Moving Brands’ design director Callum York on rebranding the world’s seventh largest telecommunications company
As their name might suggest, Moving Brands are well-versed in the world of shifting identities, having worked on branding projects for HP, Virgin and the BBC. In July of 2016, they were approached by the world’s seventh largest telecommunications company, VimpelCom, as they repositioned themselves as a vibrant global tech business. Moving Brands were asked to ready the company for product launch in Italy with less than three months to go, at a stage where fundamentals such as the name were not yet fixed. The results included the creation of an identity across brand and product, UI system and app onboarding, toolkits for stationery and on-screen graphics, concepted launch communications, plus a comprehensive “online brand centre”. We spoke to Moving Brands’ design director Callum York about his role in this monumental process.
VimpelCom was 18 months into a 24-month transformation when they approached us. They had a clear strategic vision; to shift the company from a traditional telco business to a global tech player. The proof point that would give this vision credibility was a digital product – the Veon customer experience platform. Moving Brands was engaged to create a brand that would support them shift direction as a business, that would underpin the UI of the Veon app and support them in taking it to market.
During the transformation, lots of strategic work had been done to define the vision and values for the telco, but we needed to really dive into the full creative and make things vibrant and bold. We were brought in at a point where we could strike while the iron was hot, and hash out the bits that didn't yet exist for the creative.
“We were brought in at a point where we could strike while the iron was hot, and hash out the bits that didn't yet exist for the creative.”
With only six months to launch of the app, the team at Veon needed us to work quickly. In order to win the pitch, we started with a two-day sprint [a predetermined block of time dedicated to a project], and literally threw any and all ideas in together – anything from a quick sketch through to a 3D render. That formed the base, resulting in eight or nine directions which we then presented, and that's what kicked off our engagement. The client was at a stage where the name was also still undecided; they were leaning towards the name Veon, so we tried to help them make decisions, exploring it visually to see how the name compared to other options.
In the first two days, like with any pitch, you take what information you have and go through it, picking out what is potentially relevant and right. We were a tight team of creatives, consultants and copywriters. After sharing those first eight or nine ideas, we could quite quickly gauge from the client's response how to move forward.
We started very wide and broad. As the process went on, the thread becomes slightly clearer. Along that journey you see things go from being very colourful in lots of different ways to being more singular and direct. For the transformation of a telco – and to launch a brand new product on the market – that distinctiveness and simplicity is the thread that helped make key decisions.
Development and Production
In the first six weeks we cemented the creative ambition, including all of the creative exploration and development. In the second set of six weeks we focused on and refined the key assets, like logos and typefaces, finding relevant partners but also working with Native, our product-design partner in creating the app.
As with most projects, we worked to key stakeholder presentations or meetings. These were weekly and bi-weekly to begin with. From those meetings there would be key takeout points, which define the process for the next stage of work. You agree next steps and what you’re going to work on – what we’ll take forward, lose or what we could explore more. Then we’d present again. By doing that every week, we started refining, understanding the ambition of the client and defining the space in which they want to be seen.
On our team everyone works together, it's quite flexible. We've got open working floors, so I’m sat next to animators who are sat next to copywriters. As creatives, I think we’re quite a mixed bag, things cross-pollinate quite a lot. If there’s a critique or we have an internal catch-up about the tone of voice for example, I think it's important that the industrial designer, creative lead, and the digital designer are there so that we can start bouncing ideas around, in order for it to all come together.
We were a very big team for this project. In terms of structure, our engagement model is like a diamond; this is made up of a Moving Brands creative lead, programme lead, and a consultant lead, and then the fourth part of that diamond is the client. That is the core team and then each of those people then has a pyramid of people of varying skill sets and experience levels supporting them.
In this project, those skill sets included UX, UI, content strategy; copy director and copywriters; animators that focused on3D, 4D, and moving-image software; creative technologists to grade prototypes right through to helping storyboard some of the flows of the product. All of that was internal support, but we also had a network of freelance support.
At each stage of the project we were constantly trying to push and extend what the identity could be, reaching out to external partners for specific needs. We worked with typographer Miles Newlyn, whose typefaces we had recommended to the client. He came in to help us optimise the typeface for each of the client’s markets, including non-Latin alphabets for Russia, Georgia, and Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan – so we were developing a Georgian version of the typeface, for example. We also worked with photographer Sam Robinson to do test shoots in London and Italy. In addition, we spent some time with artist Alberto Seveso, who is an expert in capturing cloud-like moments with paint in water.
During the development we started to package up all of the kits and parts, including a set of assets and toolkits, templates, and guidance. That was all made available online; all the content lives in one place to be able to distribute it to the client. When you click through, we've got guidance, logos and toolkits for specific practitioners. That all kicked off in week 10 to 12, but the whole package has been an ongoing labour of love. From there we started to develop elements for motion behaviours and tone of voice.
“Typographer Miles Newlyn came in to help us optimise the typeface for each of the client’s markets, developing a Georgian version, for example.”
Inevitably we used Adobe Suite, WebGL, HTML5, then 4D software LightWave, Adobe After Effects, then for moving content we used Motion, and for industrial designers we used software like Rhino. But equally important was getting away from the machine to see how things are working – sketching, printing out paper and sticking it on the wall. Everything we do gets printed out put on a board and cut up, stuck down – then we highlight or scrub things out. We shared as much as possible on a digital, online basis. Getting all the slides of a presentation onto Google Docs and having multiple people editing the same thing was great for adapting and getting feedback was a useful part of the project as it was so broad.
The client was very much involved throughout. For the first six or seven weeks we had weekly check-ins with key stakeholders, such as the board, chairman, CEO and CMO, and we had daily communication with the head of brand. Typically we would have working sessions with her, either in the studio in London or on Hangouts, to clarify any elements before we went to the board for larger key stakeholder meetings.
We created lots of off-the-shelf, online design systems: toolkits, guidance, moving content, After Effects files, templates, and all the stationery – letterheads, business cards. The client has key agencies and partner agencies in every country that they operate in, so they needed one place where everyone could get their hands on the assets. We also developed our own online brand centre and design system to host all of the assets. Everyone in the organisation has their own personal login so they can find what they need when they need it, rather than the client struggling to distribute all of that content.
In my opinion, the biggest challenge was the scale and the timeframe of the project. At the beginning we were kick-starting the whole creative, so we were helping the client work out where they could push into creatively. They were running a huge transformation – not only are they releasing a product and rebranding, but they are also carrying out a big change internally, and change is difficult. I think we resolved quite a few unanswered strategic questions, and the identity's done a great job of creating a new start as a signpost for change, making everything feel more positive and upbeat. I think they've got a lot of scope now to bring a lot of richness and human warmth to the brand. That shift from telco to tech is a positive one, they're changing with the times.
For me the success of the design is its striking simplicity, with lots of potential for the future – [the ‘V’ logo is] an instantly recognisable symbol, which the client got behind and wore proudly. It needs to be recognised as symbolic because it's going to operate in languages that don't follow Latin. For us, the interesting thing will be when it launches and goes to market. It's easy for us in Western culture to take a tech product with chat and messaging functionality for granted, but the fact that these guys are going to be operating in newer markets is fascinating.
Interview by Indi Davies
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