Rebuilding a Digital Brand | Help Scout Head of Design | Linda Eliasen

welcome to rebuilding a digital brand thank you all so much for being here and getting out there in the rain and the cold I am Linda Eliason that's my twitter handle and today I'm gonna talk to you about my experience and building brands but first I want to just like tell you a little bit about myself and give you a little bit of my background so I was raised in this part of our planet in Fayetteville Georgia my dad is a preacher and I spent about every single day of my life in this building I just spent every day learning about Jesus and Satan and how to be a proper young lady and there were a lot of rules to follow in this world the only music that I was allowed to listen to was Christian music so I was like really into michael w smith i don't know if you've heard of him but he's like really hot and I also love DC talk they were like really cool heartthrobs at the time from a really young age I liked to draw but early on with the church is my only influence I think my art took a really weird and dark turn and I was that kid who loved horses and dolls and watching Birds so needless to say I had a lot of friends and I was really cool life was really weird for me back then I was basically handed a life and like some skin that I didn't quite feel like I belonged in so it felt very strange but one day all of that changed when I was like flipping through the channels on TV we only had basic cable but this came on oh my god you guys this was amazing I for some reason my parents let me watch an entire episode and I was just changed forever we eventually got cable and then my love for the Simpsons grew into love for shows like Saturday Night Live and the kids in the hall and these shows meant so much to me they meant that somewhere in this world grown-ups we're getting out of bed and instead of going to a chapel to write a sermon or going to like work on spreadsheets they could go and make stuff like this I was like I want to be one of those adults someday so badly so I kept drawing and my style started to get a little bit whimsical I started to play with color and this was like my dad I was like putting him in a slightly inconvenienced position by being a little cold I would even use doodles as a way to like express my complex emotions like my jealousy over my sister's cute boyfriend and I would draw him like he was ugly and I'd also practiced some sass by drawing the mean girl at school as a horse and I'd say things like like that she doesn't believe in washing her face yes take that Ashley anyways through cartoons I had found my personal freedom I was awkwardly figuring my voice out but by creating the world that I wanted to live in on paper I was actually building this like power and confidence that I needed to get out of Dodge I eventually did – I ended up here at the Atlanta College of Art which was a part of the High Museum in Atlanta Georgia I majored in graphic design and a very Swiss and rigid and design environment it was the best experience that I've ever had and at the end of my junior year I was offered an internship at Cartoon Network at this point it seems like I was like kind of figuring it out you know like I was doing the thing I wanted to do as a little kid and I worked really hard while I was there and learned some new things about illustration and design from the pros and after like being nice to enough people and like wiggling my way through the halls I met some people who then gave me an internship at Adult Swim and this was like my goal growing up was to be an adult who made cartoons so I would felt like I was just like on the cusp of it all but while I was here I learned how I had to learn how to break all of those rules that I had just learned in design school and not like alone in my notebook like that horse drawing I had to like do it out loud and in public and that was so vulnerable so this is an actual project on a project like this one my art director kept like getting frustrated with me and telling me that my lines needed to be quote shittier they weren't shitty enough and he would send me back send me back send me back until finally he was like you know what go to the window over there and use your left hand I'm right-handed and draw it standing up to get those lines to loosen up and in these moments I realized that I'm like actually I kind of do like some rules and maybe I'm not quite ready to break them all out loud like this so I quiet I didn't quite know where that left me what do i do from here well you know what it didn't matter cuz it was the recession there were no jobs for anyone anywhere a lot of the people I would just spend my time interning for they lost their jobs as well so it was like really a heartbreaking time for a lot of us except for this guy he looks like he's having a really great time so after like fourteen failed job interviews in my first year after school I finally met this guy this is Freddy von champ and heimer the fourth while the recession meant a death sentence for a lot of companies it was the beginning for this new little company in Atlanta called MailChimp and luckily they're right down the street from where I lived and they needed a junior designer so this began my accidental relationship with tech this place I fell in love with I could still make cartoons and I could still tell stories and I could still inject humor into my artwork but in a safe space that like still had some rules and it still had some structure with lots of goals to reach and a few ladders to climb here and there which I really like I learned a lot about digital brands along these journeys so let's start talking about that now what is a brand everyone but there are a lot of opinions in this room brand is not just a logo brand is a lot more than just finding that perfect font a brand is a whole lot more than just shapes and colors a brand is the way you make people feel so let's talk about some companies that make you feel good Nike makes you feel empowered Sonos makes you feel pretty cool pretty Eddie's kind of Zen Ford makes you feel tough and Pillsbury maybe makes you feel a little bit squishy so what about brands that kind of bum you out or