Open source brand — LeanJS, ‘iteration’ 1

Branding is a curious thing. It’s design that has this crazy mystique connected to it, like physics or even art… Like not ‘everyone’ can do it… Well, coming from someone who is self taught in graphic design, I believe that everyone CAN do it — all that’s needed is an open mind, willingness to research relentlessly to learn at every step as well as acceptance that a brand is made of people!

As Head of UX and Design at LeanJS, a company of open minded souls who run React training and create human-centred products. They’re super duper community focused— if you’ve been to the London-based React meetup you’d be lucky not to have seen Alex or Rich… speaking of Alex, on my first day he gave me a task…

“Paul, I’d like you to redesign the LeanJS website”

No biggie then!?! Well, on the face of it, it isn’t really — but after a bit of back and forth, we decided to open the scope to the design of the company, not just the website.

Step 0 — Inspiration

Before joining, Alex told me everything about the company, and I was struck by it’s open, sharing approach. It’s one of the many many reasons I joined the company. This openness combined with the site redesign project reminded me of an amazing talk from Michael Johnson, author of Branding: In Five and a Half Steps (the book that has inspired and guided my process, #recommended), that he made at the Typo conference in 2017 called ‘Open It All Up’. In it, he detailed how the rebranding of Mozilla that he worked on meant opening up everything to the public as this was part of the brand’s principles.

Knowing that the website for any company is its shop window, it’s incredibly important that the overall brand knows what it is. I felt that LeanJS could benefit from a complete review of the brand and, to align with it’s open nature, I’ve decided to share all stages with you and would love to know what you think (get commenting below!).

Step 1: Gather all existing brand assets

For anyone who’s worked in any company that has branded things (that’s gonna be very few people/companies), actually FINDING branded assets such as logo images, letterheads, email signatures — all that gubbins — can be a nightmare. Thankfully, LeanJS is a relatively small outfit with under 10 employees and so years of unorganised files hasn’t really happened just yet.

The LeanJS logo, with shining sun in the background, on the office door

BUT I’ve worked in many places where that is the case and I’m pretty sure at every place, I’ve ended up reorganising the ‘design’ folder and first on the list is always the brand assets. For LeanJS, it was no different and my first step was to bring together all assets into one spot on our shared server and let everyone know where I’d moved stuff.

Seemingly insignificant but helpful for you, and everyone else, for the duration of the brand (many, many years we hope!)

In summary: Grab all existing brand assets, get them in one place and tell all your colleagues where they are. Assets may include:

  • Logo files
  • Org chart
  • Letterheads
  • Brand guidelines
  • Mission statement

Step 2: Stakeholder discovery

For all you UXers out there, this will come as no surprise… time to speak to people!

Although it seems like the main aim of this sprint is to research everything to inform a branding design/strategy, it’s really all about alignment. After working many UX projects, half the battle can be aligning the various stakeholders and ensuring everyone is singing off the same hymn sheet. And when dealing with a small, young company whose people are very active and incredibly invested, it’s doubly important that everyone is agreed with the forward-plan.

I decided upon a two-prong attack with several in-depth interviews and a handful of surveys to gather the following:

  • What LeanJS does
  • How that’s achieved
  • Who LeanJS are there for
  • What does LeanJS value
  • What’s the company’s personality
  • What’s are the USPs

It’s worth mentioning now that although this is almost like a branding-UX-design process, the focus was on the people answering the questions. What is their perception of what LeanJS does/how/who for etc etc.

This is all in a bid to get that magic, company-wide alignment in the form of a mission/vision statement and company principles. In many many companies, this is all seen as obvious information that everyone just knows, but often it’s really not that obvious. This may lead to confusion and sometimes anger when — later down the line — a big, company-wide decision is made without consultation. Having principles that stem from the original stakeholders’ who/what/why/where/when/how means that however those stakeholders describe the company, they’re reflected in an agreed source of truth.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. With all these W’s, I also asked about competitors as well as standard information like revenues, sub-brands affiliations etc etc.

Step 3: Bringing it all together

As anyone who’s ever done a user interview or even a closed survey will tell you, the sheer amount of information gathered can be staggering. Behold the post-its…

Alex, me and Rich (left to right) in front of hundreds of post-its, looking happy but ready for a beer after mapping stakeholder information

…and that’s a heavily edited version — there was probably double this amount! 😆 Key themes reared their beautiful heads ad became obvious after many hours of affinity mapping which was a massive relief for all!

The LeanJS cheat sheet

I found it useful at this point to bring everything together into one cheat-sheet that all LeanJS’ers can refer to if they want to:

Why we are here? 
Make a difference by creating fulfilling working environments and helping people, and the tech community, evolve.
What do we do and how?: 
Build MVPs, teach tech, create community through events.
What makes us different? 
We work with a holistic viewpoint, only with Lean/Agile-minded people on premium quality product/services.
Who are we there for?
Those who need to quickly and efficiently improve their products, gain knowledge and get involved in the tech community.
What do we value most?
Doing what we love collaboratively, excellently and empathetically by being honest, creative and valuing purpose.
What’s our personality?
We are curious, energetic, professional, creatively minded plus idealistic and principled.

At this point, it was time to get my creative copywriting hat on and bring together all the findings into company principles and a mission statement to go into the future with. These can have an enormous remit — to quote principles.design;

Principles are a set of considerations that form the basis of any good product… [and] help teams with decision making. A few simple principles or constructive questions will guide your team towards making appropriate decisions.

Essentially, any decision the company makes should align with it’s principles.

Without further ado…

LeanJS principles

Keep searching, keep learning
People-centred products — always
Treat others how you want to be treated
Share — because sharing in caring
Build aligned minds, not just teams
Premium skills and knowledge
Transparently true to our methodology
More than a sum of its parts
Be unafraid
Purpose over profts

LeanJS mission statement

Be brave. Produce and radiate truly innovative, iterative and quality tech. Spread knowledge throughout our community, inspire fulfilling work and elevate quality of life for all.

To bring all this information together, spark debate and encourage alignment, I presented all my findings to the team. At the end of the day, if the team wants to change the way the company is seen internally, or they don’t agree with my interpretation, then it’s important to find that out as early as possible. Without this validation, I wouldn’t be able to move forward… 😬

Luckily, the team all agreed with the mission statement and principles and I was one happy boy! 😸

Overview and next steps

Combining years experience of visual rebranding projects (with no work attached to the driving reasons why) with my UX design process is more than fun. But don’t get me wrong, this is not something you should be taking as gospel!

As an open-source company (because sharing is caring after all) we’re delighted to tell you about our first ‘sprint’. We’ve got many more steps to go. We’re already working on the next sprint including market/competitors analysis, user research amongst other things…

Have you done projects like this? What did you learn about combining UX and branding? What do you think we could’ve done better? We want to start a conversation so please, don’t hold back — tweet me, tweet LeanJS or comment below with your thoughts.

Until next time…