You can get away with a poor visual identity if your product solves a real problem well, but great branding will never save a pointless or unusable product. At Elsewhen we believe in allowing a brand experience to emerge organically through each new product iteration. By continuing to validate the need for your product or service, over time you can make sure a beautiful and compelling brand experience emerges alongside it.
When it comes to our own brand, our philosophy was always to let the work do the talking. We’ve channeled our energy into shipping products, early and often, which means developing our own voice in the industry or celebrating our own successes was always left for another time. But having had recent successes with content we put out into the world, we saw the impact a strong brand can have, both on business and culture.
Living our own process
We changed our name earlier this year, giving us the perfect opportunity to rethink how we look, sound and interact with our clients and peers. Our instinct was that most of our brand actually lived in what we say and what we do, rather than how we look; so how much visual identity does a product design consultancy really need?
We gave ourselves just two weeks to find a look and feel that we felt happy with, along with a roadmap for how we could release just enough brand, just in time — whilst still delivering day to day work for our clients.
Using lean branding methodology would allow us to focus on the real challenge: create an identity reflecting that we are creative but also pragmatic, we’re a team who don’t indulge time on pure vanity activities.
How we did it
We began by running workshops with the founders, defining our reason for existing, asking what we believe to be true about the world our customers operate in, and how we can solve their problems. By starting with these questions we could identify a unique proposition, and describe how we do things differently.
Knowing that any authentic brand experience is not just about creating a logo, we made sure we spent the right amount of time describing not only our proposition — but also our behaviours. What do we do that makes us unique? How do we do it? How do we treat each other? How do we spend time together? How do we make sure we all keep improving and making the best work possible?
Using a few carefully chosen brand personality exercises, the three Elsewhen founders independently described our personality in almost exactly the same way.
With agreement on our proposition, purpose and values, we explored three territories that visually articulated different aspects of our brand personality.
Make, adapt, grow
The first of our three design territories explored our shared belief that good digital design is continuous. Young and innovative in tone, it visually explored how we create and engineer things, how they become something new, and how they continuously improve.
Territory two visually explored an early version of our proposition, describing ourselves as ‘future makers’. More rebellious and elite in tone, this territory was about constantly asking how the future will work, and how will it look.
Useful, then beautiful
However it was territory three that people felt an emotional connection to. The idea was to show that we deliver change at speed with next-gen design & technology. Our brand is all about hard hitting elegance, simple layout and purposeful motion. When we design, we always ask ‘why is this useful?’ and only then ‘how can we make it beautiful?’
Our tone of voice started to take shape in the way we described our proposition and service to potential clients. ‘We use data, not opinions’ was a phrase we rallied around, and by taking this idea and reducing it down, we were able to start creating a brand system, one that feels opinionated without being alienating, one that could cut through the wasteful talk and activities we’ve often seen in the industry.
As engineers, we’ve always been conscious of getting technical too quickly with a new client. We’ve had to learn to hold back a little until the client dug deeper, and we found we could apply the same process for our brand messaging. We started to use this as a system that scaled from big, punchy headline statements, down to the individual voices of the team, giving each the right emphasis at the right time.
Choosing a typeface was one of the most important decisions we made. We loved our existing font GT Walsheim, but it’s popularity made us feel we couldn’t own it anymore. When we discovered F37 Jagger, it felt like a perfect match for our voice and vision. Clean and simple in nature but with enough flair, it felt like it perfectly aligned with our straightforward approach, and our commitment to designing products that can be accessed by all.
Starting afresh with a new brand didn’t mean throwing out everything we already had. Building on our existing transitions, we added more depth and purpose, timing the introduction of each element to aid user tasks and add clarity to interfaces.
Going back to our original reason for rebranding — it was simply too hard for an observer to tell who we really were or what we stood for. Knowing we wanted to make our brand work harder was balanced with making sure we didn’t waste money or effort on a vanity exercise.
Our use of lean methodology and specific branding activities allowed us to quickly establish an identity we were happy with, however; to create a truly engaging brand experience we needed time to fully develop both our story and visual principles. That was only possible by allowing the brand experience to emerge as we met new clients and tested the way we talked about ourselves, how we designed our website, our presentation decks and our collateral.
Lean branding is critical when you need to balance budget spend across design, build and validation. It’s a practice we use a lot in our client work, most recently with Frame.
As for our underlying product — we’ve changed the way the agency feels too. There is far more purpose behind the time we spend together, and we’re now on a different trajectory. What really drew me to join Elsewhen was the total dedication the team has to their process, and to each other. They believe wholeheartedly in the power of design to change the world, they invest their own cash in products they’ve built, and they know that by treating each other as equals, by starting from a place of trust with every new team member, you’ll get the best out of people. Here you’re judged on your output, not your hours.
We’re so proud of our new identity. We can say to the world that through this rebrand we’ve actually lived our own process and values, and that feels like a success.