Intro to the rebrand
Last week we launched the most complex rebrand we’ve ever done. We infamously put this project off for many years, due to the energy and resources that would be required to do it right. This wasn’t solely a new website and logo, this rebrand included a new direction with our company name and much of our design/brand system. At the same time, it had to embody where we came from and how we’ve evolved over the last 16 years. So we waited for the right time so we could give it the collective focus and patience it deserved.
On a personal level, this rebrand was special for me as it coincided with my 10 year anniversary at Telepathy. From starting as an intern in 2007 to working my way up to Creative Director, this project was, in a way, the culmination of my entire design career. Although it was a huge team effort (literally our whole team), the success or failure of the rebrand felt like it was on my shoulders, no pressure!
This is our honest story of over a year’s worth of work dedicated to building a brand that reflects the roots that created us and defines and where we’re going next.
At the start of the rebrand, our founder and CEO, Chuck, asked us to question everything we identify with — including the name of the company. If you’ve ever considered changing your company’s name you can relate to the baggage packaged within this task:
- How do we ensure our name is unique to our industry and better than our current name?
- How do we preserve the brand equity we’ve built up over time?
- Can we secure a trademark, domains, social media handles…etc to support the new name?
Needless to say, the mere thought of it can hurt your brain and instill a slight panic.
From the beginning, we had a gut feeling that we would end up removing “Digital” and keeping “Telepathy” but we wanted to stay open to a completely new name so we did some name exploration.
We led our 16 person design team through a name exploration to see what might emerge.
The names ranged from cheeky puns like “U&I” to those that embodied our culture like “tribe” and “elevate.” In the end, we always came back to Telepathy. Telepathy means “communication from one mind to another by extrasensory means” which is actually a perfectly fitting name when you look at it through a UX / XD lens.
Refining brand attributes
Before unleashing our antsy designers to create logo concepts for the Telepathy name, we needed to shore up our core identity. From previous years we already had established a solid culture platform. We call it The Tao and it outlines the way we use our noble cause and values to drive the unique way we work as a team. However our brand attributes were basically nonexistent, so it was time to put together another workshop.
We asked teams of designers, developers, and strategists 2 questions as part of our attribute workshop. These questions aim to personify the brand thus making attributes easier to extract. We framed these questions in a current and future state so the attributes would be honest and aspirational.
In the end, we refined the list down to 5 simple attributes
We knew we needed solid brand attributes before we could be capable of evaluating logo concepts. For us, it was important for our logo to convey an evolution of our brand and a sense of maturity without feeling stuffy or contrived. These attributes would serve as a guide to constructively and qualitatively evaluate logos and remove the subjectivity that exists in the branding process.
No rebrand blog post would be complete without photos of the team staring at walls plastered in colorful pieces of inspiration. For this exercise we asked each attendee to bring 10-15 pieces of inspiration, this could be anything from websites to photography to typefaces. As a group, we gravitated towards pieces that were highly creative while still looking professional. We agreed to avoid things are highly trendy or designed for the sake of decoration.
In workshops like these, it’s important to stay centered on the objective of the workshop. Some pitfalls to avoid are:
- Choosing things just because you like them. It’s not about you, it’s about the brand.
- Getting drawn to things that are flashy or bold. When looking at a wall full of images it’s natural to be drawn to the shiniest object or the one that is different from the others.
- Letting one or two people influence everyone. Don’t let the loud teammate talk the entire time, keep everyone involved.
Logo round 1 – We got this! …Don’t we?
Armed with a noble cause, company values, and brand attributes we were ready to begin designing logo concepts. Again, for this phase, we invited our entire design team to participate. The ideas started flowing, from simple wordmarks to abstract symbols, each designer was cranking out logo concepts. Around 100 logos were created in this first round.
The results were….pretty underwhelming. There were a couple concepts that were interesting and spurred discussion, but overall the design team (myself included) left the first round of logo designs with their heads hung low and a feeling of defeat. How could 16 designers armed with weeks of mental preparation and planning come up with nothing?
This was my first big punch to the gut in this project. We weren’t expecting a final logo after just one session but we were hoping for good progress or at least baby steps.
Website style tiles
Coming off the tails of an uninspiring round of logos, we tried to regain momentum by switching gears and working on our website. If you’ve ever worked on branding, you know that sometimes you need to step away from it and find inspiration elsewhere.
We formed a small core team of designers, Megan Sornson, Erick Bautista and myself who would be working on the website and began to design style tiles. Style tiles allowed us to explore vastly different visual directions quickly before we spent time on one direction. Throughout the style tiles, we curated design elements such as color, typography, illustration, and photography.
While each style tile had certain elements that we liked, we all kept going back to #4. Something about the color palette and serif typeface just felt right. To ensure that we weren’t going off the rails, we circled back to our brand attributes to double check that the style tiles aligned with the 5 words we had decided on earlier. They aligned perfectly.
Logo round 2 – “I don’t know why…I just hate it.”
With the momentum building from the style tile alignment, we decided to revisit the logo. The core team began round 2 of designing logos. Again, hundreds of logos were created. Again, similar results from round one, none of the logos felt quite right.
We needed some new blood and ideas, so we got the band back together. Chuck (CEO), Dave (Director of Development) and I have been building our internal projects together for the last 10 years. We set up an all day sprint to discuss the logo progression and work on some new concepts in real time. We were immediately drawn to the black square logo concepts (remember the pitfall I mentioned earlier about being drawn to things because they’re different?).