they make you feel bad that have a bad image Chipotle super delicious but there is an entire South Park episode dedicated to what it does to your body they need to work on that IKEA's they make really great stuff but shopping there with your partner will definitely result in a breakup comcast like I just have to put this logo up here and you all know the fury and rage that is dealing with their customer support and lastly the diem V talk about the worst brand of all time if you want to know how to build a great brand you can just basically do exactly the opposite of whatever the DMV has done because they've made every wrong decision that a brand can make they have no discernible logo there's no consistency in their font choice their color palette is all over the place depending on what state you're in and every state can redesign or even rename their DMV like the DDS in Georgia whatever that is but yet they've managed to create a really consistent brand experience for everyone who's ever been there like nobody has ever left the DMV saying wow what a delightful experience or whatever no you're all thinking it when you're there you're like I hate my life I really hate that I just cried in front of a bunch of strangers and like they have a mascot but it's this guy and I just think that that's like really rude he's just there while you're in life anyways throwing shade is really fun and it's really easy and that's why things like designer news the design Twitter exists but what does it take to build a brand that doesn't suck these are just some of the things that I've learned and I just kind of wanted to share some personal stories with you all today about some of the more unusual things that go into building a brand so to me to build a great brand in the world of tech and this digital environment that we're in things move so fast and that's just the nature of it but in my experience to give a brand some life that feels genuine and real you have to give things more time than you're comfortable with you have to give things more space than you might think it's necessary it starts from the top from your CEO and your leadership and as a leader of a brand you have to give people permission to be intensely weird and different you have to give people autonomy to take risks and you have to show them that you believe in them and that you believe in giving them that space basically you just have to let people be creative this was actually one of our mottos at MailChimp back in the day when I first started and here's how we followed that guiding principle when I joined this was what MailChimp looked like before our first rebrand this was back in oh wait so 10 years ago crazy they were pretty cutting edge at the time and really small too there were about 30 of us on the team the founders were pretty chill dudes and they let us get away with a lot it wasn't uncommon for an engineer to change copy at the last minute to spruce things up like check this out they just called the abuse desk and the legal documentation boring stuff right next to overheard on Twitter somebody's like talking about Constant Contact and we're just like yep that's homepage material right there down to every detail I knew that I was in the right place so one of my first projects at MailChimp was kind of a loose prompt it was something like come up with a few ideas for things we can send to our customers to make them feel happy so it's been a lot of time developing this little felt version of our mascot I got really caught up in the technical aspects of this and was really excited to be learning about like manufacturing constraints and the process of making a physical thing it was one of my first projects so I like really wanted it to be good and when I finally finished I felt like it was like perfect and ready to go so I sent it to the CEO to Ben chestnut and I had to get approval and I was so nervous because I was like new but he just like sat there and looked at it and spent a minute thinking and he was like Linda do you think that our mascot has a butt I was like what okay sure so I gave the do divide and we did a few variations back and forth we actually had like at least three back and forth of different butts to get it right but from that day on this guy has a butt and this is the great thing about brand evolution brand work is like improv and improv it's not a one-man show it's yes and that's what the rule is so whatever your partner says to you you just agree with what they're saying and you add to it and that's gonna take you to an unusual and funny place so in that moment our CEO who probably had way better things to do than to talk to me about my stuffed animal that I had worked really hard on he just was very genuine and real and said yes this is a stuffed animal and yes it has a button and so designers at MailChimp have continued to iterate on this and do that yes and so there are versions where the but now has a heart tattoo on it and that initial choice that we made 10 years ago people are still having fun with and then there's this one they really like made some choices in toning up the butt like look at how buff that is but this is 10 years of but evolution guys this takes time there have been thousands of little choices like these at MailChimp and I know we have MailChimp people here today giving a talk hey I love you and it's just thousands of weird little conversations like those that when you let them pop up and you give them space to exist like really magical things can happen and you need to let that happen another thing that I've learned about doing great creative work is by feeling trusted and like I have the space to independently explore and to let that weirdness in so space it's important but how do you do that well I know how you don't do it you one thing that's not effective to is to inject fear into your designers it's not great out of their great design is not born out of fear it's born out of excitement for the stuff that you're doing and you shouldn't talk to your employees like you're an old-timey grandpa or make them feel guilty for being excited about things that aren't related to the brand even if it's not visibly moving some needle on some metric you'd