Open-source identity design for Simple

I am the director of design for Resolve to Save Lives, which is an initiative of the not-for-profit organization Vital Strategies. We are currently working on apps for doctors, nurses, and patients under the new moniker: Simple.

The original Firefox brand was created by distributed volunteers

Fourteen years ago, a group of us helped design the Firefox identity. We liked Mozilla’s mission and it seemed like a fun, rewarding project. The Firefox brand was a true open-source effort. The members of the Mozilla visual identity team remixed each others’ ideas, gave all ownership over to Mozilla, and volunteered our time for a cause that we believed in.

So, I got to thinking, would it be possible to rally a similar effort for Resolve to Save Lives, but in an even more distributed way?

Resolve to Save Lives is on a mission to save millions of people in low- and middle-income countries from cardiovascular disease — more people die from cardiovascular disease than from all communicable diseases combined. If you’re like me, you may know someone in your family who has suffered a heart attack or stroke.

That’s a worthwhile mission, I think.

One aspect of the project is to help healthcare workers track patients’ blood pressures over time. It sounds like a simple thing, but it could have a huge impact. In much of the world, there is no longitudinal record of a patient’s health. If a healthcare worker knows their patients’ previous blood pressures, they can make better care decisions. If a health administrator knows their population’s blood pressure control rates, they can make better decisions around things like training and drug inventory.

Our tech team is working primarily on health tracking and reporting apps for healthcare workers and patients, which we are branding as “Simple” and which will have a home at Simple.org. As you can see, that website and our first app are largely unbranded, which is where you come in!

We would like to invite designers from all over the world to join the project in a small way by collaboratively creating an open-source identity for Simple.


The creative brief for Simple

Great brands often begin with one clearly articulated statement. What makes the “Simple” project different from any other project like it? For us, this all starts with the idea of radical simplicity:

Simple is a simple, reliable, easy-to-use app to track patients with high blood pressure.

Most other software that healthcare workers use is complicated and hard to learn. Our aim is to be a breath of fresh air — an app that’s simple, which nurses and doctors actually like to use.

Brand personality

Think of the brand like your favorite nurse: smart, insightful, careful with your privacy, and treats you as a human being. The brand isn’t goofy, corporate, aloof, or complicated.

The audience for the brand

  1. Nurses, doctors, and other healthcare workers
  2. Health administrators
  3. Patients

This software will be deployed all over the world, starting in India, so take cultural considerations into account.

Common touch points

  • Mobile apps: The brand has to work very well for mobile operating system icons and in-app placement. (See screenshots of the app in progress).
  • App Store: The brand should be immediately recognizable in the Google Play Store or other app store.
  • Website: simple.org
  • 3D renders: We may make a physical trophy for great clinics. An amazing identity would lend itself well to 3D renders.
  • Media and animations: In the future, we may do training videos and add animations to the app. A brand that lends itself to animations would be useful.

The brand will sometimes be used in low quality one-color physical prints (e.g. a training manual), so keep your design simple and unfussy. Really thin lines or gradients might be hard to reproduce.

Foundations of community

  • You are giving your work away willingly: In other words, this is a volunteer effort. You are sharing your design work for others to modify and use.
  • We all design together: By participating, you are allowing others to build on, remix, modify, and otherwise change your work.
  • You may not get credit: We will try to give credit where credit is due, but this may be a messy collaboration where many people riff and build on each other’s ideas.
  • Be positive, critique with an open heart: Please be supportive and don’t make your comments personal. This is a great article on how to give constructive design feedback.
  • We value and seek diverse engagement: We actively encourage participation from designers from all over the world. We should make everyone feel welcome in this project.
  • There will be art direction: Input from everyone will be crucial to choose an identity that matches the brief, but this is not design-by-committee. In the end, our team will select the brand that best fits the project.

We wrote these foundational statements based on discussions with designers who work in open-source. Don’t agree with the statements? Think something is missing? Let’s discuss in the comments here on Medium!

How to participate

  1. Share your brand ideas on GitHub
    A GitHub “issue” can work like a discussion board. Just add a comment at the bottom and add a PNG or JPG of your idea. If you’re willing, also include your source files as a link so others can easily riff on your concept. Please explicitly add a “Copyright: CC0” to your submissions.
  2. On GitHub, provide feedback on other people’s submissions. Not sure how to give constructive feedback? Read this article.
  3. In addition to GitHub, feel free to post your ideas on Twitter, Dribbble, and Facebook with the hashtag #simpleapp.

We asked several designers to take the lead on critique. When you submit your ideas, you will likely receive feedback from:

Keep in mind, this is a collaboration not a contest. The only prize is that in a few years, together we will have improved the cardiovascular health of millions of people.

The world is improved by the combined efforts of many people in big and small ways. We are excited to see what we can create together.

Simple.org has more information about the project

Thoughts on open-source design

This open-source branding project is a bit of an experiment. There are a few concerns that I would like to address:

Doesn’t good design cost money?

Asking people to do work for free makes me nervous. Although we are a well-funded not-for-profit and could hire a design agency to create this brand, we are taking a collaborative open-source approach to involve a broad community from all over the world.

Isn’t this spec work?

I’m sensitive to designers’ concerns about spec work and I’m genuinely concerned that I’m asking designers to volunteer their professional skills. Spec work usually promises something down the road if you do unpaid work now. This is not spec work — it’s volunteer work with no promise of exposure or compensation down the road.

In addition to contributing in a small way to a project that will save lives around the globe, I hope that our critique group will benefit designers who contribute their ideas.

Design by committee results in mediocre design, right?

Design can easily be watered down by making decisions as a group. But, design also benefits from a diversity of ideas. The diamond shaped design process has a lot of value — generate lots and lots of ideas and then narrow in on the best ones.

At the beginning, the brief needs a strong viewpoint. At the end, the decision-making process needs a strong viewpoint. Those parts should not be done by committee. Our team wrote the brief with input from friends. And at the end, I will art direct with input from the community as well as from the designers who I have asked to help moderate the critique.

I’m mostly hopeful that this process will generate many great ideas and fruitful discussions about which ideas best serve the brief.

This isn’t a new idea.

Correct. Many designers have done open-source work. Projects have done open-source brand solicitations previously — check out the relatively recent projects by WebAassembly and NodeJS. I am not the most knowledgeable person in the world about open-source and design, but I did speak to some of the experts. I hope we can adjust, learn, and try to create a great process for projects like this.


About Resolve to Save Lives: Resolve to Save Lives is a five-year, $225 million initiative funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. It is led by Dr. Tom Frieden, former director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and housed at Vital Strategies, which works in 60 countries with the vision of a world in which every person is protected by a strong public health system. To find out more visit: https://www.resolvetosavelives.org or Twitter @ResolveTSL

About Vital Strategies: Vital Strategies is a global health organization that seeks to accelerate progress on the world’s most pressing health problems. The Vital Strategies team combines evidence-based strategies with innovation to help develop and implement sound public health policies, manage programs efficiently, strengthen data systems, conduct research, and design strategic communication campaigns for policy and behavior change. To find out more, visit www.vitalstrategies.org or Twitter @VitalStrat.

Thanks to Meg Robichaud, Dhruv Saxena, Juhi Chitra, Mike Davidson, Milap Bhojak, Tammie Lister, Mackey Saturday, Jasper Hauser, Mattias Wikman, Elyce Cole, Steven Garrity, Nick Burka, Tim Cheadle, and others for their help and feedback in creating this project.