I initially started at Unbound in 2013. I was fresh off the plane from Australia, and what was initially meant to be a ten week project overhauling a site suddenly turned into four years of my life.
Unbound was founded by three authors, Dan, Mitch and Justin, in a Soho pub in 2011, with the goal of using crowdfunding to help authors publish great ideas. Since then the business has grown dramatically, our list of titles and authors has become more diverse, and we’re more confident about who we are and what we believe in.
In the four years since I joined we’ve grown from a business that was trying to understand itself into a passionate collective of designers, developers, publishers, writers, editors, freelancers and friends.
But for most of that time, the brand was still what we had concocted in those ten weeks of 2013. We were focussed on building the best application, and business, that we could. Our mantra was to make the minimum viable product, test that it worked, iterate, and move on to the next challenge.
Sure—there had been questions, mockups, meetings and long meandering arguments about iterating Unbound’s visual identity for years. But it was only with a growing team and a new outlook that we were truly able to do the brand, the heart of Unbound, justice. We partnered with London-based branding agency, Purpose, and got to work.
Moving on from such a big part of our legacy hasn’t been easy. The stickman illustration was fun, irreverent, whimsical and much loved by many. It was, in many ways like Unbound, a happy accident. But we felt it was limiting—failing to convey the depth and richness of Unbound’s authors and ethos.
We’re incredibly proud of our new logo. It represents the very ink that is printed on every page of every book we publish. More than that, it represents the brilliant ideas, the hard work, and the painstaking attention to detail that goes into everything we, and our authors, do.
Unbound’s core purpose is to enable people to turn uncompromised creative thinking into brilliant books. The starting point was, quite literally, the word ‘Unbound’. To us it implies something that is free, liberated, and unconstrained.
To support those core ideas we’ve introduced two new elements.
We’ve said a fond farewell to stickman and introduced a new ‘U’ icon, which like Unbound, is liberated and in the process of breaking out of the confines of its borders. It is ink in motion—an endless well of ideas and inspiration.
Supporting uncompromised creative thinking is at the heart of Unbound, so we’ve introduced ‘Liberating ideas’ as our new tagline and rallying call.
We spent a lot of time considering how this core purpose could be ingrained through the new visual design, and kept coming back to the concept that ‘creativity flows’.
— Hannah, Product Manager
Rebranding the application
We knew applying the new brand would involve updating a huge number of components, both inside and out of the application. First up we took the opportunity to thoroughly review our current UX so we could make improvements along the way—everything from UI elements, imagery, and tone of voice were challenged, tweaked, and overhauled.
From there, we began mocking up key components and user journeys, keeping things simple and agile with paper prototypes and card sorting exercises. We dug into what motivates our readers and authors, what they love about Unbound, what frustrates them. We built demos, testing them and discarding them when they weren’t helping. We talked about our business goals, our personal goals, and the goals of our community.
One of the things which I think was an essential part of the redesign is that we all came into it with a healthy dose of humility. Humility to question ourselves, to ask what the user wants before anything else, and to constantly iterate.
— Vianney, UX designer
We worked together to create a consistent voice—from the use of our new brand colours to the more human grotesque and sans-serif typography—that better reflects who we are and what we believe in: Liberating ideas.
It wasn’t always easy. Taking a Rails app that has been chopped and changed over a number of years and applying a new brand was always going to be a challenge, but we had an incredible team and a ton of momentum behind us. We were excited to see where this new look and feel would take us, so we forked the application and got to work. We called it Project Satellite, because everything is cooler with a codename.
We built it style guide first, using Living Style Guide, which gave us a space to view and understand each component and the confidence to work incredibly quickly.
The new brand dropped the muted pastels in favour of a brighter, more optimistic palette, and we painstakingly researched and selected a new display and body copy font with our branding agency, Purpose (vale, Source Sans Pro).
But beyond that, we refined, reduced, and removed bloat. We deleted a lot of code. We also worked with some incredible freelancers who helped us bring the new brand to life.
Over 600 commits later, with a team of four developers, a designer and front end developer, a UX designer, and a product manager, here we are. We genuinely hope you like the new Unbound—we certainly do.
The rebrand occurred alongside a huge overhaul of our working process. We’ve embraced new methods and tools to get the job done, and the result is an end product we can be proud of, and which we’re excited to share.
— Bex, Junior Developer
Thank you to all of our readers, authors, collaborators, friends and family who helped along the way. Here’s to liberating ideas.
This is just the beginning, and we’d love to hear your thoughts. Get in touch via Twitter, or leave a response below.