Designing a New Playground Brand

Ryan Bannon

Playground’s brand has always been one of youthful exuberance and optimism. As the company has grown and matured so has the way we conduct our business — it was time our outward facing personality represented the inside of the company.

Where We Came From

The original Playground brand colour was purple. A fine shade, it was unique and fun and worked as a great differentiator for us. As time went on and we wanted to do more interesting things with our brand we found the purple extremely limiting.

An image of the original Playground Inc. logo.
Playground Logo circa 2009.

There is only so much purple one can have in their life. So we wanted something that was far less finite but still had that sense of approachability and curiosity that the purple was providing.

A moodboard made during the logo design process.
Building inspiring moodboards from the amazing Dribbble community.

We are Playground Inc.

The name of the agency has always had strong conceptual ties between what we do and how we do it. The duality of one word that represents energy and creativity and one that resonates process and production has always been the balance we strive to strike with the work we produce.

It’s through this wide-eyed creativity that we are able to create things that truly are amazing

Playground

When we look at the world we see it through eyes that know no limit to possibility. We have the imagination, ability and drive to create anything. Just as when a child looks at a jungle gym and sees a pirate ship, an igloo, or an amazonian rain forest, we look at technology and see opportunity to connect people, to empower them, to make their lives better. It’s through this wide-eyed creativity that we are able to create things that truly are amazing and delight the people who experience them.

A photo of a sketchbook with some preliminary logo ideas in it.
Some early process work.

Inc.

Conversely, we understand that without execution ideas are worthless. To take form; the best ideas need process, they need structure and they need discipline. It’s about taking that abstract creative concept and allowing it to manifest itself in a way that people can use and find meaning in.

What almost was

We spent a great deal of time working on the brand. We wrote positioning statements, we had meetings, we conducted study groups and narrowed down to something we were really excited about.

Almost Our Logo

Our branding exercise netted us a great looking logo that was balanced and worked in many different applications but the longer we had it sit on our hard drives and on our screens, the more flaws we found in it.

Easily traced inspirations

I recently watched a great talk from UXWeek 2012 with Austin Kleon about Stealing like an artist. Influence, imitation and stealing are issues I think anyone who spends their day wading through a web of creative work has to struggle with.  While our process for deriving this logo was far more thorough and considered than the diagram below implies we couldn’t help but feel like that might be what others perceived from the end result.

There was no denying that the new logo was beautiful but some stake holders felt the inspirations were too easily deduced.
There was no denying that the new logo was beautiful but some stake holders felt the inspirations were too easily deduced.
Finding our own fresh Identity was difficult. WIth Peers we admire so greatly we kept  coming to places that felt like them — rather than like us.
Finding our own fresh Identity was difficult. WIth Peers we admire so greatly we kept coming to places that felt like them — rather than like us.
A picture of a crashed airplane, signifying a lack of excitement about the new logo
A direction we were once so excited about had lost its velocity. We needed to go back to the drawing board.

We had reached a point where everyone felt we really needed to push ourselves farther. Where was the ‘us’? Where was something fresh and timeless, an identity we could take ownership of?

The new, New Hotness

The final Playground logo

We went back and started looking at brands we loved and logos we loved and what it was that made them great. We spent a lot of time looking at the branding work of Paul Rand and Massimo Vignelli — as I’m sure anyone who’s ever had to design a logo does. We started striving for more bold geometric and simple forms that could be simple and timeless.

A grid of potential logos that had been thrown out
Some sample logos from the second round of attempts. We didn’t want to discard our original idea. The new logo had to work better than all available options.

Our second round of revisions yielded some great looking options that everyone was again excited about. The hexagonal ‘P’ that felt like it was for a company that made metal fasteners or injection moulds was a strong favourite. It felt permanent, we put it up in our internal Facebook group and after a couple of months with nobody bringing any concerns to the table, it was.

In the details

This is probably my only opportunity for anyone to appreciate the painstaking effort that went into the roundness of every corner on the new mark. Somewhere I hope Saul Bass or at very least Aaron Draplin is smiling.

LogoDetail

Try New Things

We finally had a brand image that was striking, encapsulated and  inspiring creativity. It was far more forgiving and flexible a design element than our original unbalanced, attention seeking mauve trimmed wordmark.

An arrangement of two posters from Playground staff events
We use posters in our internal Facebook group to announce events.
A picture of a book with a stamp pf the Playground logo.
We stamp all our books with this, to you know — feel good that we sometimes still use books.

We’re growing up and moving forward. We continue to understand more everyday about who we are and the value we provide with the work we do. Feel free to connect on Twitter to talk about the new logo design.