3 Things I Learned from Branding the Sway Minds Technology Summit

After rebranding of our venture firm in December 2015, our general partners Bill (Malloy) and Brian (Nugent) told me they wanted to hold a technology summit in May. The summit would center around how technology is changing consumer behavior, the enterprise, and the world. The first thing I thought was that we really have to make it something special. When chatting with Patrick (ONeill) about it he reminded me about the first time he went to see the Warriors, and the complete brand experience fans had when visiting the arena. Everything was considered. Everything reinforced and communicated the brand.

During the rebranding exercise, Patrick presented the notion that “Great teams sway. Great teams sway minds. Great teams sway entire categories. Great teams sway the future.” This idea became the backbone of our summit, and the inspiration for its name.

Great teams sway.
Great teams sway minds.
Great teams sway entire categories.
Great teams sway the future.

We wanted the Sway Minds brand to feel as complete — from the moment you first heard about it, the build up leading to it, and the day itself. Here are my takeaways from our Sway Minds branding journey:

1. Design an experience

We knew from the start that we wanted to give Sway Minds a bold and sophisticated personality. The question we asked ourselves was: how do we create a standout and memorable identity while maintaining the relationship with Sway Ventures?

We looked at SFMoMA and thought they did a good job at finding a balance of the master brand and a expressive identity that celebrated the artist. This led us to other examples, including the 99u Conference. What stood out to us was how they put the talent in the spotlight across communications to connect and engage their audience. We also looked to Silicon Valley elite, and technology conferences such as Airbnb Open and how they created a dynamic identity system that brought the brand to life across all physical and digital environments.

2. Family first

Once we were confident that creating a Sway Ventures sub brand for Sway Minds was the way to go, we dove head first. We started at the beginning, with our firms new identity, Sway Ventures.

Our logo is designed using a typeface called Aktiv Grotesk. Aktiv Grotesk is a grotesque sans-serif typeface released through Dalton Maag in 2010. It has been described as a “Helvetica killer.” The designers of Aktiv Grotesk wanted to create something in between Helvetica and Gotham by removing the quirks from Helvetica and adding a bit of warmth to Gotham. Aktiv Grotesk is one of my personal favorite grotesques. It has gone on to build some pretty amazing brands in betterdesign.co, and The English National Ballet to name but a few.

After doing some initial studies we discovered that pulling the letters apart created abstract geometric shapes that would be a useful tool to inform layout compositions and graphical treatments. Exploding the typesettings gave us the dynamic quality of motion and change we were looking for, and the fact that the typeface utilized Aktiv Grotesk gave us a perfect foundation for a Sway Ventures sub brand.

Keeping the roots of the brand in the Sway Ventures family allowed us to pair Sway Minds with other aspects of the master brand, such as secondary typefaces and color palette. As we went on to create collateral for the summit we we’re able to maintain a balance between the master and sub brand.

3. Creative frameworks

Once things had started to take shape, we started thinking about the structure of the identity system.

We looked to three rules:

  1. Use shape compositions to connect summit collateral
  2. Use a simple three color palette
  3. Marry our summit identity with our master brand.

By constraining ourselves with rules and limiting the color and typography options we ended up giving ourselves a lot of room to be creative within the framework. We kept finding new ways to use shapes; zooming in on a particular detail, building canvases by overlapping opaque pieces, creating photography crops, and animating typography. The limited color palette helped tie the system together across all summit collateral such as programs, posters, website, and stage props.

Hopefully this provides a good overview of how I went about creating the Sway Minds brand. If you’re curious to see how it all turned out, check out our Facebook page. I’m excited to push the system even further as we start preparing for Sway Minds 2018.

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