It’s a new dawn

Creating the art direction for a CRM platform

Nick Levesque
Jul 13, 2020 · 6 min read

One of the biggest additions to the Zendesk product family is our CRM platform. It’s so big, we called it Zendesk Sunshine. ☀️ Our brand team’s goal was to bring it to life through a webpage and an introductory video. Here’s a look at our process for creating the art direction.

Finding the right mood

Brainstorming on how the Sunshine branding could come to life, we created mood boards of possible art directions. Maybe it could be lifestyle photography, all in the color yellow. Maybe we could go abstract and play with crystals, reflections, and refractions. Maybe we could play with shadows, emphasizing things created from light.

While all of these ideas sounded cool from a visual perspective, we just weren’t quite sure they were conceptually capturing what the product can do.

Guiding light

Getting stuck on what the right approach was, we decided to take a step back. Our Executive Creative Director suggested writing a strategy brief to drive the creative work. We’ve always used a project brief, but these were crafted by our stakeholders who defined the project goals. There was a need for another document that was crafted by the brand team to define the creative strategies for our projects. It seems wild now to think that we ever went with out this, but I feel grateful to be on a team that’s always rethinking and improving our process.

The brand leadership got together for a mini offsite to clear our heads and write our strategy.

By the end of the day we crafted a four-page document with challenges, insights, and strategy. Here’s a snippet:

Our tagline is “The best customer experiences are built with Zendesk.” Normally, we’re focused on the “customer experiences,” but for Sunshine, we’re focused on “built.” If we try to connect to the customer experience too soon, we’ll gloss over the technological knot Zendesk is untangling.

We believe that Sunshine will be deeply appealing to CIOs, core support buyers, and developers who know the pain of platform limitations. So we’ll capture their imagination and inspire the courage to try something new and better. We’ll excite them about building whatever their business might need — whatever they can dream up.

We want them to see that a platform change can make their business more simple, flexible, and powerful. Visually, we want to look like nothing else in the CRM software market. We’re going to showcase a world of pure imagination.

By the end of the document, we summed up all of our thoughts into one sentence. I jokingly called this the Thees-yas (like a thesis statement, but more fabulous) and fortunately or unfortunately, the name stuck. The sentence is supposed to capture an intriguing thought and be a jumping off point. It would be our north star for all creative work. Whatever we made, we could hold it against this prompt and ask if it successfully embodies its meaning. Our statement for the Sunshine brand work was: What could you build?

Art direction

Newly empowered with a direction, now came time for the creative manifestation. Because “build” is so action-oriented, we knew from the beginning that we wanted this design work to feel alive through animation. With our animators being the experts, we wanted to see what inspires them and their work. So they compiled an amazing list of inspiration, techniques, and examples.

On the list were the classic MTV bumpers from the 80s and 90s. These were really the birth of the dynamic logo, inspiring so much contemporary work. Their liveliness and creativity were the perfect inspiration.

Having recently watched Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, the intro sequence with shifting styles on their production company logos further baked the concept into my brain. Probably through hypnosis.

Leaning into the mixture of styles, we thought it would be a great opportunity to connect our illustration and photography aesthetics in one place. We’ve been meaning to play around with 3D renders for a while, but wanted it to be intentional before we introduced something new. So we embraced the chaos and tied together a little bit of everything with a little bit of new.

Just gimme the light

Yes that’s a Sean Paul reference. Let’s get to the good stuff.

Website

Catering to developers, we wanted the final web experience to be very interactive, putting the person exploring the webpage in control. We wanted the hero image to feel like flipping a switch. The yellow sphere was the exterior view, but when you hover you see a glimpse into a world of possibilities with the aesthetic of a code terminal.

The rest of the site continues to put the user in control with opportunities for playful interaction.

Here’s a button that never got implemented, but helped sell the vision.

Our spin-off developer webpage also ties into the Sunshine art direction, with lots of interaction.

Video

Our introductory video was quite the production. The goal was to introduce the concept of our new product, energize, and inspire people with the possibilities of creating their own customer experiences.

The final outcome was a visual feast combining 2D, 3D, and stop motion animation.

Check out the full video here:

This was such a fun, collaborative project. There were so many people involved: producers, writers, designers, illustrators, photographers, paper and 3D modelers, animators, videographers, audio engineers, and developers. This project brought everyone together and really pushed us to be experimental and try new things as a brand team. I look forward to seeing how the Sunshine brand continues to charm, inspire, and evolve over time. After all, it’s sunshine that allows us to come out and play.

Check out design.zendesk.com for more thought leadership, design process, and other creative musings.

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Zendesk Creative

We're a blend of art, copy, video, and product design.

Zendesk Creative

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.

Nick Levesque

Written by

Creative Director | nicklevesque.com

Zendesk Creative

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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