A few weeks ago it was announced that we are going to move our office to an even Mädder one. It is going to be a bit far from where I live, but I am willing to spend the extra time on the journey to work, after all, we don’t actually have hard office hours.
The new office brings us the opportunity to enforce our brand and a chance to create a more coherent and consistent identity—Mäd 2.0. This is not necessarily a make-over. We don’t just go on Adobe illustrator and add serif on to our M— we like how bold it is now. It is complex and strategic.
Mäd as a brand is definitely something we’ve cared about since the beginning. But we have been flexible allowing Mäd designers to freely explore their creativity as there were no rules besides the Poppins, Ubuntu, and Mäd’s logo. We ask for forgiveness, not permission here. But as the number of Mäd Hatters grows we feel a need for a more standardized brand guideline that will better convey who we are to both the public and our dynamic and constantly-growing team. It’s time to take that step. And I’m really excited to be a part of that process.
We began fresh. We started with “Why.” This took a few meetings, getting everyone to put client work down and focus on ourselves. Why do we wake up in the morning? Why does Mäd exist?
With that big CRAZY purpose identified, we tried to break it down to a personality.
- What is our aspiration?
- What is our personality?
- What are our preferences?
- How do we dress?
- How do we speak?
- Who do we want to work with?
- Who are we trying to appeal to?
- What messages are we trying to convey to others?
We put up a whiteboard in the office and broke the answers down to two categories: what we wanted to say about ourselves and what we wanted others to say about ourselves.
By thinking of our brand as an actual human being with a personality, we were able to better understand how our brand should communicate or behave. After all, the language used to describe brands is the same as how we describe people.
This exercise was fundamentally centered around this question: how do we communicate this “Why” to the rest of the world? The ability to do this well is the hallmark of any successful brand. Apple, for example, thinks differently. They can make anything from MP3 players to cars and still carry it under their powerful brand. They aren’t their products, they are a way of engaging with reality. That is a strong brand.
Creating a persona helped us understand what visual identity best represents Mäd. We identified what works and what doesn’t. An audit of all our communication materials showed us that some of our touch points weren’t consistent. That was what we, the designers, are committed to solving.
Yes. Very much yes. Mood boards actually save tons of time and resources in any project. It shows the necessary components of the brand and portrays the brand’s value, attributes, and personality in one page. And in the beginning. You have it as a resource forever to reference all future works. So spend the few days to do it first to save you weeks down the road.
Mood boards allow us to capture the complex spaghetti ideas we have and effectively communicate with all the stakeholders. It’s something you can point to. “Here.” We can quickly and thoroughly explore different directions for the brand effectively. It’s so easy to jump to solutions or implementations too quickly. There’s a danger in there. Love at first sight is not recommended. Sometimes you have to kill your darlings.
With mood boards, we can align our vision and have a consensus on where we are taking the brand. Having to start over a project simply because we are not on the same page with the client or the team is definitely a suicide mission. The lesson? Do it first, and do it well.
And I did.
Before jumping to Pinterest and pinning everything we love, we defined what we are looking for first (broadly speaking.) We wrote down adjectives for the different directions we were looking for in those inspirations. It is very important to clearly define our goals as early as we can or we risk ending up in a bottomless pit of irrelevant ideas. I hope you are taking notes, there are lots of lessons here.
Creating mood board is the research phase for inspiration. I like to use Pinterest to collect all the ideas. This is because a lot of designers use Pinterest to save their artworks or inspiration, which makes finding great visual elements very easy. They speak designer, meaning the tags and content are a goldmine for those who know how to prospect.
Direction 1 is the direct interpretation of our personality. Very BOLD, different and out-there. We wanted the design to be “a punch in the face,” to demand the audience’s attention right away. Demand. With this direction, we used our Mäd red and typography as the main components of the design. We explored different layouts and hierarchy of typography to create a dynamic look that suits our values.
We looked for inspiration in sports, something very active and dynamic. Every Addidas advertisement is men screaming, or something like that. Very punch-in-the-face attitude. We also created a few custom pieces to test out the practicality of the direction.
This is a style guide for illustrations and icons for the many infographics and other communications elements we wanted to make. Our technical work isn’t always easy to communicate with text or images, so this was important (imagine trying to explain the difference between Agile vs. Waterfall methodology for rolling out an iOS app.) We needed to visualize the direction in all the practical ways we intend to create touch points.
At Mäd, one of our main expertise is designing and building digital products. Direction 2 aims to represent that by wisely utilize negative space with bits of red elements. Smooth and clean. Because red is such a strong color, having it as a highlight on the clean simple image makes the color stand out even more. Bold gets bolder. Direction 2 gives that modern, technology-oriented vibe that clients already understand.
Execution 2 explored a different, more graphic style to compliment Execution 1. The illustrations are clean and simple with a bit of red element to them in order to be consistent.
I have never so ready for any design presentation, even though it was more difficult as an internal project. The result will determine who we are. It’s good that we have a deadline, otherwise, this would go on forever.
I presented the mood boards to the stakeholders, who in this case is CEO and brand team. With each direction, I detailed the reasons and what the thought process behind each element was. I spoke on how I envisioned this applied to our future marketing material or internal documents, thinking 10 years ahead.
In the end, we decided to go with Direction 1 for it best represents Mäd with its boldness. It was easily identifiable, anywhere, whereas the second seemed similar to any tech company’s website. And maybe we’re not just tech, maybe one day we want to engineer cars like apple or get into logistics like Amazon. Adidas makes cologne. Great branding exceeds the current product line and is built to last.
Now that the brand direction is done, the rest of the steps seem a lot easier. (Not easy, but easier.) Direction 1 seems harder to execute right compared to Direction 2 because it’s uncharted waters. But then again, great things are never easy.