Our old friends from Versive are colleagues we met and worked with when we first moved to Toronto. Over the years, we all took off in different directions but kept in touch. When the trio decided to start another digital agency together, they found themselves shorthanded on design expertise so we stepped in at first to help out with a big client project and then to help them evolve their own design presence.
Versive had been operating successfully as the company ‘Medversive’, but they were antsy for a rebrand. The ‘Med-‘ part of their name originally referenced their principal client base in the medical industry, but they soon found it constricting. We embarked upon a large branding exercise to deliver a more expansive brand with a new name, which would include a complete identity system overhaul as well as an eye-catching web presence.
Because we were friends first, we didn’t need to spend precious time earning each others’ respect or discovering the shallows and depths of each others’ knowledge. We all had worked at ecentricarts in Toronto in previous years where inestimable clients included the McMichael Gallery, Kids Help Phone, Hot Docs and Munk Debates, among others, and through that work we found common ground in a shared love of language and art, a respect for important cultural projects, and a healthy sense of humour.
To get started we approached our branding questionnaire with a sense of playfulness, knowing it would be well-received. Inspired by years of fandom of Inside the Actor’s Studio, we sent the crew Marcel Proust’s list of 20 questions to each of the partners. The Proustian Questionnaire, regularly employed by Vanity Fair to elicit unique interviews with celebrities, asks things like, “Who is your hero?”, “How would you like to die?” and “What is your most treasured possession?”, results in wacky answers that span the spectrum of trivial to profound. We got answers like:
“If you died and came back as a person or thing what do you think it would be?”
“What is your motto?”
“Be good. … But not too good!”
“What do you regard as the lowest depths of misery?”
“Inability to express oneself.”
We learned more about our old friends, or at least we confirmed what we already knew about them – that Dave is loveably eccentric, Fisseha is deeply devoted to his kids and family, and Jim is a driven perfectionist who deeply respects his parents. It was Jim’s answer of “Form and function” to one question that formed a solid foundation for much of the brand work to come.
We lean toward some mediums, like photography and writing, because they are primitive in the sense that they let us access our subject matter quickly and relatively easily. For that reason, a big part of our design process is through photography. There is an immediate rawness to capturing someone or something’s likeness on camera, and we also believe in high quality assets driving a design (the old “content first” argument). Mark took portraits of the three partners to be used on the site as a basis for figuring out their design style, for capturing a tone to the new brand, and certainly for forging the human connection that helps stir up design juju.
For the logo itself, we were inspired by the mechanics of the Vetruvian Man, M.C. Escher, and a book of logos from the 1970s, among other things. It was actually a video of an inch worm (sent to us by Dave) that inspired the animations for the website’s homepage. Overall, we wanted the logo to come alive, to demonstrate the qualities of “versiveness” (or, being “versed”). The simplification of the name seemed so smart as to seem effortless, but it did not come before generating a long list of alternative names; eventually we realized the problem was one of evolution rather than reinvention. We played around with the V monogram, taking opportunities to simplify the idea further, stripping 3d extruded mesh shapes down to two, reduced planes.
In addition to helping generate the final name, creating the variations of the form and its animations, capturing the candid portrait photography, we were also co-writers of all the copy. Working with Dave we wrote, edited, paraphrased and cut until the tone of the site felt like our friends. We can’t overstate what a privilege it is to be involved in the creation of all Versive’s digital assets; it allows us a tremendous amount of freedom along with the opportunity to tie all parts together into one seamless package. And it was equally awesome to work with friends who were just as devoted to the work as we were.
“I didn’t sleep well on Wednesday night … kept thinking about the Versive brand. We are somewhat like craftspeople in what we do – not makers of quilts or candlesticks, but more like carpenters or smiths: we make products that have a utilitarian function, so they have to fit together just right, and we sand them and stain them so they look really nice too. I said before that we didn’t want a look that was too technical/drafting like, but maybe there’s something about the carpenter/joist metaphor that could work with the V… ” Dave Taylor, partner Versive
Designing for people like ourselves with similar experience in the industry meant we knew our subject matter intimately. It also allowed us to go in directions that are a bit more experimental, using animation libraries like Bodymotion to convert complex After Effects animations to web-friendly SVG formats, or pursuing the glitchy concept for the Versive business cards.
Touching each aspect of a brand and help it come to life is really a designers’ dream, but doing it with friends makes it a process we all enjoy. Big thanks to Versive for trusting us with all this work!