We recently launched the new visual branding for The Customer Experience Company (CEC) along with creating and moving into a stunning new purpose-designed working environment. It has been such a transformative and empowering experience, we wanted to share our story.
A bit of background in case you don’t know us:
The Customer Experience Company is an independent consulting firm specialising in customer experience. We apply design thinking to business problems to get different, more innovative outcomes that create better customer experiences. We design and deliver new products, services and ecosystems for large organisations and government. Our amazing team is in two offices (Sydney and Melbourne), and we work around the ANZ/AsiaPac region.
I joined CEC a year ago at a time when the organisation was in a state of natural metamorphosis. The company, established in 2003, had gone through a period of astonishing growth and achievement, coupled with an evolving vision and enhanced capability. The feeling was that the company had ‘grown up’, having matured to a point where it had outgrown its current ‘shell’ and was literally bursting out of itself and ready for its next incarnation. The team had been living with a visual brand identity and environment that no longer seemed to fit, and the time seemed right to review the core purpose of the organisation in order to make sure all the right foundations were in place to propel the business into the future.
A few previous attempts had been made to articulate what the next stage of brand expression should be, but none had seemed to fit, they didn’t feel right.
So, we went back to basics.
The value of research – understanding the big picture and the nitty-gritty bits
For any brand review process to be successful, the first steps need to be based on understanding who you truly are – honestly and openly. Many branding exercises are doomed to mediocracy and ‘ill fit’ by not achieving this understanding in the early stages of the project. It usually involves undertaking a fairly thorough investigation and research phase in order to find out the real nature of an organisation. This ‘hard bit’ is often skimmed or glossed over (let’s face it, it’s hard to convince clients to pay for this research time when it seems easy to assume all the fundamentals and details are known and everyone’s on the same page) but it’s the most important part of the process to gain clarity and the nitty-gritty truth in order to try and achieve the holy grail of ‘brand alignment’.
Design thinking and human-centred design are at the core of many of the services CEC deliver. Part of this involves doing the learning and foundation work to understand the big picture and all the elements involved, before delving into designing and testing solutions (iteratively) to achieve the best results. The CEC executive team understood this was an essential and highly valuable part of the rebranding process and gave me the green light to spend several weeks researching, interviewing and compiling information on which to base the subsequent development work.
Sorting through the information
It was invaluable to find out how clients feel about us, and the insights from in-depth interviews with approximately half of the CEC team. For me, as a newcomer to the organisation (we deliberately structured this as my first project for the business to ensure ‘fresh eyes’ and an ‘outsider’s perspective’), it was an extraordinary process. Getting to know any business so intimately is a real privilege, particularly when the findings are so surprisingly positive and exciting.
Vision and values
From many of the discussions with individuals at CEC, I learned that whilst the organisation had grown and changed rapidly over the past couple of years, the business and culture had the same ‘core’ and essence as when it had been founded. The organisational values were stated as ‘smart', ‘candid' and ‘empathetic', and from my research these were as present today as they had been years ago – in fact they seemed firmly embedded and consistently represented throughout the team. I’ve never been in an environment with so many upfront and savvy people who were also totally genuine and super-nice people. The way the team spoke about the culture, people and environment, and the feedback from clients, seemed to verify these values wholeheartedly.
What I did find however, was that a significant part of the CEC culture and dynamic was missing from the stated values. It became clear that there was a recurring theme in the way people spoke about CEC, the way the team operated, their approach and the way projects were run – passionate, proactive, hard-working, driven, engaged, committed, adventurous, adaptable, helpful, responsive, friendly, enthusiastic, outgoing, vibrant, dynamic, fun – the list goes on. An undeniable element of ‘energy’ flowed through the work and the people, so we’ve now added ‘energetic' to our list of values.
Defining this ‘stuff' is not just corporate fluff. With these values clarified, and verified, we genuinely see them in action and use them as benchmarks every day – defining how we recruit team members, how we choose business partners and how we operate and behave.
What’s our MTP? (Err, what’s an ‘MTP’?)
As part of the brand research process I was asked to look at an ‘MTP’ for the organisation.
Sure, no problem…. what’s an ‘MTP’?
I’ve been across vision statements, mission statements, brand promises, etc, but this was a new one for me.