be surprised at how impactful some of this like so time so called time wasters can actually be on your brand so you need to learn to trust your people and you have to let go of a lot of control it's really hard as a manager to give people autonomy sometimes we're afraid that if we leave people alone for too long they'll get off track they'll miss deadlines but when it's it's when we let people feel trusted that they feel more comfortable getting vulnerable and sharing their weird ideas with you after all that's why you hire people you know you get their unique perspective that nobody else has and sometimes to make them feel comfortable sharing that perspective with you you have to give them lots of space like this dog so basically what I'm saying is just like leave people alone sometimes it's okay so when I was a drop box I was the first designer on this product called paper we had one other design lead a couple of engineers and a p.m. it was such a fun process I basically felt like a little kid in a clubhouse with no parents around like we didn't have anyone telling us what to do we were just building the thing that we wanted and it was pretty great but with all that freedom we were able to build a product that we actually wanted to use every day like every discussion that we had was like yeah but what I actually use this what I actually enjoy using this so while we were working on this there were moments that always scared me and this was the moment of starting a document that's so much pressure when you're about to sit down and write some and share it with people and we had experimented with all kinds of empty states like tidal body copy really exciting stuff you know but one night I was like alone in my bedroom working I worked a lot back then and I just decided to put some words and hear that comforted me this is the first sentence to the book Peter Pan it felt really nice having something sweet and familiar here and it just kind of took the pressure off so I kept going and I wrote out the beginnings of other novels novels I hadn't written yet kind of as a reminder to maybe read it someday or if I'd like write something sarcastically inspirational that lives inside my head I'm very sarcastic so there's things like you are a shining star you are a tiny masterpiece that was me just giving myself for being too precious about the work that I was too scared to start doing and it's still in the product today I don't know why they haven't taken it down yet but thank you so branding doesn't have to be loud or colorful or a but it doesn't have to be crazy sometimes sometimes it's something as simple as a sentence that makes you feel good and in a product like paper a product we intentionally decided to keep as simple as possible it was one of the few moments to make the brand connection with users now rebranding really scary right why would a company even want to rebrand well a brand is the establishing of an opinion and a point of view but sometimes a brand might grow up and realize that their image doesn't really work like the values that they hold anymore so it's time to realign the company might feel really great on the inside like yay but then what you see on the outside does not actually match your expectations so it's time for a do-over so after Dropbox I joined this little agency in San Francisco called wano and when I joined this was all that we had as far as brands go we had some white space a logo a circle and some bright colors oh and like a weird Icelandic guy as our founder named Hallie we decided that we wanted a new website and a new brand to go with it and since we were a new agency with not a ton work to show we decided to just make up the work that we wanted to show with our friends and we created stuff that we'd want to be hired for to make in the future it was pretty brilliant so we decided to just start from where we were and we built the brand around that weird Icelandic man and the ideas in his head when he started this thing in the first place we hired a friend Brent Couchman to come in and do some identity work for us he helped us find our new logo and while this logo was being developed I was busy chipping away at Hallie our founders head trying to find the words and values and things that the brand was being born from and this is what we came up with more or less pretty simple meanwhile brent was doing some amazing things with our identity helping us to decide what our structure would be so this is how we would play when I was sitting on all white with lots of breathing room and something colorful and fun beside it so we set out to create an image just one image for our website and we found someone's work who we really liked a photo studio called Mallory and we sent them a sketch they were surprisingly like not weirded out by the sketch that we sent and they got on board and they gues ended the thing that we sent so then we slapped our logo on top and we were all like yeah that feels like us cool but what about it feels like us something about this moment in particular felt perfect something about how its floaty and weird and fun and it doesn't take itself too seriously and there are organic lines meeting hard lines and shapes like okay well what else does it look like maybe it looks like this yes and so we kept hiring our friends to make us stuff so that when clients came into the office they would see the image that we are trying to be.we they would see the feeling that we were trying to evoke they could get a feel for the kind of people that we were and what we wanted to make for them it kind of helped us to set the mood and all we had to do is send as an art director I would just talk to artists over the phone and be like hey I really like your style do you think you could help us come up with something that feels like these things and then we would come up with ideas together sometimes it was a full-on brainstorming session it was just really great and even if it was like a very utilitarian piece of software we would do our best to represent them in a way that doesn't suck and doesn't feel boring and for our personal identity that whitespace came back in and those colors were there to create all the feelings that