First and foremost, if you're here to find tips and tricks about taking care of your Bonsai tree, sorry to disappoint you. We'll be talking about something different. I'd still like to invite you to stay for a couple of minutes and read a bit about how we refreshed a logo for an AI solutions company called Bonsai.
We aren't a branding company and never faked being one. We're extremely skilled at building high-performing, data-rich interfaces, and content-driven applications. Now and then, we like to take a stroll outside of our comfort zone and tackle a challenge that will tickle our creativity. That's why, when Bonsai reached out to us, we were more than happy to take on this exercise, even if this is not something we usually do.
As I've already stated, we aren't a branding company, so before starting with the process, we hit the books and explored how companies more proficient than us in branding handled such a thing. For inspiration, we went through a bunch of case studies made by the big ones for the big ones. Ramotion's work on Firefox and Volution rebranding, Design Studio's work on Airbnb, Motto's work on Humankind, Collins' work on Spotify, and others really helped us glance at the creative process that these companies go through to produce unique branding solutions for clients that cater to millions every day.
Since we're a small group of designers, we had to scale down the process and adjust it a bit. We didn't have the time nor the resources to conduct user interviews and send out questionnaires, but we had enough industry insights to kick this off in, what ended up to be, a good direction.
Communication is key.
When you're not conducting market research and are going off a couple of hunches, it's key to understand your client, where they're coming from, and what's the story behind their brand.
People behind Bonsai are a friendly bunch, and we love working with people open to ideas and discussions. Through a couple of client meetings, we got a deeper understanding of their needs and the direction of their brand.
The logo they used before was rough, it had straight lines and A TON of details, it didn't work when downscaled, and to be frank, we all agreed it didn't work in the larger version as well.
Other than that, the Bonsai team wanted their new logo to communicate a symbiosis of technology and nature, as all things AI should be. From this point on, the brief was clear and we got the show on the road.
Brainstorm, ditch everything and then brainstorm again.
We're a team of 4 close-knit designers that have been working together for a long time, but we all come from different backgrounds with different education and world-view, so you could say we're quite versatile. This helped us to approach the problem from different angles. With some research, we created mood boards with ideas, learned a lot about grooming bonsai trees, and through a couple of "no-idea-is-bad" brainstorming sessions, laid the groundwork for the detailed and exhaustive iterative process that's to come.
No idea is bad, but some don't work.
After the initial brainstorming, we wanted to present the client with a couple of drafts. We didn't take the idea too far because we wanted to get the necessary feedback and a better sense of direction. The underlying theme for each draft was the unique fusion of technology and nature with a dash of the abstract. That's where the bonsai tree came into play. Its unique anatomy inspired us and played a key role in what we did for the first iteration.
"If you put a tree in a room, walk someone in, you can watch their eye read the tree. It happens in a matter of seconds—there is an objective path that our eyes typically take to digest a bonsai design.
First, we look at the silhouette of the foliar mass—our eye focuses immediately on the green, an indicator of life. We then will look to the base of the trunk to find stability, an anchoring point. Our eyes continue, following the primary line of the trunk up through the branches.
And then we will acknowledge the different components of the apex and the interplay between the defining branch and counterbalancing branches. We take note of the depth of the design with foreground and background branches. We will notice the indications of age by examining the tree's features."
The bonsai tree can be broken down into four distinct components.
- The apex of the tree, with its green leafage, symbolizes life and health.
- The trunkline, the most dominant and informative component of the bonsai tree, sparking movement and interest.
- The defining branch that creates asymmetry and gives direction and flow.
- The base providing stability and anchoring the design of the tree.
After the client's internal testing, they came back to us with feedback, saying that although they liked some of the examples, they wanted us to try a different approach. We needed to take a step back and play a bit with "bonsai.tech" as a part of the logo and move away from the bonsai tree as the main motif, and we were to emphasize the AI (technology) as an area of their expertise. The logo should still be simple, abstract, modern and "techy" — it was back to the drawing board for us.
No idea is bad but some don't work. In this case, none of them worked.
Iteration, reiteration, repetition.
Circling back didn't demotivate us. We learned more about the brand we needed to create, and with a couple of failed variations, we found a direction that the client didn't want to take, and were able to visualize a more suitable one. We stepped away from bonsai as a tree and started thinking more technically and abstractly, bonsai.tech as a leader in AI solutions. After our next presentation, the client was delighted with the results. After some deliberation, they decided to go with a mix of the two iterations.
What We Learned
We still aren't a branding agency, and branding turned out to be a real challenge (not that we thought otherwise). Are we going to accept any more clients that require branding solutions? Heck yeah we are — although this was a test of our creativity, this exercise really helped us grow as designers as well as the next will. And maybe someday we'll add branding to our services page as well.