Startups, in my humble few years of experience, are pacy beasts. The core product changes, the marketing evolves, sales tactics shift, and people come and go. More often than not, branding is an afterthought or a line on some vague to-do list. Things move fast.
Kicking the can down the road has consequences though (I say in a somewhat ominous old wizard voice, for some reason) I’ve seen what happens when a brand is allowed to spiral out of control. Not only does it create short term chaos (Multiple logo versions in use! Dozens of hex values for a single brand color! Cats & dogs living together!) but it also creates a substantial amount of cleanup work that needs to happen before any changes or improvements can be made.
Being given the time to stop and focus on the foundation of our brand architecture is a real gift. It speaks to the culture of TWG and the value that folks put into our brand. This past autumn, we took time to sit down and take stock of things and map out the road ahead. Here’s our story.
Before we start, a little bit about our organization. The Wanderlust Group is made up of three platforms: Dockwa, marinas.com, and Campouts which are focused on boating and camping (as the names might imply). We believe that the world would be a better place if people spent more time outdoors, connected to nature and each other. Research backs that up. Spending time outside has been connected to a greater commitment to the environment, better mental health and stronger physical health. So does my man Henry David Thoreau who wrote "We can never have enough of nature. We must be refreshed by the sight of inexhaustible vigor, vast and titanic features, the sea-coast with its wrecks, the wilderness with its living and its decaying trees, the thunder-cloud, and the rain which lasts three weeks and produces freshets. We need to witness our own limits transgressed, and some life pasturing freely where we never wander." In short, let’s get outside. Let’s put down the phone and close the computer. Let’s wander.
I think our brands developed pretty organically and in proportion to their level of use & exposure. Dockwa and marinas.com were the most fully-formed. The Wanderlust Group had some solid elements in the works and Campouts was in a more speculative place. In general, there was a lot of space to play in. Here’s how everything looked pre-rebrand:
After cataloging our current branding, we decided that our main goal should be to create consistency without creating sameness. This may be a brand collection but there were still four unique entities. Establishing a strong visual DNA would allow for connection but also variation (and growth).
Conceptually, here’s how we thought about this family unit. TWG is the parental unit - a little more mature, a little more refined and wise in the ways of the world. Dockwa and marinas.com are siblings - not exactly the same but clearly two peas in a pod. Campouts is a close cousin who lives across the street and hangs out on a regular basis, likes the same music, plays on the same little league baseball team, etc.
So with a strong framework in mind, we were able to start sketching out rough ideas in a pretty holistic way, thinking about all the fundamental pieces and how they related. We pulled in some existing colors (from Dockwa and marinas) and early in the process decided that the map pin should be part of all our logos.
From there we started iterating on just the logos. Dockwa was the most well-known of our brands so this logo underwent more of a revision than a complete reimagining. Marinas.com was pulled closer into the new style, ditching the heavy M for a more implied letter shape. Campouts thematically lent itself to a nice tent and just like that, we had a triangle in the mix. The Wanderlust Group logo was initially just a map pin but was proving to be tricky. More on that later.
A few quick spins of the wheel and we found ourselves with a good first round of work to reflect on. There were some major building blocks in place: a consistent shape language, the unifying map pin motif, an improving color scheme, and a versatile typeface called Poppins. Early illustration and pattern ideas were also looking pretty nice. There was even a seagull and crab.
A productive design team meeting led to several key revisions for our second round of branding. First, the map pin was modified to be rounder &wider, a more unique and friendly shape. The angles of the Campouts tent were adjusted to match. Second, the waves in the TWG & Dockwa logos were rounded to better fit the overall feel of our brand - friendly swells as opposed to threatening whitecaps. We added a second darker green to the Campouts palette. A quick experiment with our type yielded an all lowercase treatment that really tied these brands together. Good progress all around but that Wanderlust group logo… it wasn’t there yet. It was too simple as just a map pin but looked too cluttered with the lines and circle. “What’s to be done,” I asked my cat who was sitting next to me on the couch and who, in keeping with tradition, ignored my question entirely.
One of the strangest parts of being a creative is trying to explain your process to non-creative folks. The key elements (for me) are 1. Creating a torrent of early and bad ideas 2. Walking away from your work on a regular basis. The former is a cleansing effort that forces you to squeeze all the simple, dumb, and cliched ideas out of your mind grapes. This hopefully makes space for new and good ideas to emerge. The latter is a mysterious requirement for good creative - time away to let ideas percolate, to let your subconscious embark on a jazz odyssey, to let it improvise new concepts. There’s also the benefit of returning to your work with fresh eyes.
Below you can see the long and winding road that the Wanderlust Group logo took. At first we tried to stick with the simple map pin and create a contained dynamic color scheme.. There were some interesting results but it was stylistically off from the rest of our logos.
I took a day off from this project, worked on other things, and took some long walks down by the lake (per HDT’s recommendation). Then, over the next few days, I produced an absolute hot mess of ideas that ranged from bad to very bad. Adding and dividing, subtracting and combining, pushing pixels with no real signs of progress. You can see the whole thing play out below, from top to bottom, left to right. It’s not until the final row that the Good Idea emerges - the map pin as an open outline that leads to a central circle. There it was - a simple recognizable logo that captured the feel (exploration, mystery, transparency) that we were looking for. This is all to say: be accepting of your bad ideas, missteps, flubs & fails. Given enough time, they become the stepping stones that lead you to something worthwhile.
With the TWG logo in place, it was on to the final iteration. We cleaned up the type and mellowed out the Campouts green to be more in line with our other brand colors. It felt like we had found the right balance between giving these brands their own unique space and keeping them all in the aesthetic family. Finally, we created a few mockups to give stakeholders some sense of how things would look in print. Some good old fashioned analog work.
Here’s how I’d break down this pretty big project into simple terms. Our external goal was to hit the right tone with these brands, to establish consistency, and to start to create brand awareness. Our internal goal was to give people the resources (logos, templates, guidelines) to successfully create on their own.
If we had to distill our design philosophy into a thematically appropriate line, it might be “building a brand is a journey not a destination.” We’ve successfully outfitted ourselves for the trip ahead (feel free to insert your own more detailed land/sea metaphor here) and are on our way.
While we‘re really excited about this new round of branding, we also believe that it’s just one stage in continuous evolution. Being given the time to create the fundamental pieces (logos, colors, typography, etc) was important and will benefit us in the short and long term.
But there is so much more left to learn from use and experimentation. Now we get to be really creative, to push and pull, see what works in the real world, find out what’s missing, etc. And this is where brand becomes a true team effort. We’ll be relying on the rest of our organization to put these brands through their paces and to communicate back. At the end of the day, we’ll eschew the static and hope for change and evolution
So off we go. Sails in the wind. Or boots on the trail. Sun at our backs. Thanks for coming along.
Say hello! Graphic designer? Product designer? Interested in joining our growing team? Check out https://thewanderlustgroup.com/careers