Reflections on Keela’s Rebranding

Carol Chan • Oct 17, 2019

Introduction

Working at Keela I have grown to really enjoy the UX process and being a part of the product team. I’ve learned a lot about communication and collaboration, specifically with regards to other teams and individuals. As a designer it’s this communication that allows me to understand the whole picture. To really understand at its essence who Keela is, who we are becoming and the bold vision of our founder.

It’s my job to translate this vision and personality into colours, images and design elements that will delight our customers.

In this reflection I’ll attempt to give you an unedited view into my process and creative ideas as I worked to redesign Keela’s logo and brand. Compared to my time at design school at Emily Carr, I realized that designing for a “real-world” product comes with many compromises. At first, product design felt less creative since we weren’t experimenting with the latest, coolest UI elements, but I soon realized that this is the real work that designers are hired to do. I’m learning about the importance of building a product that is not only user-centric and serves as a solution for our customers, but also supports our business goals. It has been a pleasure working with such a collaborative team at Keela where we have cross-functional Slack channels to gather feedback from the users, prospects, and the entire Keela team, to ensure that we are implementing the right elements into our product.

That being said, I have always been interested in the more ‘luxurious’ aspects of product design such as motion graphics, gamification, mascots and other “fluffy” things that are harder to justify spending our time on. So when our business team presented our new brand direction and archetype, and I was asked to tackle Keela’s rebranding, I was extremely humbled, and excited to be given this opportunity.

It is something that I do not take lightly because I know how much our team identifies with the current Keela brand and company values.

Keela 1.0 → 2.0: My process begins

I started off my process by speaking to Hanna Dandanell, Keela’s Director of Sales & Operations, and our CEO, Nejeed Kassam, to ensure that I fully understood Keela’s upcoming transition. I also reached out to our former Head of Marketing and Communications, Philip Manzano, to understand how the brand was used previously and what some of its challenges were.

Based on our discussions, I discovered that Keela 1.0 is primarily a collaborative brand that invites organizations to grow together and build capacity in their communities. Some design problems with Keela 1.0’s brand were that it utilized too many colours, making it hard to combine with different aspects for social media or on the website.

The original logo was intended to appear inviting and collaborative, but I realized it could actually be interpreted as closed off and thorny.

The gradient and many colours also increased our printing costs and ink consumption. Lastly, there were too many versions of the logo out there (colours, orientations and fonts) and not enough internal policing to maintain uniform use..

The transition we are making with the release of Keela 2.0 is to move into a mentorship role for the industry. We want to bridge the technology gap faced by non-profit organizations in a way that is accessible and friendly, but most of all, smart!

Using the power of data and machine learning, our engineering team has built a new suite of features designed to help organizations dramatically decrease the time they spend on administrative work. The time they save can be allocated to being more proactive and strategic in their programs and events. That being said, the nature of our company situates us in two worlds (the traditional, slow-moving non-profit sphere vs. the fast-paced, ever-changing tech world) as we try to bridge the gap. Representing this duality in our new logo will be the biggest design challenge.

Ideation

I started by doing some keyboard mapping to invoke imagery.

The sloth embodies the more cautious movement of nonprofits, but the antenna hints at our intelligent product. The final shape was refined into a rounder, friendly and symmetrical shape. However, it was also hard to communicate the logo as a sloth without using earth-toned colours and the translation onto our website and web app felt extremely dull, so I decided against it.

Image 1.

The arrow, seen below in image 2, is a sharper iteration of the guiding shape. The sharpness makes the shape feel more intentional and determined, but the gentle lift represents Keela’s intention to guide, support and lift up the organizations striving to have more impact in their community. I chose the vibrant blue colour to position ourselves in the technology industry. DM Sans was chosen for the typography since it also had sharp edges and mirrored the arrow’s structure. The double-story letter ‘a’, usually associated with serif fonts, alludes to the traditional nature of nonprofits, while the rest of the font as a sans-serif, makes the wordmark feel more modern.

Image 2.

Finally, the plant logo, in image 3, grew from the two ‘legs’ of the initial guiding shape. The expanding foliage represents dynamic growth and the botanical theme relates to the wisdom of nature, strong roots, sustaining life around it and always adapting. For this typography, I chose Lexend Deca for its geometric and friendly feel. I rounded the edges of the letters to match the roundness of the logo.

Image 3.

These are the final iterations that were presented to our department heads:

After the presentation, there was a resounding consensus that the plant logo served as a stronger symbol of our goals and values. However, we were divided on which colours to go with. Initially, I presented the logo in green, but had also prepared a blue version for discussion.

It was interesting to discover that some members of the team felt that the blue was too corporate and traditional, while the green was more friendly and modern. In the same room, other team members felt that the green was too corporate and traditional, while the blue was more friendly and modern. When we opened up the discussion to the rest of the team, our mentors and friends, we observed similar contrasting statements and perspectives.

Blue

“Blue is too serious – feels like just another tech company”

“Blue is too .. accounting firm”

“Blue is too ..consulting”

“Too serious”

“Corporate and sterile”

“Techy and zen”

“Happy and friendly”

“Calming and trustworthy”

Green

“Has more of an NGO vibe”

“Helping the World”

“Very environmental”

“I think NonProfit”

“Positive, altruistic”

“Professional, proper”

After hearing the feedback, I decided to try other colours to try to move us away from the polarizing reactions we received from the blue and green logos. As mentioned earlier, I wanted to represent the duality of our reality in the non-profit and tech spaces in our logo somehow.

Since blue and green are also commonly used in non-profit branding, I decided to take a risk and try purple – a colour associated with nobility, ambition, creativity, wisdom, devotion, peace, mystery, and magic. I felt it was suitable as we guide our customers into uncharted waters and show them what can be done with data (— it’s pretty magical).

I was struggling to find the correct combination of purple though. But, I was sure we needed to retain 3 colours in a ‘mock gradient’ to build on the theme of dynamism and transformation that started this rebranding process. We ended up with two variations and internally, we referred to them as “Purple Purple” and “Blue Purple”. The true purple logo was definitely out of our comfort zone and would be the biggest risk. However, I also felt that it embodied the risks we were taking in our product and our dream of shifting the industry towards data-driven decisions. The blue purple logo was meant to hold onto the feelings of tradition (blue) while transitioning into purple (more transformative). It was the shade of blue that I struggled to get right. I received feedback that it ‘seemed out of place’ or ‘like a mistake’.

Blue/Purple

“I feel like the colours don’t match”

“The bottom blue thingy makes me think of pepsi”

Purple/Purple

“It is pretty”

“Purple is a unique colour”

“Looks cool, love the colour”

Discussing among the design team, we decided to go forward with the “purple purple” logo. Keeping the blue in the gradient required us to lower the vibrancy of the colour dramatically and the colours felt dull, muted and tired instead of fresh, energized and hopeful.

After branding was finalized, we applied the colours to Keela 2.0.

In the End

While the process was long, intensive and iterative it was also incredibly inspiring. Harnessing the feel of a company, the team the values and the vision, into a logo, font and colours is a huge challenge. The reality is that a company’s brand is its face forward, its starting point for communication with the world… its first impression if you will. It’s something we have to get right, something I had to get right. Our new brand is the way we will introduce our new version of Keela’s software, an exciting new initiative that has taken over a year of hard work from the entire Keela team. Now our new product has a new face and can make a million more first impressions.

E-mail us at product@keela.com if you have any thoughts or feedback.