Working for Exposure

A new visual identity for a storytelling company.

Smith & Diction
Smith & Diction
Published in
9 min readSep 14, 2021

This project started where all great things start—my twitter DMs. I fully expect anyone that follows me on twitter to completely hate me, so this was a pleasant surprise.

Luke Beard and I have followed each other since who knows when and have always joked back and forth about working together. Well folks, in 2020—the worst year in human history—there was a tiny bright spot in the collaboration universe. Luke asked me to refresh the visual identity for his company, Exposure.

Exposure Logo Animated by Justin Lawes

I’ll rewind a bit to talk about what Exposure is—It’s a “visual storytelling platform” that I’ve been using since 2013. You may remember 2013 as the peak insta-era; urban exploring, mountains calling, meetups, living “authentically,” way too many photos of lattes, feet, and sunsets, and for a brief moment we all saw the world through VSCO colored filters. A6 for life.

At the time, I was looking for a better way to display my photos from all my hikes and travels. (Remember traveling? Remember the outdoors? — This post was written in the depths of quarantine) Tumblr was great for the social aspect, but once you posted a photo you couldn’t easily share it again without hunting it down in the archives and there wasn’t an intuitive way to categorize all the photos from one trip in one location.

I wasn’t taking photography seriously enough to set up a Squarespace site or anything like that, so that’s where Exposure fit perfectly for me. It was a minimal, simple, and easy-to-use way to display and categorize all of my photos from one trip all in one spot. It felt more like a casual blog and less like a commitment or portfolio.

Exposure now has thousands of users all over the world, across all kinds of cultures and unique professions. It’s got stories from World Wildlife Fund for Nature, charity: water, Peak Design, Duke University, Visit Copenhagen, A whiskey reviewer, A babushka living in Chernobyl, and honestly like every soccer team that exists. Go soccer/football/Ted Lasso! FUTBOL IS LYYYFE.

Change everything while staying the same.

Luke asked if we would help update the brand a little bit. He wanted to push it into more of an editorial feeling vibe, but without losing too much of the brand equity that he’s been building since 2012

So our job was simple: Change everything but make it seem like nothing has changed.

L: Original Symbol (2012) R: Updated Symbol (2020)

Luke is a designer himself, so our conversations and check-ins were so refreshing. AKA I’d just text him and tell him I was super hyped on a direction that I was heading in and do you have five mins to chat? (Extremely professional.) I don’t think we put together a formal presentation of any of the work that was made during this project. I straight up presented inside of my Illustrator files and made changes on the fly. It’s one of those scenarios that could go catastrophically wrong or be an absolute dream. In this case it all worked out and we made some dope stuff together.

This project was actually the catalyst to the idea of a visual identity design sprint which we recently started offering as a S&D service to a super select group of creatively oriented clients. I’ll prob write some more in-depth posts about that but right now it’s just a jumble in my head. We’ve made a logo for a skate shop, an animation studio, and a creative director all using this same sprint technique and it’s been really really fun. We’ll see if it’s sustainable in any way.

Meaningless shapes

This project was no different than all of the others in the sense that there was a point where I sort of hit a wall and just started making random shapes and then trying to apply meaning to them. We made some cool shapes tho.

Pro tip: When in doubt use the transform tool to add a bunch copies, then grab a point and drag it all over the place to see what happens. Some of the best marks I’ve made were completely by accident. Just kidding, I’m super intentional and thoughtful all the time. Every time I touch a mouse magic comes out. They call me Magic Mike®™

Featured stories reimagined as magazine covers: Petra by Dev, Trona by Ellie Pritts, Greenland by World Wild Places, California by Luc Lopes

We put a symbol in your symbol.

The new symbol is an evolution of the original mark. We just rounded it out and added a few extra levels of meaning to it. If you’re here for the post-rationalized, imaginary circles, golden ratio BS then read on!

