Most forms of media have their own set of companies that have become trusted sources of content. We might implicitly trust HBO, for example, to deliver a solid TV series and might even be inclined to watch the first episode of its new show, despite having never heard of it before. The podcasting industry is, however, younger than TV and these types of relationships aren’t as well established.
“The idea of a podcast ‘network’ wasn’t something the general public or even fans of individual shows were familiar with,” says Eric Collins, a partner at New York creative agency GrandArmy, who led the recent rebrand of Gimlet, a podcasting company founded in 2014. “Gimlet was becoming analogously important [to HBO] in audio entertainment,” he explains. “They needed a strong brand and positioning, so fans of past shows would see the Gimlet brand and think, ‘I’ll check this out, it’s Gimlet, it must be great.’”
After doing a lot research into the history of podcasting and interviews with top executives at the company, the team at GrandArmy developed a brand strategy and positioning for Gimlet that would then inform the visual identity. The central idea was to create a sense of authority and trust and the word mark was a key element to get right. “We started looking a lot at the typographic traditions of broadsides, early newspapers, and letterpress printing,” says Eric. “There’s a strength to those forms. Especially the condensed grotesques – they’re no-nonsense. They feel serious and stable, like they’ve been here forever.”
This approach went against the grain of lots of brands in the modern economy. “Much of modern branding seems to be moving in the other direction,” says Eric. “So quiet and inoffensive, like these brands wish they could disappear entirely. The Gimlet word mark is the opposite approach. It is meant to speak from authority. It stands for something. And the letterforms feel very material, as if they could actually be shuffled around, jammed into place like woodblock type.”
With the word mark taking shape, the team turned to the rest of the identity. The idea of collage came up and struck a chord. “The collage aesthetic dovetailed with our letterpress word mark,” says Eric. “We were similarly trying to ground the graphic system in a more classic and timeless visual language.”
The collage aesthetic also harks back to a simpler time. In the “pre-Adobe age”, as Eric puts it, “you were limited to these kinds of analogue techniques. Photography, blocks of colour, juxtaposition, scale, texture, collage. There’s a rich history to be inspired by in photo collage.” On another level, collage is a neat metaphor for the act of storytelling, which is of course exactly what Gimlet is all about as a company: “You gather, cut away, edit, play with composition.”
And again, in a world dominated by insipidly simple and stripped-back brands, the messiness and handmade feel of this collage aesthetic felt almost rebellious for GrandArmy. “You get a human connection that’s lost in the ‘slick and polished’ brand identities you see everywhere,” Eric explains. “This look was another way to set Gimlet apart from those throw-away trends.”
Eric’s team at GrandArmy has managed to strike a few tricky balancing acts. They’ve created an identity for Gimlet that feels highly considered, yet at the same time has a rawness and personality to it that is often missing from modern brands. With its typography, it gives the company a feeling of authority, but its colours and use of imagery mean it still feels playful and approachable. But perhaps the most difficult balancing act was creating a 21st-century brand identity, while also leaning on ancient references such as collage and letterpress printing. Walking that tightrope is no mean feat.