I’ve always been the kind of person who was obsessed with design. I was born in Porto Alegre, a bustling city in the extreme south of Brazil. From a young age, I explored the constraints of the places around me, studied the buildings, wrapped my mind around the implicit visual communication in the design of every space.
I craved exploring new spaces. I traveled everywhere, and eventually moved to Buenos Aires. Professionally, I became a designer, a head of art and finally a design director. But yet again, I started to crave breaking out. I wanted to try something new.
So I ended up at this startup called Serverless, faced with a daunting task: create an entirely new brand identity for them, while paying homage to the identity that came before it. Their new identity had to be a perfect blend of the old and the new, and it had to factor in open source communities, technical docs, meetups presentations, video, intangible “vibe”, and so much more.
And now, here I am on the other side. In this post, I’m laying out my entire design process for anyone who’s interested in learning more about how to create a solid brand identity—whether its from a green field, or you’re working to evolve an existing identity.
The number one thing to remember with design, is that your design serves a purpose. It works to build a community, tell a story, grow product recognition and usage. And as such, it’s always in flux. Designers have to be good at instantly adapting to both the world outside the company, and the needs within it.
Taking inspiration from Ryan Gum’s growth process, my design process respects some very familiar principles:
Identity, in other words, is a construction—a circle that evolves and constantly reinvents itself. As you traverse this circle, ask yourselves these two questions:
1. What’s next in the brand evolution?
Design must constantly evolve, and you have to figure out how to do so without losing its essence and recognizability. Evolution doesn’t mean that the past gets erased, it means the past is your foundation. Along the way, don’t be afraid to experiment. Nothing is really bad, but everything can always be better.
Nothing is really bad, but everything can always be better.
2. Does this design have a voice?
Your designs are more than just art; they move the needle for the company. And in order to do that, you as the designer need to understand where they want to be, and how you can help them get there.
That is what great design does: it builds the visual voice that leads the company.
With that in mind, let’s talk about the practicalities of implementing brand design across an entire organization, and what to watch for along the way.
Technology changes. New platforms get developed, which make way for new types of behaviors and interactions. We find ourselves in a situation where evolution isn’t a question of choice, but rather one of survival.
This forces us to create new communication rules that follow the contextual logic of every platform. Don’t blame the message; if something is failing, it’s the way we presented it that isn’t working.
For example, other day I was talking with the Serverless growth team about diversifying the way we share our content in Twitter. My first thought, as a very visual person was, “let’s use more images, more videos, more gifs!“.
This wasn’t a bad idea—like I said before, there’s no such thing. But there was one thing I didn’t consider: including images in tweets means the link shows up as blue text, instead of getting expanded into a visual card. The link blends in with the hashtags, and is more easily missed. The end result can mean less engagement and fewer clicks. Not good!
Obviously, we’re still using a mix of content types on social media, but it’s important for designers to understand the main interaction patterns of each platform, and find ways in to make our communication as appealing as possible given their constraints.
No matter how much “prettier” an image might be, a responsive piece of content is the most compelling message, and what ultimately creates value as a brand.
You have to be able to look at your own work with a critical eye. You want the kind of design that makes someone stop in their tracks, pull out their headphones, and look. If you passed by your own design on the street, would you stop? You have to be honest. If the answer is no, you have to be humble and go back to the drawing board.
Part of doing show-stopping work is taking risks and experimenting, but also openly hearing feedback about what’s working and what isn’t. Once I began leading the growth team’s design communications, I would ask the whole team for feedback on my designs. They always pointed out things I didn’t see, and this meant we got the best possible result for every design that went public.
One example: I designed a custom newsletter for our Serverless Platform announcement. I spent a lot of time making custom illustrations to show its features, and I honestly really liked them. But some valid points got raised, too. The team thought we should use real product shots of the dashboard, to make it more tangible for people.
I had to admit, I agreed.
Sure, taking feedback is not always easy, but it’s important, and everybody needs it to do well:
No matter how good you are at your job, there’s always a lot to learn and unlearn. That’s why top athletes and musicians need coaches, even at their peak. Farheen Gani, in her great article called Making feedback work for you
As important as receiving feedback, is knowing how to ask for it. Make sure that you’ve designed so that people know where to focus. Tell them where you are in your process: just beginning, or doing the final adjustments? This will help you to get the help that you want with minimal overhead.
All these recommendations here are obviously based on my own experiences as a designer, but I think they can be useful for people in all different types of roles. So, take a risk, try something different. Search for ways to make something good even greater.
At Serverless, we have a culture of recognition and evolution. We celebrate and improve what is working, and take the steps to change what is not. We value bravery in approach, which for me has been liberating and exciting.
If you feel like you relate to the way we see design in Serverless, feel free to apply! We’re now hiring UI/UX designers in San Francisco and remotely.
Andre leads design at Serverless.
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