Our MD, Raj Mendes, is an avid reader and had been inspired by the book ‘Exponential Organizations’ by Salim Ismail, which encourages exponential organisations [I won’t explain that term here but the book’s certainly worth the read] to define their ‘Massive Transformative Purpose’. This ‘MTP’ is the higher, aspirational purpose of the organisation – why the organisation exists and why the individuals in it turn up every day to do the work. It’s at the very heart of the business.
CEC had previously defined ‘Improving the lives of millions of people’ as the organisational purpose. Whilst this was true (this absolutely was the result of some of the projects CEC had delivered) it emerged through the research process that it didn’t feel quite right for many of the team. It was a bit too lofty – the sort of thing more suited to curing cancer or a charity working to end starvation in Africa. We were more ‘down to earth’ and even projects delivering incremental improvements were seen to be valuable and important.
During the research phase, many team members talked about ‘making things better’. Sometimes the work the team contributed to might make a small impact, sometimes it did indeed make things better for millions of people, but making something ‘better’ was the essential, baseline motivation. Even people who considered themselves more business analysts and ‘non-designers’ left large consulting organisations where they felt like ‘cogs in a machine’ to come to CEC because they felt they could really make a difference.
CEC was founded to help organisations become more robust, profitable and sustainable by making things better for their customers (whether that be external customers or internal employees), and that’s still the case today. Our team come to work every day to make things better – to design and deliver transformation to create a better future. So, we combined these core ideas to define our MTP.
Our Massive Transformative Purpose is:
Creating better futures for people and organisations.
No matter how we look at it, from whatever angle, it seems to hold true. Whether it be for our team, our clients, our client’s team or their customers, this has been, is, and always will be at the core of CEC.
Conflict, collaboration and consensus
You might be able to dictate design if you have the reputation of Paul Rand, but that certainly wasn’t going to be the way it was going to work on this project. CEC is full of very smart, savvy and highly opinionated designers who are used to working in a highly collaborative way – so we took this general approach to manage idea progression, solve conflict and gain agreement.
Well, sort of.
Design is never a truly ‘streamlined’ process and, based on my experience, gut feel (founded on solid information and understanding) counts for a lot. So, it had to be a mix of both instinct and group collaboration. Between spurts of ‘designspiration’ we held lots of critique, reviews and evaluation sessions. Sometimes it was awkward and meant inching forward through the development process, but it achieved general agreement every step of the way, without killing much of the design integrity. In fact, by gaining team buy-in early on, by the end of the process ‘inspired’ initial design ideas had been polished up nicely and most people were chomping at the bit to start implementing it. And honestly, whilst it may at times have been challenging, what it did was build a lot of testing and iteration into the process, ironing out what could have been issues down the track. The result was a well-considered, well thought through solution which hit the ground running and we haven’t looked back since.
We held a series of team consultation and review sessions to ‘test’ ideas and collect feedback
Everyone had the opportunity to contribute ideas, helping build a robust framework and a developed set of tools
One of our review groups providing their approval (phew!)
During the research process a lot of ideas started to emerge in my mind in terms of creating a new logo for CEC. A few pages of initial scrawls on loose paper (and occasional torn off pieces of cardboard boxes, notebook pages and whatever else was available at the particular moment in time) were accumulated and the development process began.
I would normally cull ideas before presenting considered and refined options to a client, but this was no ordinary ‘client’ situation. Given previous logo design attempts hadn’t gained much traction, I took a different approach and ‘went wide’.
One of the first steps in refining ideas in design thinking is ‘diverging’ (looking at lots of information, inspirations and ideas) before ‘converging’ (selecting the best from those initial ideas to use as the base on which to proceed).
There are a range of variations of the 'double diamond' process – in our project we 'went wide' (diverging) with logo idea development in order to provide a base on which to explore, discuss and investigate options, from which we could identity and distill the most promising.
By initially ‘going wide’ I could collect a lot of ideas. Then, by involving the greater team as part of the early discussion and culling process, it enabled me to capture their thoughts – providing a better idea of where any ‘sticking points’ were and also gaining the team’s buy-in for the next steps of the process. The danger of this is the ‘design by committee’ aspect, where the input of a plethora of people dilutes the result, or the direction gets swayed by the loudest voices in the room. But for us, by using this process it meant that good ideas were qualified by the group and everyone’s opinion contributed to the collective pool of feedback.
