When we think of tech and the companies that produce and work with it, Silicon Valley – not New York City – generally springs to mind. For Squarespace (SQSP), however, NYC has always been home and it’s this unique fact which DIA Studio has utilised in designing its recent brand refresh. Launched yesterday (3 December), the entirely kinetic identity system channels a style which is distinctively Squarespace, making reference to New York’s modernism, fashion, and technology.
“New York has always been in the DNA of Squarespace,” the brand chief creative officer, David Lee explains. “We’re proud to say that we’re an NYC-born and raised tech company. New York is in our blood.” Upon visiting the company’s offices, Mitch Paone, Meg Donohue and the rest of the DIA team were struck by this evident personality. “When you walk into the Squarespace headquarters there is such a clear aesthetic and attitude,” Mitch tells It’s Nice That, explaining where the idea to reference New York modernism came from. “When looking at the architecture of the office, it’s clear that iconic NY modernist landmarks [like the Seagram building and One Chase Plaza] run parallel to the SQSP aesthetic.”
As well as referencing architecture in its redesign, DIA pulled from the New York transit system’s design as perhaps the most well-known example of the city’s modernist roots. “Every person who has visited NY has seen it. This is more about function and information and less about fashionability and high-brow artistic taste. So naturally, this served as a direct reference to both the type design brief and how the typography is handled across the design system,” Mitch adds. “Combining the functionality and nodding to the visual feel of the Vignelli system, with this artistically tasteful yet commercial modernist architecture, and the frank edginess of the city’s fashion really provided the aesthetic point of view we wanted to hit for the identity system.”
The result is a typeface, produced in collaboration with Francois Rappo at Optimo, titled Clarkson. Although referencing the mash-up of grotesk and neo-grotesk typefaces that appear across the city’s transit system is what gives the typeface its clear distinctions, it’s in its proportions and contrasts that it can subtly reference NYC’s fashion and tech scenes. “By widening the proportions, it fused in a slightly geometric characteristic, which makes it more mechanical or ‘techy’ and incidentally more fashion-forward,” Mitch tells us.
Ultimately, however, and in true DIA fashion, it’s the rebrand’s moving components which makes it truly stand out. It’s Mitch and Meg’s ability to communicate concepts through kinesis which led SQSP to want to work with them in the first place: “DIA has a very unique process and we wanted to investigate how we could approach our identity system in a more unorthodox way,” David explains. “Brands are no longer static. They are living, breathing. Kinetic. For us being a tech company whose brand presence primarily lives online, it was important to make sure we were thinking screen first.”
The entire identity, therefore, boils down to a simple gesture – a square which rotates in any dimension with an isometric camera point of view. The motif is derived from the sound of saying “square” and “space”, a two-syllable cadence which is then mimicked in the identity’s animation. As well as creating an intriguing optical illusion, it provides a flexible framework to be utilised across both text and image, acts as a framing device, becomes a transition and much more. “Overall,” Mitch says, “it’s a shockingly obvious result. However, its endless flexibility and ability to work seamlessly in motion, interaction and still is what makes it so interesting.” With a framework now in place for the SQSP team to take forward, it’s a smart, adept – not to mention good-looking – identity system which will continue to evolve.
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