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Case study: Thisness

The exciting thing about starting a brand identity company is that I was able to be my first customer. Here's a look at the process for developing the brand identity for Thisness.

Brand strategy

I knew from the start that I wanted to position Thisness as an anti-agency. In my interactions with and analysis of marketing and branding agencies, I've been struck by a paradox: that companies peddling their creative prowess tend to craft solutions that look all the same. Even the “edgier” agencies tend to be edgy in the exact same ways (new slang! hashtags! GIFs!).

I think a lot of this has to do how these agencies hire. There's a sort of farm system, where new employees are expected to have agency experience, and getting agency experience is dependent upon interning at an agency, which is itself dependent on majoring in a specific field of study in college. This creates a very insular world, one that has no place for creative generalists and outsiders like me.

More than just an attitude, Thisness also embraces its generalist roots. I'll have my hand in every step of a project, and can tie strategy, messaging, and design together in a powerful way.

Naming

I wanted my company name to evoke the most important part of branding, which is the distillation of an organization into a single, powerful idea. In addition, I wanted the name to be unique, memorable, and available as a domain name.

Naming is a complicated process because the possibilities are unlimited. You can choose an existing word (from your native language or another language), make up a word, cram words together, and do anything in between. Want to call your new app Pizorgle? Or call your bakery #1@Π? Go for it.

After days of brainstorming and googling and availability research, I came upon the Wikipedia entry for haecceity. Haecceity is an old concept relating to the characteristics of a thing that make it different from anything else. I learned that the term translates literally to thisness, which I loved. I loved that the name rhymed. I loved the balance between the four-letter parts “this” and “ness.” I loved the potential for this-based puns.

a handwritten mind map of potential company names
This is a mind map that I created to help me brainstorm my company name. Please excuse the serial-killer handwriting.

Of course, there's a wide gap between simply loving a name and choosing it as my company's name. Is the name available as a .com? It was, for a small ransom. Is the name trademarked? It was not. Is the name unique enough for Google searches? It was. Whee!

Logo design

I wanted my logo to look like it was created in 1966. Why? Because I wanted to reflect the timeless ideal of my work, pursuing universal meaning instead of chasing trends. And 1966 just so happens to be one of my favorite years.

In 1966, the United States was still in the afterglow of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Space Race was in full gear. Mission: Impossible was on TV and the Beatles' Revolver was on the radio. Mod fashion ruled the day.

For the logotype, I was leaning toward using a monospaced typeface — with each letter taking up the same amount of horizontal space — to play up the balance between the two parts of the name. I decided on Letter Gothic, which is a typeface designed in 1956 for the IBM Selectric typewriter. To me, Letter Gothic evokes the rational, can-do attitude of the Space Age.

sample text (Letter Gothic evokes the rational, can-do attitude of the Space Age) in Letter Gothic
This is Letter Gothic in action.

At the outset, I wanted to create a simple, clean logo that played on the “this” in the company name. Most of my initial designs used an arrow to achieve this effect. I wasn't in love with any of these designs, because they weren't unique enough or fun enough or clear enough.

a set of 12 rejected Thisness logos
This is a set of rough logo illustrations that I rejected.

So, I switched gears and started looking at other ways to highlight the “this” in Thisness. I initially used italics, but didn't love the disparity between letters. Underlining was one of my first ideas, but I dismissed it immediately, thinking the solution too simple. However, I tried a single underline and loved the cleanliness of the look. To me, it looked like a typewritten hyperlink, as if the IBM Selectric typewriter from the '60s and the Netscape Navigator web browser from the '90s had a baby. It was postmodern bliss.

the Thisness logo in black and white
This is the Thisness logo in black and white.

Look and feel

I wanted the colors in the logo to reflect my hometown of Phoenix. When I think of this city, I think of the purples, pinks, and oranges of a Phoenix sunset; the purples and blues of Camelback Mountain at dusk; the purples and grays of a Phoenix monsoon; the purple and orange of the Phoenix Suns; and the purple of the City of Phoenix logo. Do you see a common denominator?

a photo of the sky in Phoenix during a monsoon storm
This is the sky in Phoenix during a monsoon storm.

After playing around with several color combinations, I decided on a dark purple (grape) for the primary color and a reddish pink (cherry) for the secondary color. I felt like this was a unique color combination that did Phoenix justice. Bonus points for calling to mind an irresistible sugary grape drink.

the Thisness logo in full color
This is the Thisness logo in full color.

As for typography, I was looking for one or two typefaces that were evocative of the era and were highly legible. With the help of the indispensable Fonts In Use, I was drawn to Franklin Gothic for headings and News Gothic for body text. Thankfully, Google Fonts has free, open-source derivatives of each: Libre Franklin and News Cycle. I love free.

a sample heading (Here's a heading in Libre Franklin) in Libre Franklin and a sample paragraph (Here's a paragraph in News Cycle) in News Cycle
This is Libre Franklin and News Cycle in action.

Messaging

One of the happy side effects of the company name is that I get to play on the word “this” to build brand attachment.

a sample header with text (this is my natural habitat) over a photo of downtown Phoenix
This is a play on the word “this."

For my key message, I wanted to drive home how a Thisness-crafted brand identity is a slap to the cerebral cortex, a break from the monotony of most brand experiences. I also wanted to avoid resorting to overused words like “killer” and “awesome” and “slay.” Hence, “blah-busting,” which gets the point across in a fun and alliterative way.

a key message (Let's build a blah-busting brand) from the home page
This is a key message.