James Bates
James Bates
2nd March 2017

It was a little over a year ago when I first mentioned that we were going to look at our identity and whilst we made some good progress in those initial weeks; things didn’t go exactly to plan. True to form, client work took priority and we ended up parking it for the majority of 2016. But, roll on last autumn and we’d decided that our website was in desperate need of an overhaul, so it made sense to try and finish what we’d started.

It’s been quite a journey, so rather than try and capture it all in a single post I’m going to break this into 3 posts. In this first part I’ll try to explain why we decided to undertake this at all.

A problem of perception

It’s been 12 years since Clearleft was founded and —whilst we all still share many of our original values— we’ve changed. New people have brought fresh perspectives and new skills. Those of us that have been around for a while, recognise that we’re solving a different set of problems for our clients. You could say we’ve grown up, or as James recently put it , we’d emerged from puberty.

Our clients and peers have also grown with us, but they largely still remember us as the enthusiastic group of developers and designers advocating web-standards, Usability and more recently UX. Whilst they’ll always be at the heart of our work, they’re not the entirety of what we do and our current identity and communication didn’t reflect that.

Our friend (and ex-intern) John Ellison summarised it nicely when he described us as going through 3 eras. From our early roots in the web-standards movement, through user-experience, to where we find ourselves now. What he referred to as ‘meta-design’ a mix of design thinking, business, strategy, culture and leadership. We’ve become enablers of design.

John Ellison's Three Eras

It’s this shift in perception away from just being makers that we needed to address. Our existing identity and messaging just didn’t cut it when viewed through this lens. We’d outgrown it.

A challenge of consistency

We’ve always been a bit ad-hoc with our own materials. As a small team with lots of empowered, smart individuals, people just get on and create things they need, often producing bespoke bits of design and communication as and when needed. While that autonomy isn’t something we ever want to stifle —in fact, it’s one of our values— this inevitably leads to fragmentation and over time that accumulates to the point where people don’t know what’s correct.

A quick Google image search for ‘clearleft’ results in at least 6 variations of our logo on the first page alone. I lose count of the amount of requests I field on a near daily basis for the the right logo, font, Keynote or proposal template.

This isn’t just an internal problem, working with larger organisations and building relationships with stakeholders much further away from design ‘doing’, we needed to adjust the way we present ourselves. They needed signals and language that they could recognise and relate to and an overall more professional, consistent appearance.

That sounds obvious, right? After all this is something we help our clients with all the time, we advise them on brand, strategy, content and help them build complex design systems. So doing a half-arsed job for ourselves was no longer going to cut it - a classic case of the cobbler’s children’s shoes, you might say.

So, these were the challenges we set ourselves. How do we create an identity that reframed us as both makers /and/ strategic design thinkers. Something that’s flexible and adaptable, yet was easy for the team to implement and that added some much-needed consistency to all our communications.

In the next post I’ll explain the process we went through, the challenges we came up against and how we ended up at the solution we did.

Stay tuned.

Read the next blog post about the new site and rebrand: Small steps - by Jeremy Keith.