There’s a new shape in town

Introducing the new brand identity for Garden, Zendesk’s design system

Ginny Wood
Dec 4, 2019 · 9 min read

Hi, I’m Ginny, and I’m a gardener. No, not like, flowers or fruits or anything like that (though I do enjoy some nice basil…), but a product designer at Zendesk on team Garden. What is Garden, and why does it need a brand? Lucky you—you’re about to find out.

Image for post
Image for post

What is Garden?

Garden is an open-source design system where Zendesk grows accessible user interface components for all its products.

Garden was planted in 2014. Now, it’s a foundational part of product design and front-end development at Zendesk.

Team Garden is a group of designers and engineers, working together to provide a design platform for every product development team at Zendesk. We help them create accessible, consistent, beautiful UI with pre-built components and tooling.

Why does a design system need a brand identity?

Garden isn’t just a project anymore. Now, it’s a product serving products. It needs a brand identity to build recognition, and encourage adoption — the same reasons companies create brand identities. It’ll make Garden feel more real and valid.

And let’s be real — since most design systems don’t have a brand identity, Garden will be the original hipster, right? Right! Such a trendsetter.

Garden’s roots

Zendesk has traditionally crafted internal team logos, to give teams a face and a sense of ownership within the company.

Image for post
Image for post
Sean Heisler

When Garden was a seedling, one of the product designers at Zendesk loaned some time to create a logo for Team Garden. It’s been our beloved profile picture and Slack emoji ever since, and served us well.

Image for post
Image for post
Sara Menefee

But since then, so much has changed. Garden has outgrown this logo for a couple of reasons:

  • Garden has been open source since May 2018. It needs to look like Zendesk to the open source community, who don’t see our internal logos
  • This logo has represented our team. Garden Design System needs a logo to represent it as a product

Everyone on Team Garden team has felt the need for a brand identity for a while. We were so excited when we got the opportunity to work with Talia Eisenberg and Dee Mahon from Zendesk’s own Brand team. They signed up to make us a real, Zendesk product logo, and I signed up to represent Team Garden as the decider.

Planting seeds

Armed with excitement and sticky notes, Talia, Dee and I met up in a Portland coffee shop to kick things off.

Image for post
Image for post

First, we aligned on a list of Garden’s core personality traits—things that should be manifested in the brand. I was excited to realize that when I sat down and reflected on it, I knew Garden’s personality: it comes through in what the team makes and writes.

Garden’s personality

  1. Distilled
  2. Flexible
  3. Consistent
  4. Helpful
  5. High-quality

We also set goals for the brand.

Goals

  1. Reinforce Garden’s brand attributes
  2. Strengthen internal and external awareness
  3. Up-level Garden’s realness
  4. Make fun swag to encourage adoption

Next, we talked about how Garden’s logo would relate to Zendesk’s existing brand identity system.

Defining the relationshape

Did you know that Zendesk product logos are called “relationshapes?” I love this. Each one represents the relationship between you and your customer, facilitated by the product.

Image for post
Image for post
Zendesk product “relationshapes”

Should we make one of these for Garden? As soon as we asked the question, we all knew Garden’s logo would be different for a couple of reasons:

  1. Garden isn’t sold by Zendesk. It’s open-source and free for anyone to use.
  2. Garden’s primary audiences are the product development teams at Zendesk. It’s shaped by their needs.

Still, a relationshape is what makes a product mark feel like Zendesk. Talia and Dee set out to craft a brand identity that spoke this visual language, yet felt distinct. It needed to represent Garden within Zendesk, and represent Zendesk to the open source community.

No pressure.

Moodboard

Talia and Dee pulled together a ton of concepts, including mono/duo chromatic color schemes, layering, kinetic movement, Scandinavian folk art, and even personifying Garden like a character. They met with Team Garden, and we all talked about what was resonating with us.

I’m usually sweating over the pixels of Garden components, so it felt amazing to think big and ask, “what does Garden feel like?”

We all felt inspired by elements of all these concepts, so after pulling together some directions to follow, Talia and Dee started exploring logos.

