Responsive Brands: Part 01 Urban Influence

Is your brand adapting to digital age or getting lost in the pixels?


With an ever-changing landscape of culture comes with it the way people interact with brands. Now, more than ever, people want (and expect) brands they know and love to have an online presence.

But what does that mean for your business? If you, like many existing brands, have a known and loved identity, how do you adapt to the digital landscape without losing the essence of who you are and the value you bring to your customers.

Last year, Kate Matsudaira and I had the esteemed opportunity to speak at the Seattle Interactive Conference about how you can approach the evolving digital landscape without losing who you are, and better yet, achieving your goals.

Getting all sentimental (and realizing I didn’t actually discuss it last year), here is a recap of some of our findings, and what considerations you should take when looking at extending or updating your brand.


You have the power to engage or lose an audience.

We are living in a digital world. Everywhere you look, brands are taking the extra step to make sure their online presence not only exists but is killing it on the web. Social media, blogging, SEO efforts and digital advertising can get easily overwhelming for any company to take on, where do you start? What are you trying to say? What’s your brand proposition? What type of photography reflects who you are as a company? If it wasn’t enough to manage your day-to-day now you have to worry about what the public thinks about you online.

As anyone who has gone on a first date knows, the first impression matters, and like it or not, that first impression in 2017 is what they see after a quick google search.


Where is your brand portrayed?

To complicate matters, you have to look at what devices your audience is going to find you on. Is it on their phone while on the bus, commuting to their internship? Is it from the comfort of their desktop computer at work (instead of doing those spreadsheets Jim requested)? What about your shared Instagram photo that was reposted by a friend of a friend of a friend.

The landscape can quickly get tricky to navigate, and your message lost if not careful.


The promising part of all of this is that you have a wide range of opportunities to expand your brand, message and value proposition, and with considered, intentional design you can make an impact on your customers more than ever. 

A brand that is killing it in this regard is Warby Parker. If you aren’t familiar, Warby Parker sells eyeglasses. Yes, that is simply put (almost too simply), because what they ACTUALLY do is so much more. They make it easy for their customers to find, try on and purchase eyewear that is beautifully crafted and is exactly what their customer is looking for.


They have taken special consideration to where their target audience finds and interacts with them and takes advantage of every chance to win a potential customer over. From their website to retail stores, try-on experience to customer care team, you get consistent multi-channel branding, every time.


Controlled environment vs. No-man’s land.

But wait, there’s more! If you didn’t have enough to consider, you have to traverse the varying landscapes in which your brand will live. We like to think of these in the Coop as a “Controlled environment” and “No-man’s land”.

Controlled Environment

The controlled environment is exactly what it sounds like. Simply put: you have power over how and when your brand is portrayed. To illustrate these concepts in a more meaningful way, let’s look to our aesthetically adept friends at Virgin America.


You have decided to go on a trip. You do some searching online, find the cheapest ticket through Virgin America and book it immediately. Fast forward to the first day of your vacation. You have checked in through the beautifully designed kiosk or app, made your way to the terminal, have been greeted by the perfectly tailored, put-together staff. As you board the plane, you notice the subtle glow of blue lighting emitting from the ceiling which signifies you are still at the gate. After you take your seat and get settled, you message your friend two rows up using the controller and free entertainment screen on the back of the seat in front of you. Then, the safety message begins to play.

Instead of the usual attendant-in-the-aisleway miming safety procedures, you are greeted with an electrically charged dance video about safety. There are businessmen. There are nuns. There is a woman with her ankle wrapped around her neck. Yes, they are telling you how to grab your ankles and kiss your ass goodbye in the event of an emergency, but god damn it, they are entertaining, and smart, and somehow, still trustworthy.

Now transport yourself to a crusty budget airline – watching the same video. You immediately grab your bags and deplane. You’re determined to not die today.

What’s the difference? The controlled environment. Virgin has integrated their brand into every aspect you have touched. It’s friendly, considered, and worthy of your trust, so when they spring something slightly quirky on you, it’s in a position to be well-received.

 Now, let’s adventure in to no-man’s land.

No-man’s land

In no-man’s land, you guessed it, you have no control. You are at the mercy of your surroundings, so you’d better be prepared.


Great examples of these are news outlets, social media, and ill-considered partnerships.
Your brand advertising might be embedded in a story about Dementors terrorizing neighborhoods, or posted as featured content above an article about how to drink wine on a treadmill. Now, if those sound like good ways to leverage your brand, good on ya. However, that scenario might not be as successful for a Mortgage firm, Pathology research lab, or a 12 step program.

The moral of the story here?

If you can control the experience, great. Get wild. If you have to communicate your entire brand message while in a tornado of uncontrolled content? Stick to your message and showcase your brand in its entirety.


Multi-platform + Responsive Design

If you didn’t have enough to worry about, take a look at how your brand adapts to varying digital landscapes. Logos and typefaces that render great on retina grade desktop monitor, won’t look nearly as awesome on a mobile device.

Let’s look at some examples.


This is a logo for
Mmmmm. What isn’t there to love about a sunglass-wearing bee rocking out to sweet jams to promote a radio group. Utter perfection.

To the right is the same logo, scaled down.
 Not as great, right? You lose the detail, uniqueness and overall awesome of the bee.


When Google launched their latest update of the brand, Tamar Yehoshua, VP, Product Management of Google commented:

“These days, people interact with Google products across many different platforms, apps and devices… Today we’re introducing a new logo and identity family that reflects this reality and shows you when the Google magic is working for you, even on the tiniest screens.”

They understood (and still do) that many of their target audience interacts with their brand on a mobile platform, and made their brand reflect as such.


Twitter went through a similar evolution, transitioning from outlines, gradients and life-life bird illustrations to the simple, solid shape.


In 2015, Facebook spent a good chunk of change to redesign it’s well-recognized (yet simple) logo. The shapes were changed, it altered the width of certain letterforms, and everything got more refined overall. But why?

Facebook realized that 90% of their daily active users access their platform via mobile.

The shapes were refined to read clearer at smaller sizes, the letterforms became pixel-perfect, and the refinement overall read better on mobile devices.

They know their audience. They know it’s an important investment. They adapted to the landscape and continue to thrive.


Smart brands ensure their brands have a purpose. They discover what their audience desires. They define their brand proposition. They design out accordingly. They make sure EVERY detail is consistent. They deliver and distribute products and services that not only address the consumer demand but position it in a way that makes sense for their message.

Check back for part two of this post, where we will dive into more thoughts and real-world examples of brands that are taking it to the next level in the digital age.

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