John Ellison

Day 64: Brand Refresh Ideation & Purpose Workshop Synthesis

6 min read

On Day 64 of my time at Clearleft, I was fortunate to work on two really fun threads of work as a part of the Clearleft Brand Refresh Project.

James Bates had setup a two-day exercise to generate a wide range of concepts for Clearleft's visual identity. James had scheduled Jon Aizlewood and Ben White to work with him, and they also extended an invite for me to observe and participate as I liked.

James Box setup a morning session to synthesize the outputs of the Purpose Workshop in order to feed back into the work that James, Jon and Ben had started around the exploration of Clearleft's visual identity. We wanted to have our brand's purpose form the basis of the visual concepts that we explored.

Kicking Off A Two-Day Ideation

We kicked off the two-day session by talking about Clearleft's brand attributes: both present and future. James created a mind map to capture our dialogue and we bounced around a variety of different positive and negative brand attributes that we wanted to consider in this exercise.

kicking off the two-day ideation exercise

whiteboarding Clearleft's brand attributes

Clearleft Brand Attributes

If Clearleft Were a Car, What Would It Be?

Half an hour into the session James Bates suggested we use a branding exercise to stimulate our attribute generation. He asked us "If Clearleft were a car, what would it be?"

While this seemed to be a bit odd on the surface, when we explored the different options and the reasons why Clearleft would or wouldn't be that car, it allowed us to examine the brand from a variety of perspectives.

Visual Ideation

When James and the guys thought they'd sufficiently listed out the brand attributes, they started ideating through different visual identities. Starting with the current cube logo and diverging away from the original concept, James, Ben and Jon filled pages with their ideas.

Given these guys have much stronger visual skills, I let them run with the visuals while I went over and worked with James Box to synthesize the outputs of the Purpose Workshop we held on Day 57.

Purpose Workshop Synthesis


By the time I made it over to where James was working, he had already begun laying out all the note cards that were the outputs of the purpose workshop. We worked together to find a suitable layout and structure for us to step back and inspect in detail and in general.

We went through each of the cards and read them one by one. I started extracting relevant phrases onto post-it notes. On the right side of the table we had cards that expressed attributes of our professional heros. On the left side of the table we had cards that expressed 'what we are fighting against'.

our final layout

All throughout our synthesis, we kept in mind the definition of purpose that arose in our workshop: What you are fighting against; the change you want to make in the world.

James and I discussed the different connections and themes that arose throughout our investigation.

synthesis of outputs

One strong emergent insight was that most of what we were fighting against could be seen as that which manifests from fear of the unknown.

A theme amongst the 'what are we fighting for' side of the spectrum was about inspiring, challenging, enabling and empowering others.

We discussed what we thought this meant and explored how this pertained to our purpose. We kept one eye on the past and thought about what Clearleft's purpose has been in the past, and kept one eye on the future and wondered what Clearleft's purpose will be.

We wondered whether or not Clearleft's purpose has always been the same and whether the way we approach our purpose has changed.

In talking along this thread of a timeline, I drew a little diagram that broke Clearleft's journey into three eras. The first two eras were clear to me, and I left the third era blank. (James added the third era over lunch, and I really resonate with metadesign as the theme of this upcoming era).

Clearleft three eras

James and I concluded that we had enough insights to share with the visual team and decided to head out to lunch.

Checking In With The Visual Exploration

Before heading out for lunch, I checked in on James Bates, Ben and Jon and snapped a few photos.

reflecting on visual identity ideation

a closer look at the ideas 1

a closer look at the ideas 2

Playing Back The Purpose Workshop Insights

over james shoulder

After lunch James and I sat down with the visual team and played back our process and our discoveries. We had a few conversations about the themes that emerged and how those could be applied visually. The topic of generative logos came up a few times.

As James spoke the rest of us sketched ideas. It was a nice atmospheric tone to the playback and allowed the visual guys to keep working while receiving additional input from the purpose thread of the brand refresh. After sketching down a few ideas I decided to make a physical model of Clearleft's logo with a few note cards. This allowed me to feel the logo in space and inspect it from several different perspectives. This was something that James Bates, Jon and Ben had been exploring on paper, but I felt that a more tactile approach suited my exploration.




During the conversation I saw a simple analogy come into my head: If the cube logo symbolized Clearleft as an agency that designed things, what would symbolize Clearleft as an agency that designed how others design things?

We talked about scaffolding and how scaffolding is used to take the builders of a building to new heights and allow them to reach places they wouldn't be able to reach on their own. Scaffolding is also removed from the structure once work is finished. It isn't structural in any way, but it is about creating a supra-structure from which the building is constructed.

This idea was definitely an interesting one to pursue, and the concept of deconstruction came to mind, as did the dConstruct logo.

dConstruct Logo

Designing a Logo that Designs a Logo

We talked about the algorithmic approach to creating a logo: One whereby an algorithm is designed with the purpose of dynamically generating a logo or a set of logos as opposed to designing the logos itself. These conversations definitely played along the higher planes of abstract thought and gave James Box and I a few things to mull over, but I'm not sure how much the visual guys gained from it.

Nonetheless it was a fun exercise and a really fun day bouncing between two threads of the Clearleft Brand Refresh.

The Rest of The Day

I spend the rest of my day writing content for the Training Playback on Thursday.