How we upgraded our visual identity to suit the company's transition from a fine art shipping quote aggregator to a technology platform that delivers white glove logistics solutions for 21st century businesses and consumers.
By Nikki Sherry, ARTA Director of Product Design
Why we chose to rebrand
ARTA launched in 2015 with a basic product offering which provided multiple online quotes for US-based Fine Art shipments. Today, we’ve grown into a robust platform and API that enables white glove logistics solutions for a variety of clients across the globe who move any type of good that requires extra handling, services or care. It’s important to us that our appearance manifests this new, broader business approach and gives us the wherewithal to operate and succeed in new landscapes.
ARTA is a young company on the cusp of gaining significant brand traction in the logistics space. We’ve made important developments in the direction and ambition of the business in the last two years, which we felt our original identity (though it served the company well in the early days) couldn’t fully reflect or scale towards. As a team, we decided that this year was an optimal time to not only update our look and feel but overhaul our mission statement, messaging and brand positioning.
Furthermore, the product development team had been working around old custom built elements from earlier iterations of the product. We were eager to build out a more easily replicable and scalable library of designed components. Undertaking the rebrand work in conjunction with this effort would set both a stronger structural and visual foundation for product design and development work to come.
How we chose to undertake the work
We evaluated the resources we had in-house versus what we needed to achieve.
The ARTA team is small and close knit, with solid domain expertise and a few years of successful product innovation already under our belts. We recognized that we had naturally reached a point where strategic realignment would be beneficial. A rebrand offered a timely (and worthwhile) prompt for us to have some big conversations internally about product market fit, and examine the nuances of how the business had changed in just a few short years. We felt no one was in a better position to guide those conversations than ourselves.
I joined ARTA as the Director of Product Design in early 2018. Having started my career in brand strategy and identity design in various agencies before gravitating toward product work, I felt well equipped to spearhead at least the initial parts of our visual rebranding without engaging external help. This was enabled with the support of the Head of Product and Head of Marketing in particular, as well as the rest of the company leadership.
Budget considerations were a factor. We are a start-up after all, and as such we spend our money carefully. Choosing to start the initiative in-house, however, had less to do with “saving money” and more to do with feeling genuinely confident in “spending our team’s talent and resource”. There was a willingness and enthusiasm from each department to participate and input their respective knowledge, experience and future visions for the company. Coupling that with my ability to help direct it all into an effective design solution, we forged ahead in-house. The added benefit of cross-team involvement is that brand buy-in develops much more organically throughout the process, which is crucial for the success of any project, and is something that can be harder for an external agency to achieve.
We did opt to employ specific external motion design and creative development skills much later in the process, as well as an external copywriter when it came to the eventual rollout, which I will detail later in this post.
How we began the process
Like any thorough exercise we started with an audit of all existing branded material and some general surveys on brand sentiment and brand presence. The Head of Product, Head of Marketing and myself tackled this in a few different ways. Along with observing, listening and asking questions of everyone internally, we facilitated messaging workshops, mood boarding exercises, performed SWOT analysis and mapped out the competitor landscape. Externally, we conducted customer facing marketing surveys and in-depth user interviews with all our cohorts. Once we had interrogated all the data (anecdotal and otherwise) we started to converge around some common themes:
- White glove logistics is a fragmented, complex undertaking that we’re dedicated to simplifying for both individuals and enterprise.
- Our proprietary technology solutions need to be architected uniquely in response to our users who deal with a complex mix of inventories.
- Beyond our technology we are a knowledgeable team of professionals, and expert customer service remains of utmost importance to us. We want to elevate that offering both online and off.
These statements encapsulate the values we collectively wanted to maintain moving forward. There were also new ideas we wanted to bake into an updated identity design and some pain points we wanted to improve upon which I will talk more about in the following sections.
Armed with these findings, and a team-wide sense of agreement, I developed a working concept for visual exploration which I felt distilled our thinking into a digestible theme: “Making light work of heavy tasks.”
I took a structured approach to the visual exploration work by breaking out the different elements that would come together to form our identity.
Color, pattern & texture
The original ARTA branding had a stark and minimal approach to color, pattern and texture. This was in order to position the company inside a similar visual landscape as our earliest customers – art galleries – who often utilize a clean cut, monochromatic presence with an abundance of white space. This made a lot of sense for the original iteration of the business, however, we had started to grow into new markets with broader appeal. We’re a useful tool for any seller (or collector) of unique or hard-to-move pieces, such as auction houses and e-commerce marketplaces as well as galleries. As such, we wanted an updated look that could stand out across the board and reflect our newly defined brand personality. Texture can add personality. Pattern, shape and motif could communicate our brand message well without having to use words. We knew we wanted to look knowledgeable, approachable and trustworthy so used that as a basis for visual decision making.
