An Approachable Tech Brand
Project: Full Rebrand
Company: True Office Learning
Role: Design Director
The goal in creating a new brand was to add humanity and approachability to our e-learning company, and also to distance ourselves from the NYSE’s corporate/finance (see Part 2 of the True Office startup journey, if you’re curious) vibe. Discussions revolved around a more open feel, brighter palette, and “mascots” for each product in our suite.
I worked with our executive team, our in-house designers, and a clutch contractor to bring it all together and I must say, this is the most successful (and the most logically systematized) brand I’ve worked on thus far. Shout out to Andrew Maruska at House of 207 for his huge contributions to the overall style, and the actual logo design.
Final Output: Brand in Use
The core of TOL’s brand is digital, so the new brand’s overall open feel and full spectrum of colors really came to life as designs came together for the new site.
Collateral and Marketing
Once we were feeling good on the overall direction, we cascaded the styles to our PDF one-sheets, product “explainer” videos, and brochures and swag for events.
Illustration: Custom art quickly emerged as an important tool to inform a unique voice, but also to break out of a dependency on stock photos (wherever possible). This meant I had the pleasure to create each of these images, and more:
Palette: After years of only being able to use white and blue, we moved out into the full spectrum, anchoring color use on a lively magenta and bright white.
Logo: After agreement on our primary logo design from Andrew, I expanded it for use wherever we might need.
Product Mascots: Rebranding afforded a chance to rename our existing products (and ideas for the 2 new pieces of software then being developed), which lent some character to each software. Scholar is the core learning software, Poet the Content Management System (CMS) to create a course, I.Q. the analytics portal to see how your course is going, and the newest in the gang is Learn I.O. – simply a better Learning Management System (LMS) for automatically enrolling users and delivering the Scholar courses to your team.
Scholar took the form of a student, owning that golden yellow sweater and circular shapes.
Poet is a hip(ster?) creative, rocking a strong red shirt and gravitating toward square forms.
I.Q.’s data-centric offering just had to become a scientist, accented with purple and triangles.
Learn I.O. is a systematic software so we went with a robot, with teal touches and hexagons.
Icon Set: I admit that the results here are fairly complex, but the intended use for these icons quickly became more of a “small illustration” case. For their somewhat out-of-the-ordinary function, they’ve worked well for us.
Our initial brand sprint resulted in great bones, but I then dove into details to flesh out a set of usage guidelines for the wider team. This crystallized our plan to sub-brand the software products by color, and flowed nicely (and grew quickly!) as we moved into production on new web pages, sales collateral, and social media assets. Andrew also set us up with business cards and a good starting point for templated one pagers/articles.
Setting the Tone
Who doesn’t love a good research phase? We knew we wanted to take the brand into sharper territory, but it also couldn’t be so hip that it would alienate our B2B clientele. In order to seek a balance, we gathered inspiration both from big corporate players and some techy newcomers:
Developing the mascots & art style
Using the original trio of products as a basis (Scholar, Poet, I.Q.), I experimented with several different art styles in order to determine the right look. (You can also see there was a much clearer vision for Scholar and Poet than there was for I.Q. – I was originally asked if I.Q. could specifically not be a person.)
Would a painterly approach provide a pleasing contrast to the open, brighter design approach? How far did we want to lean into friendliness/approachability? Would we use full color, only the brand palette, or something even more limited?
We landed on a clean look that I’m very proud of, which is based on these tenets:
use realistic proportions, but simplified angular forms
streamline details down to necessary features
use cooler-toned shadows to build depth
build as vector art for easy scaling and re-work
each mascot will use a panel of some kind that alludes to the product’s function
This approach led to a natural extension of these styles/tenets: the illustrations (shown above) for marketing and articles.
Adding a Mascot to the Set
After the rebrand was complete with the trio above, development was wrapping on a 4th member of the software suite: hello Learn I.O.! I knew before long we’d need to round out the mascot gang to a quartet.
After experimenting with another personality/job type (delivery person? librarian?) and even the idea that it could just be a delivery truck, we decided that since this product is based on systematizing and automating the process for delivering courses (and since I.O. stands for “input/output”) a robot was the most apt.
There were several rounds of development to right silhouette, and a debate as to whether teal or blue would be the associated color, but in the end human-like proportions and features worked best. This allows Learn I.O. to stand out from the other three without feeling completely apart. The use of white keeps Learn I.O. from looking ominous, but finding a face design that seemed robotic/blank but still approachable took several iterations.