Every single time I had “big” life changes like, say, changed school, broke up with my boyfriend or watched Fight Club, I changed my hair radically. Recently, after moving from Munich to Lisbon, getting myself a new flat and new friends, I decided to dye my hair pink. I guess old habits die hard.
The reason why I do this even now, is because I understand the emotional need behind it - and decide to consciously indulge in it. When things change around you, you adapt. When you adapt, you become different and, in my case, I want the new me to be transparent. I want to look like the person I feel inside, and if that means I’m going to look completely different, so be it. Of course, not everyone has such urges to express themselves visually and in such an extreme way, but I am pretty sure a lot of people can relate to this need of outer-change.
Well, this is basically what happened at Imaginary Cloud. We had the need of presenting ourselves in a way that truly reflected how we felt within the company. Things had changed: the teams grew as new people came in, new talents were added to the company and, with it, more complex projects appeared, which demanded design thinking. With all this internal changing, the external image of the company started feeling a bit off.
Change is scary though, and sometimes it takes new people to push things in a different direction. Say, people that dye their hair pink. Hence, a rebranding project.
I’ve always loved extreme makeover programs. Re-decorate your living room, upgrade your garden, change your hairstyle, throw away half of your closet, you name it. Not because of the ending results - which, most of the times, were terrible - but because of the creative process. There comes the “specialist”, looks at the subject, checks its technical characteristics, gets to know the personalities of the ones involved, and off he/she goes with a completely new design plan for who or whatever the subject is. The interesting part of the show wasn’t when they already knew what they were going to do to said subject. It was watching as they were going to find out what to do, and making it happen, step by step.
This process was as bit as exciting as I expected it to be, and I feel like the design department, led by Nicholas Mandelbaum, and the CEO felt the same. I’m going to describe it step by step in this post, since I feel like this was a valuable experience that might make a difference on the readers’ indecision to jump on such a project, or not. My objective is that you do.
I. Meetings Galore
When one starts a rebranding project, there are a lot of expectations coming from everyone involved. Our CEO believed there was the need of re-organization of all the graphical objects of the company, to make them congruent with the overall branding. But there was no solid branding to start with. Designers believed a serious change was necessary, and obviously all of us see this as a blank canvas ready for our masterpiece, which can be problematic - and this belief will need readjustment, since this should not be about individual egos. But these expectations are going to be the very fuel driving the project forward on an initial phase, and that’s why meetings are absolutely essential. Individual egos should morph into a collective mindset.
The meetings are where everyone is going to become aligned in a single goal, by asking each others a bunch of questions about the most basic foundations of a company, so that logistic and creative ideas can work together. “Who are we?”, “Who do we want to be?”, “What are my personal goals?”, “What are the company goals?”, are some of the questions that will eventually arise, because they are the core of your company. Based on this, basic company principles will arise, perhaps in the form of a list.
And then word trees - oh don’t we all love those… They will help you create a clear mental image (or images, perhaps) of what are the visual elements that would best describe your company.
One would think that, in our case, these word trees would follow the obvious path of using the word “cloud” as a reference for future imagery. But, after some discussion, we figured that even though “Imaginary Cloud” is a good name to describe the feelings and ambitions of the company, the imagery related to clouds wouldn’t necessarily reflect the full message we wanted to communicate. So, our tree would lead us to space, instead.
II. Moodboard is the word
The point of creating a moodboard is to set an inspirational platform that will allow your concepts and abstract ideas come to life. One can talk about using space as an idea, but there are so many different ways of representing it, that creating a mood board is the best way to effectively communicate what you mean by using the stars and the universe as an inspiration, on a visual level.
This next step involves wandering through the internet. Use Tumblr, use Behance, use Dribbble, whatever floats your boat. Compile everything there. You are going to find images that illustrate the feelings you want people to have when they see your brand. Images that transport anyone to a specific mindset or paradigm, images that contain ideas that you’d love to try out in the context of your brand. I write “wandering” because even though you might be looking for specific concepts, it’s good to allow yourself to get a little lost and explore as much imagery as possible. The more original and unique your references are, the more you’ll be able to be different and stand out in the market. That’s why this is a moment that gets all designers excited. So, go crazy for now, since there are going to be more meetings and consequential filtering of whatever was found.
Btw, in case you haven’t noticed, a rebranding process starts with meetings and follows through different fases that are always accompanied with - guess what - more meetings. It’s a tight balance between space for experimentation and allowing everyone to be part of the process. This is mainly a matter of communication, but also a matter of trust - and a matter of understanding that there are multiple paths to take, so there isn’t a “one right path”.
But the abundance of meetings is a good thing, as these are nothing less than great opportunities to get to know your co-workers’ ambitions better, as well as your own, creating a clear image of what the company is all about, and where it should be heading.
In these meetings that follow the mood boards’ stage, there’s going to be a constant selection and discussion on wether or not everyone is on the same page with the creative direction of the brand. The best way to conduct these meetings is by having everyone looking at the mood board, which should have its elements grouped by theme and color.