After loosely working up a whole range of logos we started the review, shortlisting and development process. A number of rounds of further development, testing and refinement, followed with a few ‘what if’s’ thrown in for good measure, and we came to a logo design that was widely agreed to be the most successful, representative option.
In fact it was LOVED. People were actually animatedly excited about it.
Many of the team at CEC were looking for a logo to represent the business – the complexity and nuances of the work that’s done and the many elements from empathy to technology that combine to make it happen – and incredibly we seem to have managed to achieve that in a simple device.
Some of the initial rough sketches of logo forms
Some of the symbol ideas that were tested as part of the ‘go wide’ development process
The final logo – condensed format
The final logo – horizontal format
What the symbol means to us
To us, the ‘CE’ script in the symbol represents the ‘human’ element of our work. It can be the customer experience or a customer journey. It symbolises our design and innovation. It can represent the way we draft our thinking on a whiteboard, the energy we bring to our work, or the way we collaborate and guide our clients along a journey of discovery, understanding and transformation.
The superscript ‘c’ is more structured in its form. It represents the analytical, measurement, technological and delivery part of our process. The ‘company’ plays an integral part in shaping and enabling the process and outcomes of work.
Together, the elements form an equation. CEC solves problems, and we do it in a unique way. We integrate people, design and technology, and we combine these in a variety of ways to achieve different outcomes and outstanding results.
Interestingly the idea for the logo symbol was one of the first dodgy sketches crudely scrawled to capture thoughts. It was in the first batch of rough logo comps that were presented for review, and from the very start, although it wasn’t quite right and needed developing and polishing, it captured something that everyone said all the way through the process ‘I quite like that, there’s something about that one’.
The symbol really means something to us, but what has surprised me most was that after releasing it, and hearing the interpretations of people external to the organisation, many others seemed to ‘get it’, without us having to explain it. People have actually taken the time to ‘analyse’ it without prompting, and we’ve had an overwhelming amount of positive feedback and comments from people seeing it, keen to have a discussion about its meaning and telling us how much they love it. The most rewarding part is yes, we liked it, but finding out that other people get so excited about it (with ‘ohhs’ and ‘ahhs’, and people instagramming pics of our illuminated logo signage), well, it’s been pretty special.
Our visual identity: A functional and flexible framework, that’s also hard to mess with
CEC works on a wide range of projects across a broad range of industries involving a myriad of subjects. The intent of the visual identity system was to develop a base framework flexible enough to accommodate and enhance all the different types of stories, strategies and results that would need to be communicated across a range of deliverables and platforms, whilst being strong enough to retain the CEC feel and identity.
The system also needs to be straightforward and flexible enough to allow any of our team to develop materials – not only is everyone at CEC a brand guardian and ambassador, everyone gets hands-on to develop and deliver materials. So, in practical terms, we needed a system that was relatively easy to implement, but also hard to stuff up.
The system includes a colour palette formulated to allow us to adjust messaging – utilising a core ‘corporate’ palette, and then selecting colours to add to this to tailor communications as needed. For example, if we’re working in health care, on a suite of deliverables requiring anything from customer journeys to sets of complex data representations, we might employ additional aquas and teals in the colour suite to help represent the subject matter with sensitivity and understanding, whilst functionally broadening the range of flexibility in producing graphic assets (e.g. multiple charts and graphs). If we’re working on a project in tertiary education, we might employ brighter, more vibrant colours, to better represent the subject matter involved.
Our colour system, with core corporate colours (left hand column), neutrals components, and supporting colour palette
The selection of our core colour palette was deliberately influenced by our organisational values – smart, candid, empathetic and energetic. For example, the yellow represents our ‘energy’ component.
For our brand ID typeface, we chose Neue Haas Unica. Strong, with a classic feel, it has a distinctive presence, yet its form doesn’t overbear, and the range of weight options allow us to adjust the feel of text components as needed.
We chose Neue Haas Unica to use as part of our visual ID toolkit
For our key ‘corporate’ image style, we’ve employed a greyscale application which allows us to focus directly on a representative subject matter – whether that be a person, an object or an idea. In large, complex documents or presentations we can add to this and further develop stories by adding full colour images, illustrations, infographics, multimedia – whatever we need to layer in to build the story and messaging.
Like all the base components in the system, we’ve selected elements that are strong, yet enhance, rather than conflict with, anything we may need to layer on top of them.