we wanted to help make people feel and so they're continuing to evolve this brand today so now I'm it helps go when I joined help scout they did have a brand they had been around for seven years a lot of people don't know this they have 75 employees all remote we all work remotely and my team currently has five designers of those designers two of them were able to work on this brand with me while still maintaining all of their other projects on the side new releases were happening there was a lot of work to do but we decided let's give ourselves like five months and just see what happens and what we had wasn't bad like I don't think that what we had was terrible it was just somewhat opinion 'less we felt like we had built a culture and a new opinion that wasn't shining through from this website anymore so once again we had to start from where we were and I sat down with the co-founders and these people who kind of thought they had no idea what their brand should look like when asked to write down a lot of things they turned out to have a lot of opinions they knew what we were and they knew exactly what values we wanted to represent as a brand so then we decided that illustration would be right for us and that we'd set out to discover our new style with an illustrator that I was friends with from Dropbox named Alice Lee she helped us along the way to figure out who we were and what we looked like and she was so incredibly patient we took a bunch of different styles and we looked at them so these are just mood boards but if you see in the bottom left we started to develop a scale from bright and playful to trustworthy and helpful from enthusiastic to sophisticated and we would just get a gut check on each and every person in the room on each of these mood boards and we talked about what worked for us what didn't what was too playful too childish too cartoony and this might seem super obvious but this really did help us to all create what I like to call the hive mind you know like we're all sharing the same brain now about this brand and what it is so we started to take these illustrations and mock them up with our UI and with our branding just to see how it would all come together even before beginning the work of creating our own style sometimes I really loved what we saw but it just didn't feel like us and with other styles we felt like we were like on the right path but it needed some tweaking so we kept exploring and this initial process really only took a few weeks but it's really important work because at the end of it we're able to nail down exactly this like scale that we could refer back to as we started our style so we realized that like human beings are super important for help scout we're a company that is all about people helping people so we needed to nail down the human aspect of it what does this person look like how simple how realistic we kind of ended somewhere in between the first two so then once we had our people I was like what kind of expressions do they make they're more than just like thumbs up people are more complex than that people are sometimes scared and excited are surprised and then we started to look at regular things like furniture this was especially fun we ended up like illustrating so many of our pets that's crazy and then finally we ended up with these people and we put them on our pricing page you know one of the more sterile pages but when we saw this we were just like yeah that is us all right let's get specific now so then we started to look at things like backgrounds and we got so obsessed with these little details by the way those were different could you tell probably not and that's okay because we were having conversations all the way down to like what color of a shadow should be in like whether that was more on-brand to be a pink shadow than a green shadow and these conversations made so much sense to all of us because we are sharing that mind space and by the way like obviously number two Salamis um and suddenly this CEO who felt like he didn't have a lot of opinions about this brand thing he's like well of course I know exactly which plant we are so after seven histories or seven years of history I turns out that they had a lot more opinions than they thought and it was really awesome to be able to show them the way all the way to this and this is where we landed this is our home page and our home page illustration and it took us some real time and a lot of weird conversations like who is this guy what does he do what's his name what is she handing him we realized we knew a lot more about the brand just by talking about this person and what his job is his name is Troy he's a fashion designer obviously and we realist rated this situation like six different times though like it was like a gardener at one point and then it was like a high-end boutique and we were like no one needs to be a little bit less high-end like Troy looks like an asshole take his class it's not like we just spent hours talking about who this customer is and those types of conversations again are just super important to have even if they feel pointless and weird while you're having them and through all of those conversations we were able to take a page that looked like this in the past and turn it into something like this and it just feels like something you know like this was fine this was designed well like the type was good the spacing was good but this makes me feel like ah I can do things with my life yeah and so that's the conversation about the help scout brand and these are the people that we feel like represent us the best because they actually look like people you know so to sum everything up I want to say a thing I hear a lot this idea of getting weird what does that mean well brands are just like people we're all different we all have unique ideas and opinions and senses of humor and the truer that we are to ourselves the better we make each other feel and the better our work gets so I want you to feel empowered to give people space to try new things to look like something else that you've never seen before and to just genuinely be yourselves thank you [Applause]

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