These are some examples of good mood boards. They are good because they truly transport the viewer into a mindset that will be the base for the construction of all graphical objects from then on.
It’s advisable that if you find yourself with several completely different streams of images or moods, then you should try and divide them in several different mood boards, so that there is a more concrete choice to be made. It avoids a very detailed “remove this, but leave that, but with those colours”, whilst maintaining a possibility for discussions to happen and choices to be done.
The discussions are going to be connecting the images and the principles that were discussed, where there should be space for re-inventing the brand, if it feels necessary. In the end, after some iterations on the mood board, we came up with the one we felt defined us the best, not only from the outside, but from the inside too.
Our moodboard was a result of a set of ideas: exploration, learning, going further, dreaming, greatness, embracing the unknown, technical precision. We compiled beautiful landscapes that are almost unreal, for a visual representation of the concept of going to unexplored places. This eventually led us to the ultimate unexplored place that is the universe. Its dark colours in contrast with bits of intense light made us feel cool and intriguing , but in control. The isometric grid was a great way to show our more technical side, because it looked like a great technical representation of things that can still be whimsical.
These images need a practical application and an actual branding purpose, leading us to the next step of the project.
III. Exploration and Mock ups as a tool
This is a branding mock up (I did it, actually):
It is regularly used to present branding projects, to show the final result, when you don’t want to actually print the design objects and photograph them. Instead, you are usually editing a photoshop file that has the clean objects ready to receive your design in it.
Even though its usage is usually linked to portfolios, we felt like this was a good tool to let us try some ideas regarding the re-branding. It allowed us to try out different things without needing to compromise to one visual only. We used the visuals from the moodboard as a direct guideline for our visual exploration of the brand.
After some experiments, a final mockup should be done, in order to define what is the look to go with.
IV. Branding Guidelines
Based on the mockups as the final result of all the experimentation, a document should be created. That document is the Branding Guidelines’ Manual and it will turn every creative step that follows way more solid and congruent.
All brands should have one, to maintain their image at their best, in every situation. With a good set of branding guidelines, you don’t need to be a designer to properly represent your company’s image in any document you create. This is because the guidelines will describe and represent, in technical detail, every plausible situation in which the brand will be found.
The guidelines will consist in fonts used, colours, potential illustration, naming, logos, and whatever else is deemed necessary.
Even though this step is there to help anyone that follows to properly use the brand’s image, these rules are there for you to use them, not the other way around. I mean that if you see that certain visual aspects don’t make sense in a determined context, feel free to create new exceptions in the manual - or even, if necessary, question the whole thing. The branding guidelines’ manual is only a setting stone if it is as solid as the ideas standing behind it.
For us, this part of the process helped us streamlining some of the ideas we had in the mockups. All colours were studied to the point of a clearly defined function to each of them. We went for a deep dark blue as a background and text color, a warm yellow for all the interactive elements, and the sky blue as our main brand color, to be used in the logo and in all highlights.
Deep dark blue because (duh) it’s the universe, and makes everything else on top of it pop. We changed up our main light blue to one slightly more vibrant, in order to clearly stand out and show some excitement for our own brand. And finally, we added yellow to the equation because all of us felt that we were missing some emotional tones, something that expressed our passion for our work.
The main typeface was picked and re-worked to be impactful. At the same time, being Lato and having some very subtle roundness in the corners, it’s never intimidating. The rework consisted “only” in increasing the spacing between the characters - the text immediately sounds like a settled statement, as it is meant to be used only in headlines, titles or anything that needs to stand out.
The font selected for long text was Merriweather, for its great readability and versatility for both web and printing. Plus, it gave us a very professional and classic tone, to contrast with the simple vectorial style that was going to be used in the illustrations.
V. DESIGN AWAY!!!!1!!1!11!!!111
Now comes the time to make things happen. It’d be almost fair to say that this is where the magic happens (cheesy me). Make a list of all the graphical objects of your company, giving priority to the ones you use externally. By graphical objects I mean: website, business cards, printed documents, presentations, goodies and whatever else. Redesign them, using the guidelines and all the inspirational material you had collected, as the new objects should reflect the whole process the company went through, and not just the branding rules.
So as the time came to actually start applying the new guidelines and style to everything visual involving the company, new designers entered the process in a more active form, not just giving feedback anymore. Rafael Conde started working on the website, and the brand started coming to life. Beatriz Costa worked on some presentation material and the brand acquired an actual body.
Personally, I feel the most satisfying moment in the whole process was the website design. As Rafael started to work on the website, I felt an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. I had been working on the branding for quite a while, so I started to lack the excitement of the person with a new toy. But there he was, creating something concrete out of all the dreaming, planning and scheming that was done all through the previous month. The actual base of the brand felt settled.
I believe only the base was settled because the work is never over. Meanwhile, a marketing department headed by Maurício Salazar was created, to further confirm my belief: new situations requiring new graphical and communicational solutions will arise, and they should always represent an opportunity to do more, and do better, to further solidify a brand. Because if your company is not static, then neither should your brand be.