The square shape was bold and balanced, the nine letters of “Telepathy” fit perfectly into the 3×3 grid. After some tweaking and polishing, we had the logo right where we wanted it.
We were pretty confident that this was the one and we were excited to share the news with the entire team. In a morning huddle, we shared the style tile direction with the entire team alongside the new logo. The reaction…crickets.
Eventually, people started to give feedback, some liked it, others not so much. We left the huddle feeling neutral about the whole thing, empathizing that people are resistant to change and hoping that they would learn to like it.
Then the personal emails and slack messages started to pour in… People really felt strongly against the direction. “It’s too trendy” “there’s no soul” “It doesn’t feel like us” “I don’t know why, I just hate it.” People also kept sending links of similar logos.
The common theme in all of the feedback was that the new logo was not aligned with our foundational brand attributes. Ultimately, we had gotten excited about a direction, and emotion had taken over. We knew that we still had a lot of work to do.
Another defeating punch to the gut (it was starting to feel common at this point). Once again we decided to keep marching forward and work on other parts of the rebrand. The lack of a logo was starting to feel like the elephant in the room, we were rebranding without the cornerstone of the brand.
A content first website approach
Back in the days of preloaders, linen backgrounds and shiny buttons a design company could hide their mediocre copy and content under design flourishes and still appear as professional, creative company. Not that we’ve ever done this…
Circa 2008 and 2011
We approached the website with a content-first approach which was crucial for this project given the heavy emphasis on type and the minimal use of design elements. If the content is painstakingly written and the type is beautiful the rest of the design comes easy. From repositioning our services to rewriting all of our case studies, our website was rewritten, designed, and built from the ground up.
Visually we wanted our website to be simple and striking. Lots of white space and minimal use of design elements was intentional to focus the user on our work and our words. We used motion throughout the website to make the content feel like it’s unfolding before the user and helping guide their experience. The website was designed and built to look great on any screen big or small.
Creating a design system
We knew we wanted to design a brand system to provide our entire brand ecosystem with a set of standards and guidelines to keep things cohesive and intentional. Everything from building signage to our website to sales materials needed to feel aligned. Our design system was built by our design team but is invaluable to departments across our company. Those small brand requests like “can you send me a logo” or “whats our hex code” can now be answered by sending a link.
I’ve always felt the best place to start with a design system is typography. Establishing the typeface(s) and sizing paves the way for the rest of the brand. With our brand, we knew we wanted a super clean aesthetic that had a seasoned, mature design studio feel. We wanted to have a combination of sans serif and serif fonts to add versatility.
After 16 years of shades of blue and teal, we knew it was time for a change. We wanted to keep the color palette somewhat neutral with lots of black and white so we don’t overpower our clients brand with our own. We chose a bold and classic red as an accent color.
While we don’t rely heavily on illustrations we wanted to create a style that we could use to add personality and delight to our content. Using only simple shapes and colors (red, black, and gray) we designed a unique style that works well for abstract and non-abstract concepts.
We wanted our brand to feel alive and respond organically to the user. We worked closely with our development team to make our animations feel subtle and seamless.
Having all the tools in a toolbox doesn’t necessarily mean you know how to use them. We created design principles as a foundation for guiding our design thinking and as a way to navigate today’s and tomorrow’s challenges.
Most importantly we want the design system to be used and embraced by our team and evolve over time with our needs. It is public for anyone to see and we hope others use it as a resource to create their own organization’s design system.
Logo round 3 – Back to basics
Back to the elephant in the room. It was time to nail down our logo once and for all.
Riffing off the simple shapes used in our illustration style we worked on a logo concept that included 3 shapes, a square, triangle, and circle – each shape simpler than the previous until ending at the simplest, most organic shape, the circle. We chose to pass on the shape concept but the wordmark itself was feeling good to the team.
After literally hundreds of logos, we realized that incorporating a mark into the logo wasn’t working. Every mark we designed seemed to conflict with our brand attributes in some way. We revisited the idea of a simple wordmark setup in the perfect font. With brand attributes like “Genuine”, “Seasoned” and “Soulful,” all signs were pointing towards a serif. After exploring our favorite serifs, we returned to Hoeffler Bold, one that we had been using throughout the process as a placeholder. It had been in front of us the whole time. We customized some of the serifs, kerned it just right, and called it done, this time for real.
It’s simple yet soulful, approachable yet mature. Pairing it with our design system and color palette reaffirmed how well it works with the new brand. Black, red, and white versions of the logo were created as well as “T” logo to be used when the situation calls for a small logo.
Launching the rebrand
With the brand finalized and website and design system built, we were finally ready for the launch. We love excuses for throwing parties so before we launched the brand to the world we had a rebrand party for our employees. The party included screen printing shirts, playing cornhole, and a short presentation of our history. Everyone in the company was involved in the rebrand so we wanted everyone to feel proud of the achievement.
The following week we launched the new brand to the public. An email from our founder Chuck was written to our long list of friends and clients as we launched the new site. The response surpassed our expectations.
This was one of the toughest projects I’ve ever worked on. You’d think after 10 years of working at the same company would make it easier but the opposite was true. One of the toughest aspects of branding is the sense of permanence with every decision. In product design or marketing, it’s relatively easy to adapt and learn from mistakes. While in branding, retracting decisions made public can take years to recover from.
Involving the entire team, while it had its downsides, was overwhelming a positive aspect in getting the team aligned and excited about the rebrand. Our company embraces transparency and culture like none other and it was crucial for people to feel like this brand is a reflection of the who we are today and who we want to be tomorrow.