Growing Fast and Starting Over: Rebranding a Seed Stage Startup

January 7, 2020

In the last six months at Edquity, we’ve gone through a true transformation. We’ve acquired a company, added the leading expert in our field, launched the first ever technology providing emergency cash assistance to college students, and doubled the size of our company. Such growth and change gave us the perfect opportunity to rethink our brand and manifest our metamorphosis visually.

As a young company with multiple products, Edquity has historically focused on perfecting our product suite and enhancing its functionality. At its outset, Edquity didn’t have the time or the capacity to intentionally codify our visual brand, define its meaning, and ensure its consistency. As a result, the products we’ve offered have had a hodgepodge of conflicting visual styles that have failed to meaningfully communicate with our users in a way that’s best for them. Before today, if you were to download our app and then visit our website, you might think you were exploring products from two different companies.

A collage of old Edquity brand elements, including the website, logo, and dashboard user interface design.

As we scaled, it became clearer that we needed unify our visual identity.

Instead of redesigning one product to fit into the existing brand, we decided to engage in a more existential exercise and overhaul our entire visual library. This proved to be a huge undertaking and included establishing new style guidelines, redesigning our products, and creating brand assets that aligned with our new look and feel. And to figure out our outside persona, we first had to look inward.

A collage of new Edquity brand elements, including the website, logo, and mobile app user interface design.

The transformation above is the result of our entire team’s tireless efforts — consisting of multiple rounds of logo options, a deep dive into our brand essence, research on competitors in the field, endless type pairing explorations, and more.

Our strategy was as follows:

1. Defining the Brand, 2. Investigating other brands, 3. Creating a brand identity system, 4. Test, test, test, 5. Run with it!

1. Defining the Edquity Branding

When I first joined Edquity, I was provided with our company’s Values and Behaviors document, which articulates our goals and expectations. I of course also learned about these values through informal conversations and general osmosis.

However, in order to properly formalize our brand, I wanted to go deeper and really get to the heart of the following:

What does Edquity stand for?
What do we want our users to feel?
Who is Edquity as a human?
Who are our users interacting with on a daily basis?
What are some images that come to mind when you think Edquity?

I held multiple workshops with our Chief Product Officer, Chief Executive Officer, and other team members to answer these questions. The consensus was that equity, trustworthiness, upward mobility, empowerment, diversity, financial inclusion, and social justice were our most important brand values and the key components to helping students remain financially secure, and stay in school.

Next we turned to voice. Since we work around issues that are extremely sensitive and stress-inducing for our users, we were careful to ensure our brand voice captured what students need to be successful: empathy, understanding, and mentorship. We agreed that a personified Edquity should be more of an older sibling, as opposed to a financial counselor who could be seen as condescending, less trustworthy, and out-of-touch. We came up with the following brand attributes: warm, diverse, wise, empowering, trustworthy, peer, personal, and independent.

2. Investigating Other Brands in the Space

I conducted a visual and tonal benchmark of all the fintech startups supporting individuals around financial management or income smoothing to better understand design trends in the space, and what would stand out.

A spectrum from "playful" to "serious," showing where other financial tech competitors lie.

I categorized the spectrum from playful to serious based on the brands. On one end of the spectrum was Dave, whose playful style and Teddy Bear mascot makes saving a fun endeavor; on the other end were companies like Betterment and Lending Club, whose brands were more serious to confer the more sophisticated intervention point of investing, which has historically been a gated practice.

We knew we didn’t want our brand to be too frivolous, since we were dealing with students undergoing an immense amount of financial stress, nor did we want a completely sterile identity that feels more lecture-y than advice-driven. So we placed Edquity in the middle of the scale, leaning more towards serious than playful.

A spectrum from "playful" to "serious," showing where Edquity lies—somewhere in the middle.

I created the following moodboard per my recommendation.

A moodboard showing comforting colours, soft illustrations, and empowering imagery.

The goal was to use comforting, pastel, solid colors, empowering photography, and organic fonts, patterns, and icons.

3. Creating Brand Identity System

Using the moodboard above, we set out to translate what I learned into our brand. Then came the actual design work. I learned from a previous mentor that when designing logos, start small and in black and white because if it doesn’t work in that form, it won’t work at all.

One of my favorite things about logo design is the messy, uninhibited exploration that happens during the process. And when I say messy, I mean messy.

A collage of unused brand marks in black.

I wanted to evoke Edquity’s values as much as possible in the process, thinking through how the logo could be used in the future to incorporate images, such as student faces. I was inspired by the flexibility of the Hillary for America logo — how the different backgrounds spoke to her values while retaining the recognizability of the icon.

The shield logo marks were nixed immediately. My team agreed that they were too evocative of an investment or security company. People leaned towards the sans-serif fonts for their approachability and towards the logos that retained our main ethos of upward mobility. We also decided that an all-lowercase type would work best in terms of maintaining a vibe of friendliness.

Hours of more exploration later and it came down to these two:

Two of the final contenders for the Edquity logo.

We try to live our values internally and I wanted the rebranding process to have as much equity in voice as possible (ha — get it?), so it came down to a company-wide vote on Slack. Number 2 was the unanimous winner, and so we finally had our new logo!

The logo symbolizes Edquity’s primary mission of promoting upward mobility and financial stability for our users while alluding to our position in the postsecondary education space, with the blue mark in the upper right doubling as an abstracted graduation cap. The team ultimately decided on a logo revamp as opposed to a complete redesign because we did not want to limit our position in case we ever expand our focus beyond higher education in the future.

However, a new logo ≠ a new brand. Now that we had the logo, we needed to create a set of guidelines to make sure that everything visual set forward by Edquity in the future would look like part of the same ecosystem. Because if there’s one North Star for the branding journey, it’s consistency, consistency, and…CONSISTENCY.

Color palette

Edquity's brand colors

Typography

Typography was a little trickier. I’ve always been nervous about type pairings because the idea of infinite possible combinations is a daunting prospect. I knew I wanted a sans-serif/serif pairing and something open source so I scoured Google Fonts and tested umpteen combinations through screen mockups and real-life applications before I found one that looked right. In the end, I chose Rasa and Karla to complement each other; Karla’s subtle quirkiness complemented Rasa’s acute sophistication perfectly and the organic quality of both together helped us achieve our goal of promoting a sense of warmth.

4. Test, test, test

What kind of startup would we be if we didn’t test to validate our ideas? We presented our refreshed brand to users in our demographic to see what their thoughts were, and sought to answer a few key questions: How did they feel when they used mockups of our products in the new visual style? Upon initial review, what words or emotions did they associate with our homepage? What words associated with personality would you use to describe the company? What words come to mind when you see our new logo?

95% of the feedback was about how the color palette felt warm, and empathetic. Students also loved the illustrations and said they added an element of fun and comfort.

5. Run with it!

“Running with it” means building internal brand ecosystems and external brand awareness and making sure the consistency shines through in whatever we do — every newsletter, sticker, t-shirt, flyer, product, should look like they’re coming from Edquity and evoke the same warmth and familiarity that we strove to accomplish with this redesign.

Phew, are we done now?

Never! Step #6 is to never stop iterating.

A redesign is not cosmetic: it’s a culture revolution from within. It resets and rebuilds. It’s a rallying cry. It galvanizes. Redesigning your identity is much more than a self-centered vanity project. It’s a cathartic reset, a new beginning. — Zendesk.

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