of maps: region, town center, wayfinding and many for lesser settlements.
virtual world to experiment with
When you offer your projects to the people who make decisions, you'd be facing a lot of doubts and the showcase of your ideas must be as close to the reality as possible. Making bad decisions in reality is pricey and better have something virtual, so we built a sandbox to experiment with — the virtual model of Naryan-Mar. No limits for imagination, the best way to show your amazing ideas to both public and the authorities. We use this virtual city as a mid-step for approvals before transforming projects into the reality of townscape.

The graphics created for the map is used in public art. In November 2020, local artists used the graphics in graffiti to enliven the city's architecture.
A brand in behance is safe, but that is not what brands are built for.
Igor Makovsky
closer to the residents
When making a region brand you can't hide from acrid comments in local social networks. So it's important not to forget about supporting events, souvenirs and merch, that can show how friendly and helpful the new brand can appear in real life. In NAO there were a few of the most important activities, the annual food festival and the three funny friendly mascots.
Annual Tundra food festival
If we speak about uniting people, than food is the answer. Everything from inviting famous chiefs, preparing delicious food, learning children how to bake things and share tasty meals with guests is always a win-win. Together with Center of Business Development and the tree main restaurants we helped (not only with the design) to launch the first-in-a-row festival of local food. This fest attracted a lot of people and made a lot of loyal friends to the upcoming brand.

Three NAO mascots
Logo and brand is all good, but nothing can bear a smile of a kid holding a fluffy and warm toy mascot that can be bought in a souvenir shop. We've created a whole tundra cartoon (we called a "cartoondra" universe) which translates our abstract literal brand strategy to the real characters with their own understandable real-life stories and produced them. These funny and cute mascots gained a huge love from both the residents and the tourists. Since then the abstract suprematist square-triangle-round logo immediately started looking way more friendlier and nicer to the people.

historical meaning of nao
If to speak from historical point of view, NAO can be interested as a location of the first russian town in Arctic, Pustozersk. Being a stronghold, international trading center and a source of spreading russian culture across far northern regions, it played a core role in exploring and conquering the north regions. In 20th century, life period of the town went to an end and now looks like a field with only a horizon line, where only imagination can transport guests in the atmosphere of a strong arctic citadel. In NAO all historical projects are held by the local museum, and we've made a number of awesome projects with them.

Usually local museums are the most firm judges to the newly developed brands, because they are more attentive to the local history and traditions and compare them with the new glance from the outside. Here, in NAO, the local museum became our allies and that is called a success, because that means we've made our work quite good and haven't crossed any red lines in terms of understanding the essence of the territory
Igor Makovsky
The main goal of creating a regional brand for NAO was to unite local entrepreneurs and stimulate new business and cultural projects that support local identity and tourism development in the region. Since the start of working on the NAO brand, 25 new projects have emerged under the common philosophy of tundra, from a restaurant with recipes collected by locals to annual festivals that attract visitors from all over the country. The new design united disparate projects with a single sense.

We like this case very much and show it as a great example of how tedious work with communities can change people's view on themselves and emerge new level of communicating, earning money and climbing on new heights in terms of international level.

25 project in NAO as of beginning, 2022
In territory branding, success comes to those who can wait. Not all projects had been launched immediately. It took some of them a time to be finally born in real world. Yet, all of them did and that's great.
Natalia Rybalchenko
At the end of 2021, our project made its way across finalists at international City Nation Place Branding Awards. Though we're not into awards — because they not always follow the results of the real-life and prefer just a clean lifeless showcase. Anyway, the most important thing on every territory are people, that you're working with. Here, NAO also remain a perfect example:
From left to right:

Elena Ermolina

Igor Makovsky
Asmysl — art, design

Natalia Rybalchenko
Asmysl — brand-Strategy

Sergey Mishin

More projects in NAO
  1. Research and brand strategy
  2. NAO map
  3. Naryan-Mar Map Full of Local Stories
  4. My Arctic — arctic tourist agency brand
  5. Nel'min-Nos brand and wayfinding system
  6. Nel'min-Nos map
  7. Pustozersk Museum Reserve Branding and Strategy
  8. Naryan-Mar tourist route map
  9. Mascot creation and storytelling
  10. Tundra merch branding
  11. Under One Sun — museum association brand
  12. Tundrafest — Local food festival
  13. Narey — local fashion and cultural brandBritish Higher School of Design and Art collab
  14. Nenets Lore Museum Identity
  15. Telviska Museum of Emptiness Branding and Strategy
  16. Indiga River and Fish Festival Branding
  17. Ustie Village Map and Branding
  18. Bolshukha Hill — local theme park
  19. Naryan-Mar Art Objects Concept
  20. Naryan-Mar Simulator 3D
  21. Frigate in Pustozersk Hotel and Restaurant Brand and Strategy
  22. Pechora River Map
  23. Naryan-Mar Wayfinding
  24. Pustozersk Maps of Past and Present Time