We landed on the use of foundational shapes (squares, circles and triangles) and some real world textures (like concrete, marble and wood) as a nod to the collective objects that we move. We also adopted some more fluid motifs to represent the logistics space more conceptually. We use contour lines as a way of denoting geography/topography as well as a more abstract reference to joined-up-technology and networks. Color was one of the harder elements to pin down since it’s always so subjective. From a practical perspective we knew we needed a wider base of colors than what we worked with previously to allow for more versatility across marketing materials, etc. Accessibility is important to us, so we also wanted to inject more contrast into our palette. We explored many combinations and landed on a mature, dark selection using a lot of navy blue alongside some vibrant accents. We apply it in both solid and gradient forms for more visual variety.
Imagery & iconography
We previously hadn’t used much photography beyond very literal pictures of wooden shipping crates and used only minimal iconography. We’ve now opted to embrace a mix of clean illustration and polished photography for the new brand and we’ve shifted towards representing what’s inside the crates. We’ve often found ourselves describing examples of the kinds of things we move but felt we could do a more engaging job for both existing and new customers by showcasing photographic examples. Some of our clients kindly let us use imagery of their actual pieces and beyond that we use carefully chosen stock imagery. We hope this approach sets an appropriate tone for our business, and can instantly show why we are different from, and more specialized than, other logistics solutions. We’re utilizing a clean and contemporary linear illustration style to represent tech centric aspects of our business like the online platform and our newly launched API.
We previously used one very thin typeface (Maison Neue) and a contrastingly heavy cut one (styrene B), in limited widths. We replaced these with fonts that were more balanced, had plenty of widths to choose from and were specifically designed to perform better on the web and in applications. The fonts we purchased are well crafted (like a lot of the items we move) and are based on some classic designs. I chose LFT Etica (a contemporary alternative to helvetica) created by leftloft along with its serif counterpart LFT Sheriff for our body copy. For our new logo and all accent typography I chose Brandon Grotesque, created by HVD, a versatile favorite that is modeled on geometric sans serif styles of the 1920s and 30s like Futura (designed by Paul Renner in 1927). One resounding reason for using Brandon Grotesque as the basis for our logo was to pay homage to the famous FedEx logo designed by Lindon Leader in 1994, which itself is set in Futura. It’s an iconic piece of graphic design and we doubly loved the idea of giving a subtle (albeit esoteric) nod to an established powerhouse of the logistics industry through our own typographic choices.
As well as having a solid typographic foundation and a more elevated look, we wanted our new logo design to accomplish a few different things.
Though the name “ARTA” is inspired by the ancient Greek city Arta, known as a hub for transportation, people (understandably) associate the name with “Art”. We ship fine art of course but we increasingly ship a lot of other types of goods too. We wanted to play down the direct association which is when I came up with the idea for the icon to replace the first “A”.
The icon is representative of a few different concepts. It can be read as a directional arrow or possibly a digital mouse cursor. It encapsulates a lot of what we do in a simplified form. It blends well with our use of foundational shapes and gives us a neat way of using an accent color within the logo. We conducted some user testing to verify that it was also still legible as an “A”, which it proved to be. It has the added benefit of being usable on its own without the rest of the word mark, particularly handy for use as an avatar or icon online and in smaller spaces. Our hope is that the icon on its own becomes distinctive and more memorable/associated with the business over time.
The new logo also lends itself well to motion design treatments which is something we are currently experimenting with. It’s important to us, given the nature of our work, that our new branding incorporates movement.
Utilizing External Skill Sets
Having done a lot of the brand definition work, we then identified the areas we needed the most help with to bring it to fruition. These were: motion design, illustration and copywriting.
We chose to hire Common Works, a London-based agency who I had done some work with previously. I knew they were particularly talented in the areas of animation and illustration and could also help us build out a fully custom new site and CMS. We handed over all the assets we had created in-house and collaborated closely to develop the new site architecture. They then handled the build, animated elements, illustration and most of the design application.
We also hired a copywriter, Anna Hecker, who distilled our vision for the brand into a professional, clear and approachable tone of voice.
We’re thrilled with the results. Overall, we feel the rebrand points us more clearly in the direction we want to go, and as a team we feel really good about how it represents us.
We’re now shifting the visual focus back to our application, building out a scalable design system with a more distilled application of the brand and planning new features and functionality. We’ll be continuing to work on this throughout 2020 with some exciting product releases planned!