DRF Brand Identity
A living document helping create consistent brand experiences.
I'm Albert, a design technologist.
I'm currently advising early-stage startups on their design strategy through Dorm Room Fund. Previously, my work has mostly revolved around supporting first-time founders with tools such as VCWiz and FounderKit.
On the side, I do freelance work for brands including Royal Carribbean, Alpha Bridge Ventures, and LimeBike.
My core design focuses are in digital product design with an emphasis on product ideation, user experience (UX), and sprint frameworks.
Sector-wise, I'm deep into fashion, wellness, and AR/VR
After joining DRF, my first task was to define DRF’s brand identity. Previous to this project, DRF’s brand identity was inconsistent and and unconsolidated. As a result, our brand perception and the guidelines defining the usage of our assets were vague. I wanted to create a style guide, with the ultimate goal of evolving it into a design system, to alleviate that uncertainty and empower individuals to create beautiful content that was on-brand, especially as we begin to produce more original content and products.
With extensive input and feedback from the stakeholders, I was the sole creator of DRF’s style guide.
Timeline: 3 weeks | Tools: Sketch, Illustrator, Photoshop
My first step was to consolidate all of the brand information that I could find by scouring the web for our current content and and bugging current and past partners for whatever assets they have. After that, I conducted a few short interviews with some of the main stakeholders of DRF to get a sense of the discrepancy between how they perceived the brand and how they want it to be perceived. After I felt reasonably comfortable that I understood enough the community and the culture, I delved into the individual components.
Select Highlight - Typography
DRF's brand type is:
Circular Standard is a geometric sans-serif typeface created by Swiss designer Laurenz Brunner in 2013. It was the type previously being used on the DRF website and the type I used to build the 5-Year Report. To maintain brand consistency, I decided to stick with it as the brand type. Being a bold typeface with a lot of warmth and a little quirkiness, I thought it was the perfect representation of the DRF community.
In choosing DRF’s typographic scale, I drew inspiration from Tim Brown and Robert Bringhurst ideas on More Meaningful Typography. They believed that: “Meaningful ratios rooted in geometry, music, nature, and history can be expressed as modular scales and put to work on the web.” Amen.
After playing around a variety of modular scales and observing their impact on existing DRF assets, I found that none were a perfect fit for DRF’s visual language. Certain scales lead to too much contrast between each step size and others lead to line-heights that were too large. I found that the Perfect Fifth scale (1:1.5) met the needs for DRF’s products and websites at small sizes but the step size became too large at higher sizes. The Augmented Fourths scale (1: √2) meanwhile, was perfect at larger step sizes. In addition, we needed a scale which was usable for both DRF’s products and its marketing materials, which uses a larger body font.
The solution: A variant of the augmented fourths scale.
To keep accessibility in mind, I chose 16sp (scalable pixels to enable large-type mode) as the default text size for products and 24sp for marketing materials. Leading and tracking was chosen based on their expected use cases and through what I learned deconstructing the scales of other type systems.
Select Highlight - Color
DRF’s primary color palette is:
The primary color was derived from existing brand assets. Previously, DRF used multiple shades of blue in its branding that were very close in its shade / tint. This was a major accessibility problem as well as a brand identity problem. Thus, I decided to define B50 - Ocean’s Depths as the primary shade of blue due to its visual strength. The splash of purple mixed in with the blue accents it, subtly differentiating it from the shades of blues commonly used in other popular brands. I paired this blue with the muted colors, N0 - First Snow and N100 - Deep Space, to keep the blue as the crux of our brand identity. N100 was chosen rather than the traditional, pure black to reduce the contrast to make DRF’s content more digestible.
Our secondary color palette is used to add some spice to the brand, accenting our Ocean Depths with Elderberry, Sunflower Fields, and New Life. Together, they create authentic DRF experiences.
Creating the extended palette was a more difficult process.
Then, after examining the color usage of a host of products and brands in the wild, I felt comfortable enough to begin drafting up DRF’s own extended color palette.
In choosing these colors, accessibility was at the forefront of my mind alongside DRF’s values and branding. Many initial color schemes had to be scrapped because they didn't meet the WCAG AA accessibility standards. I wanted to create a small set of each color to empower users to have just enough choice without making color selection a tedious task. After talking to other designers, I found 4 to be the magic number.
This chart denotes the proper use of white and black text on colored backgrounds:
This chart denotes the proper use of the text on neutral backgrounds:
As the applications of the DRF style guide wasn't concrete during its inception, I had to research all of the potential outputs of a VC firm and create a style guide that was usuable for all of those possibilites. It was a tedious process but a fantastic learning experience. This was the first time I had to delve deep into the individual components of a brand's identity for a real brand and it placed upon me constraints different than those I've faced before. Key points I learned through this process were:
Style guides are living, breathing documents and as such, are ever-growing. Currently, I am in the process of working with our investment partners to define our brand identity to a greater degree. What does DRF stand for? How are we different from other VCs? These are the questions I seek the answers to, then subsequently communicate to the rest of our team and the global community through design.