Glass Symbol Animation by Justin Lawes

The mark as a whole is supposed to feel like it’s capturing a still of a three-dimensional globe in motion. We even got our buddy Justin Lawes to animate what that might look like and holy hell my jaw dropped when he sent his version through. I think I watched it for like an hour straight, my response to his email was “I’M SWEATING.”

Symbol Breakdown

Ex 1. The exterior globe shape visually represents the fact that Exposure users come from all over the world and travel all over the world. Their platform is a beautiful window into so many places that we felt it was something that should be incorporated into the identity.

Ex 2. The X in the middle connects everyone and provides a global perspective. It’s also represents a star or a flash—a subtle nod toward Exposure’s photography roots.

Ex 3. The heart in the mark is there because without these folks putting their soul out there and showcasing their photos from their everyday lives, mountain climbs, cycling excursions, humanitarian causes, city strolls, intense sporting events, Exposure wouldn’t exist. In every story there is life, there is heart. We were just looking to squeeze in a little bit of humanity to a purely geometric mark.

In our process document we say:

“We only take on projects we’re excited about, and treat every client like a big one.”

And we mean it. No matter how big or small a project is, we put our entire heart in. Most of the time, that stays behind the scenes, but since Exposure meant a little bit more to us from the start, we decided to literally wear our hearts on our sleeves for this one and put it in the symbol too.

As I mentioned before, we wanted the brand to feel more editorial and less startup-ish, so we ditched the classically vanilla tracked out sans and updated the wordmark to a more expressive/personable serif, Century Old Style. The interaction between the uppercase E and lowercase x is a pure chef’s kiss moment, there’s an undeniable romance between the two for sure. The high x-height kept it feeling friendly and not too snobby and also a plus for legibility on the web. Win win win win win.

The original brand typefaces were GT Walsheim & Garamond so the changes we made ultimately didn’t feel toooo drastic. We just swapped in Century and flipped the hierarchy of the type so that Walshiem would be secondary. You can see them working together in the “Told with Exposure” lockup we created for social sharing purposes.

Told with Exposure Bubble

We also created an abbreviated version of the logo where you can just toss an E next to the symbol to nod toward an Ex abbreviation. That’s how Luke casually refers to Exposure internally, so we thought it would be nice to build out a practical version for him to use out in the world.

I love you. You’re dead to me.

In our discovery, Luke mentioned possibly exploring a direction that felt sort of like a vintage Kodak vibe. Music to any designer’s ears. But when you’re trying to design something that references cameras or photography it’s so so hard to steer away from the super basic well-trod visual landscape. So this one really ended up being a head scratcher.

Kilt Marks

Then while I was looking at the word EXPOSURE I noticed that it begins and ends with an E. It’s so rare that you get to connect the beginning and the end of a wordmark visually. I was like, okay what if we simplify the E’s and connect them with an abstracted exposure dial that you would see on your camera. It also has a subtle reference to a sun or sunrise, light is endlessly important to photography. Without light there would be no photography. And also just endless sadness. And probably no life, come to think of it.

Getting those dial notches to arch fluidly was something I spent WAYY toooo much time on, but I think it turned out nicely. I truly hope that this bad boy ends up on a tee shirt or some sort of merch down the line.

Simplified Exposure Dial Logo

Overall it ended up not being quite right for mobile devices or just usability in general. Arched logos are always a pain to put into execution, usually ending up with some wonky white space around it. We did present this hyper simplified version where the letters transform into lines and turn into a real exposure setting indicator but obviously that is quite the stretch for anyone who’s not a photographer. And apparently it’s already been done by DIA anyway so we dodged a bullet there!

Plus the product itself is moving away from being just a photography platform by adding capabilities for video and audio as well. It’s much less about posting gorgeous photos and more about capturing life and telling personal stories through your own unique lens.

Check out the mark in action at Thank you Luke for being an amazing collaborator and trusting us to work on this with you.

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P.S. Thanks to Travis Ladue and Dayan D’Aniello for bearing with me and answering my frantic texts about science of this mark. Dayan was the one who figured out how to arrange the cuts properly, even though it’s not scientifically correct.