Time to shape up

Concept 1: The Bee

Image for post
Image for post

Pros

Bees are gardeners, bees collaborate and share ownership, the transparency reflects being open source, and it’s a tribute to Paul Rand’s IBM identity

Cons

Not everyone can tell it’s a bee, it’s removed from a garden, and it’s very different from current product marks

Concept 2: The Critter

Image for post
Image for post

Pros

It feels like a piece of a garden, it feels alive, and the tension between the eyes and the body is reminiscent of Zendesk product relationshapes

Cons

It’s difficult to tell what it is, and it’s removed from a garden

Concept 3: The Tree

Image for post
Image for post

Pros

It feels straight out of a zen garden, and the trunk is like a pivot point like gears or something that works

Cons

Shapes created by overlapping circles are not geometric, and it’s hard to see at small sizes

Concept 4: The Plant

Image for post
Image for post

Pros

It’s a straightforward reference to a garden, it’s rational and harmonious because it is built entirely out of circles, and it is two shapes, like the rest of the Zendesk product marks.

Cons

The size relationship between the top and bottom piece feels arbitrary.

Pruning the concepts

I love metaphors. All of these felt packed with meaning, and I was stumped trying to choose one. I kept going around in circles in my mind.

The next day, a couple of teammates pulled me aside to share the findings from some informal “focus groups”—their families! Definitely unorthodox, but I was grateful for the opportunity to hear from outside the team and outside the tech bubble.

Their perspectives were a humbling reality check. As a designer, I shouldn’t have needed this — but I did. “You’re taking yourselves too seriously,” they said. “You’re getting too design-y about this. No one is following these obscure references. It’s Garden. It should look like Garden.”

I realized they were right. The name Garden is enough of a metaphor. It reflects what we actually do — cultivating user interface components and standards. Stacking more metaphors on top of that wasn’t upholding our value of being distilled.

I made the call to pursue the concept that upheld our value of being distilled. Concept 4: The Plant.

Image for post
Image for post

Refining the concept

I figured now, we just needed to rationalize the size relationship between the two shapes, because it felt arbitrary. Maybe the top shape needed to be larger…or smaller.

Talia and Dee humored me and explored this. They also reminded me of a more important question: how would this logo fit in with Zendesk’s existing product logo system?

Image for post
Image for post

Next to the other Zendesk relationshapes, it didn’t yet strike a balance between harmonizing and being distinct. It was two shapes like the others. But, the shapes were symmetrical and too close in scale. Plus, they weren’t the standard geometric shapes.

“We felt uncomfortable with it being one foot in, one foot out of the system…it’s halfway following the rules, and we don’t want that to come across as careless.”
— Talia Eisenberg

Talia and Dee explored many ways to better fit the system.

Image for post
Image for post

The only version that started to feel right was basically the EPA identity, one of the most famous identity systems of all time. Never mind then.

Image for post
Image for post
Graphic Standards Manual

I even sketched some doodles myself. I felt like we were so close to that elusive, perfect relationship between two shapes.

Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post

There was a deeper issue here. These logos didn’t fit the set because they were two shapes with a boring relationship. No action was happening; they were just sitting there.

Image for post
Image for post

The whole reason relationshapes include two shapes is to convey the action — the verb — happening between a company and a customer using a Zendesk product.

That’s not Garden.

Garden is a noun. A practical, tangible thing. Its logo doesn’t need to communicate a relationship. These logos forced a relationship between two shapes just to fit the system, not because that relationship was part of Garden’s nature.

Zendesk has another product logo that provided inspiration: Sunshine, Zendesk’s CRM platform. Like Garden, people build with it.

Image for post
Image for post

What would Garden look like, distilled down to its essence as a noun?

Blossoming

Image for post
Image for post

Talia and Dee made a final logo that reflects Garden’s true nature, while harmonizing with Zendesk’s product family.

I love its geometry: organic like a garden, rational and geometric — made of four quarters of a circle.

It is growing and reaching upward.

They also created a whole brand identity system.

Like Garden itself, the identity system is made up of flexible, modular components, to be combined in exciting ways.

My teammates are already making some awesome stuff with the system. I can’t wait to see what’s next.

Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Talia Eisenberg
Image for post
Image for post
Ross Moody

A thousand thanks to Talia Eisenberg and Dee Mahon for crafting Garden’s brand identity and making it more real to Team Garden and the world. And to Emily Mueller, producer on this project.

Image for post
Image for post

Thanks for taking a scroll with us. Check out design.zendesk.com for more thought leadership, design process, and other creative musings.

Zendesk Creative

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

Thanks to Jonathan Zempel, Alexa Herasimchuk, Allison Shaw, and Zendesk Creative

Ginny Wood

Written by

Product Designer on the Garden Design System

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.

Ginny Wood

Written by

Product Designer on the Garden Design System

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.