Examples of the new ID system in use
All this is great in theory. It’s easy to come up with a visual ID system that looks good in the brand guidelines, but the real test is applying it day-to-day.
We did the groundwork to confirm what we needed, we tested it along the way, and happily, so far, it’s bearing up to the rigours of ‘real life’ and is working out a treat.
Like the brand visual identity, the workspace CEC inhabited no longer represented the business. Imagine Mark Webber driving an old family sedan – the driver has incredible skills and potential, but the vehicle, whilst being functional, is a bit restrictive and is missing the capacity and ‘va va voom’ needed to really allow things to hit their full potential.
We needed a race car.
The way we work, and the way the business is run, is adaptable, transformational and always evolving. CEC integrates strategy, design, empathy, technology and innovation with business consulting and delivery. This plays out with a ‘creative tension’ which keeps us fresh – always thinking and developing, never stagnating. We wanted all this to be reflected and accommodated in our design centre and workspace.
We partnered with an interior design firm with whom we felt a real synergy in the way we approached the project, the way we thought, and the energy of the people involved. Sally Johnson and Alessandra Colusso from BVN in Sydney worked with us to create an environment to reflect and amplify the way we work whilst opening up an array of potential opportunities. Reflecting the approach we apply to client work, the design approach tested and iterated upon ideas in intensive sessions in order to work toward and achieve the best outcome.
The space is designed around the concept of the ability to ‘pivot’ – both in layout and ideas. And the result is amazing. We now have an incredibly flexible space incorporating an enormous central collaboration area and bespoke whiteboard panel track system, which allows us to continually evolve and create different zones for workspaces, workshops, events, and whatever we need.
One of BVN’s concepts for CEC’s design centre – addressing our desire for a fully flexible environment, where we have the capability to ‘pivot’ and transform the space. The idea for our bespoke whiteboard track system (shown zig-zagging though the space) was present from the very start.
The new CEC design centre is an incredibly flexible environment designed for collaboration and adaptability
Our visual ID colour palette is woven through our space subtly...
The flexible layout allows us to transform our space for events...
...seminars and presentations...
...workshops and collaboration...
...and day-to-day work
I’m sitting here writing this in our new design centre (that's me in the image above, sitting next to the window, second from the right). Positioned at Circular Quay with huge windows overlooking the non-stop activity of Sydney Harbour, the Harbour Bridge and Opera House, it’s also nestled in the canopy of enormous fig trees, surrounded by beautiful old sandstone buildings, clock towers and glass skyscrapers. It’s a juxtaposition of modern ‘warehouse’ style innovation centre, treehouse think tank, and some sort of slick city adjustable-collaboration-fun-house – an adventurous combination of elements resulting in a sort of magical synergy. As a place for us now, it feels ‘right’.
My favourite place to sit
The ‘other’ view
One of the great insights that emerged through the brand investigation phase was that when the team returned to the office after working away at client sites, it ‘feels like coming home’. We didn’t want to lose that in the new space. And thankfully, we haven’t. It instantly feels like home – it’s just that home is much more exciting now and full of possibilities.
Yes, I may be biased (my ‘outsider’ view has no doubt been clouded by a bit of Stockholm Syndrome) but I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve done, the way we approached it and the outcome we achieved. We’ve developed a visual identity and an amazing new working environment that now feel like they ‘fit’ us, and also provide us with a platform that supports how we think, what we want to achieve, and the calibre of work we create.
Personally, the biggest learning I came away with from the process was 'embrace the team', and the reinforcement that no one person is going to have all the great ideas or solutions. Gems of insight and inspiration can come from anyone, and the input of multiple of views, experiences and ideas makes the outcome richer.
Something else I've walked away with is the amazing feeling of having something we've created 'up in lights' – the illuminated logo sign we designed for the entryway of our new design centre is fabulous. It sounds a bit contrived, but that sign sets the tone and expectation of what's going to happen in our space, and you can't help but feel special when you walk past it. It's a classic 'Disney portal' idea, shaping an experience using environmental cues, and it speaks volumes of how little things, done well, can make a significant impact.
So what’s next? Sitting here in our new space it feels like we’re positioned for great things, and we can’t wait to forge forward into the next exciting stage of our development.
Kerry Hewitson is Brand Manager at The Customer Experience Company.