A story of how we tell (horticultural) stories

Raphael Güller
Mar 11, 2019 · 5 min read

Storytelling. One of those terrible marketing buzzwords that come in and out of fashion. Our Chief Creative Officer (hey Toke!) will probably acknowledge the term with a generous *eyeroll* when he reads this article. But, believe me, it’s a beautiful thing and we do it all the time here at Zendesk.

I’d like to tell you the story of how we told stories at our global user conference Relate 18.

And like any great tale, this one unfolds in three acts. Sit down, make yourself comfortable, and let’s crack that spine open.


Chapter one: Picking a narrative

Some writers claim they find their stories on extended drug trips. Or they suffer of mild psychosis and their characters appear to them in their dreams. Who knows, it might work. Our official line is that we went about this task rather strategically. Some of our requirements were:

  • We want it to be on brand (duh)

Then we locked ourselves up in a cabin and spoke to imaginary people in our heads. Kidding. But after a few rounds of exploration and iteration, we ended up with this:

The Conservatory — A Zendesk space for growth

The conservatory is where we come together to thrive. We learn how to nurture better relationships with our customers. And no matter what our attendees are looking for — personal, or company growth — there’s fertiliser here.

Growing plants. Simple. And it ticks all of the boxes above: Our Zendesk offices around the world are full of plants. The vast carpets and wallpapers of the Fairmont are full of ornamental leaves. And something must be terribly off if your Instagram feed is not overgrown with succulents and fiddle fig leaf trees.

So, off we went to create a green oasis in the middle of San Francisco.


Chapter two: Creating the characters and sets

To grow a garden, you will of course need quite a bit of material. Think seedlings and shovels and garden gloves and pixels and words and colour palettes.

This is the kit we gathered:

(1) You can’t depict a garden without a few fresh shades of green. We paired those with a few of our brand colours to solidly root it all in Zendesk ground.
(2) We’ve taken our Relationshapes (the geometric shapes that our product logos are based on) and stretched them into a set of lush plants.
(3) These funny illustrated characters feature in all sorts of Zendesk stories. You might have seen them around. They are drawn by our friend Marcus Oakley. For Relate, we created a set of charming garden helpers.
(4) So much exciting wordplay to be had with a horticultural vocabulary. We dial up the fun factor compared to our in-product language and gave our characters some silly lines.

Next up is the allotments:

(5) The centre of the Zendesk garden is our own Conservatory. A space to meet other gardeners and learn more about smartest (customer) pruning tools.

All set then. Let’s tell the story.


Chapter three: Telling the story

Now, we won’t bore you here with a second rate retelling of the tale. You should just join us next time and experience it yourself. But here are a few of our botanical highlights:

The nursery was essentially an empty flowerbed when the doors opened. After all, the point was to acquire the knowledge and tools so we could grow our plants collectively. Our host Sarah Reed planted the seeds. Then, magically, it rained and little saplings started appearing on stage.

Over the next two days, we slowly grew those plants into a full garden. (You say two days to grow plants is pretty darn fast? True. But our attendees are also pretty darn smart and skilled.)

Away from the main stage, our illustrated garden characters each hosted a breakout track, tending a different plant. And they didn’t just appear on screens. Physical versions had escaped and hidden in and around the conference venue. Attendees were invited to track them all down and enter a price draw.

Our esteemed VIBees had a special place to go and network. The Hive. Housed on the top floor with 360 views of the city, this was the place of milk and honey, botanical aromatherapy and a lot of cross-pollinating thoughts.

Finally, after a lot of smart talks and engaged networking, our plants on the main stage had grown bigger than we could have ever wished for. And a surprise visit of the SF Gay Men’s Choir brought it all to bloom. In beautiful rainbow colours, of course.

Relate was storytelling in full bloom.

And we’re very fortunate at Zendesk to have so many talented folks that are passionate about the best tales. From copy writers to graphic designers and animators, this was a big team effort that needs every single hand to pull it off.

If you’re a good gardener — ehrm — storyteller yourself, then you should probably join our team and help us craft ever more engaging narratives. Zendesk Creative is hiring and we’d love to meet you.

P.S.

Looking for a soundtrack while pruning your own petunias? Our Relate playlists provide tunes for all sorts of gardening activities. From heavy soil lifting beats to inspired rose sniffing melodies. Have a listen here.

We like making new friends. Let keep this going. Check out design.zendesk.com for more thought leadership, design process, and other creative musings.

Zendesk Creative Collection

We're a blend of art, copy, video, and product design. We come from different backgrounds, but we share one passion as the Creative team—making compelling work for Zendesk.

Raphael Güller

Written by

Creative Director

Zendesk Creative Collection

We're a blend of art, copy, video, and product design. We come from different backgrounds, but we share one passion as the Creative team—making compelling work for Zendesk.

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