Have you ever partnered with designers to design a design brand that helps designers showcase their design work to an audience of… (wait for it) ...designers? We just did exactly that. And now we want to tell you about it.
In this two-part article, we’ll give you the scoop on our collaborative project to level up our Spotify Design brand. We’ll explain what we did and why we did it, plus tell you what we learned about wrangling stakeholders and embracing color in the age of dark themes. This first installment will cover the rebrand of Spotify Design. Its companion piece (coming soon!) will show how we applied the new brand to this bright and shiny website that you’re currently looking at.
A hard look at the old brand
In 2018 and 2019, Spotify began to play a stronger role in the global design community. We started developing a brand for our discipline through an external website, social media (Twitter and Instagram), and cool events. Then in September of last year, we stood back, took a hard look at what we’d done, and realized we’d missed an opportunity.
We saw that designers were pushing our Spotify Design brand system to the breaking point. Assets for presentations, social media, and in-person happenings were being created by different teams, and the interpretation of our design guidelines was a bit, um, how do we put this? A bit relaxed. We could see that our designers craved a more flexible, playful system that would allow them to tell stories, explore big ideas, and energize our community.
So, we started fresh. We tackled the new brand using our product design process — a.k.a. think it, build it, ship it, tweak it — to give ourselves some structure and share our progress with designers in their own language.
More emotional mojo
Before jumping into fix-it mode, we wanted to define our problem and figure out who’d help us solve it. For the initial design exploration, we partnered with independent art director Albin Holmqvist, who’d just completed a bold brand refresh for one of our favourite flagship playlists, Altar.
Because we’d worked with Albin to bring some emotional mojo to one of our beloved editorial destinations, our team trusted him to create a brand that would be bolder — dare we say louder — that we’d be proud to represent us.
We captured our community's T's and O's
A chorus of voices
It was during preliminary research sessions with our design team that we first encountered the paradox of designing for designers. Because while designers tend to have balanced perspectives, supernatural empathy, and scarily spot-on hunches, they also have tons of opinions!
Respecting individual viewpoints is extremely important to us because of our diverse and multi-disciplinary community, and we wanted all our designers to feel ownership over the new brand.
But we also wanted a strong direction. And a diluted, design-by-committee, trying-to-please-everyone-but-actually-pleasing-no-one brand was #1 on our “How do we know if we’ve blown it?” list of hazards. We also wanted to adhere to guidelines from our Brand & Creative team, to help us ensure our brand would be recognizable as part of the Spotify family while still representing our design identity — one that’s fun, curious, and vibrant.
New DNA takes shape
Saturated with perspectives, viewpoints, and (ahem) opinions, Albin started exploring. We asked him to keep in mind the following brand attributes, as determined by our team:
WARM & FRIENDLY
Bright hues quickly became a central theme in the discovery process. We wanted to stay away from the neutral, muted colors and with dark design themes so closely associated with Spotify, we hoped to deliver something more unexpected. Albin’s experience as an editorial art director made him brave with color:
He presented ideas that used a variety of strong, extensible elements, and we gravitated most toward the ones that added an analog vibe to our primarily digital experience. In the examples below you can see our brand’s new DNA — bursts, action lines, and hand-drawn highlights — starting to take shape. Those accents exuded the personality we were looking for, and were refined and carried over to the final design system.
Photography-wise, we wanted to do away with stoic, “I am a very serious designer” headshots. By combining color photography with bright backgrounds and the fun highlights, we were better able to capture who we are as humans.
In search of unity
Our goal was to unify Spotify Design with the Spotify brand at large, while maintaining the avant-garde approach we loved in Albin’s early explorations. We were experimenting with a lesser used version of Spotify’s standard typeface, but we couldn’t make the brand feel sufficiently Spotify without our trusty Spotify Circular Book.
We originally thought we might differentiate Spotify Design through typography, but we made so many other changes that a font refresh was unnecessary. We wanted the overall effect to be “Spotify Design got a glow up!” as opposed to “Wait, what brand is this?”
Passing the swag test
Next up, we started by applying the brand to different things to make it feel real. How might the brand behave on old-school printed-out posters? How about in new-school animated GIFs? We could write a whole article about the science of applying your brand to mock-ups of water bottles and sweatshirts. But let’s leave it at this: One of the truest ways to evaluate employer branding is by asking designers, “Hey, would you wear this swag?”
Solidify and celebrate
We then gathered feedback from our design leaders and brand guardians. And with approval on the horizon, we dove into iteration mode. After a few more rounds of review, we’d done it: Spotify Design was rebranded!
To solidify and celebrate our decisions, we made a brand book and cranked out some practical assets. Because a brand is nothing without a slick Google Slides template! We also began a communications plan to let our designers know about the changes we made and how to find the tools to put the new brand into action.
Play it your own way
We see our new brand as a unifying starting point, not a complete toolkit of immovable assets. Why? Because we know designers like to play. We invited them to do so by creating their own brand DNA to be added to our asset library. We also kicked off a swag competition, promising that the winning piece of hot design fire would be produced. Check out some of the swaggiest ideas below:
The adventure continues...
So we had a new brand, and we thought it looked really nice in a variety of places. But there was one especially important place that needed our attention: the Spotify.Design website. Tune in for the second half of our rebrand adventure, where we talk about how our newly minted brand inspired the creation of the internet webzone you’re currently beholding.
Design Program Manager
Nanci leads culture and community programs for Spotify Design. In between bossing emoji quizzes, she chairs the Spotify.design Editorial Board with an iron fist in a velvet glove.