Start-Me-Up Labs offers ‘off-the-peg’ identities for new companies

11 August 2016

Start-Me-Up Labs created over 200 identities in five days, amalgamating a series of “off-the-peg” design elements to create brands for new companies. Clients were asked to pick a shape, a typeface and an emoji expression off the shelf, then spin a colour wheel to define the palette. This project caused quite a stir in the office when we discovered it – so we asked Jason Little, co-founder of For The People which conceived and executed the project to tell us more.

Start-ups have many funding and investment conundrums. They have to get to market, they have to invest in technology, they buy into the idea of a minimum viable product (MVP). At For The People, we’ve met heaps of them and worked with a few of them. The challenge? They need a minimum viable brand, or often, a minimum unviable budget.

Fair enough. So we created Start-Me-Up Labs (SMU Labs) – a collaboration with Adobe to give start-ups and newbies a helping hand into the world of branding. Held at co-working spaces and events, you can ‘collect’ a free minimum-viable-brand for the launch of your minimum-viable-product. A simple, no frills, bare bones brand that promises little but gives you enough to start out.

The initiative came about as part of the Adobe Make-it Series – where Adobe invites creatives to make something that starts in mobile and transitions to desktop apps. With a very open brief, we felt it was important to create something that had some usefulness to others, whilst also having a point of view on how we think and design today.

The prescriptive process behind SMU Labs is to help facilitate an understanding of the very basics behind creating an identity for your company. We intentionally made the experience light-hearted and almost a parody on some of the decisions we make as designers around colour, naming, typeface choice etc, which are essentially at the whim, tastes and choices of every design team.

The process starts with a clipboard and a shopping basket. Pick a shape, a typeface and an emoji expression off the shelf. Spin the colour wheel and get your colour palette without fuss. Pick a new name – are you uber-conservative? Conservative-ish? Startup-esque? Ultra-startupy? What about imagery? A studio shoot of individuals can work for anyone, so we created different starter photography kits to fit four different personas, using our own people as the stock-standard shots. After all this shopping, visit one of the technicians on site and they’ll integrate your choices into a bunch of apps designed around three template styles – playful, simple or bold. With so many choices and combinations you essentially get your keynote pitch deck, stationery and website so you can immediately get started.

We don’t pretend this process results in a truly unique, differentiated and engaging brand unless you dig a whole lot deeper than a surface level identity, but this is hopefully a good start. Down the line, when there is a good product and money to invest in design, any good studio/agency can help build the bespoke brand they need.

We started out with a four-hour single event for a couple of hundred startups in a co-working space, which quickly morphed into presence at events like the Adobe Make-It Conference and Semi-Permanent. Any business, start-up or individual could go through the process and come out with a complete brand (in the basic sense). It turns out the best things in life are free, especially when they let you focus on creating the next Facebook, Instagram or Tesla.

How to select the elements to create your Minimum Viable Brand

Shape Cards

In an ideal world, we’d all have the time and the money to have our very own unique, differentiated and category-and-convention-defying logo, right? Your future could be a clever, hidden animal; or an arrow in negative space; or maybe three million colourful variations created through an algorithm. One day, perhaps – but first let’s get your MVP working with our MVB (Minimum Viable Brand).

Then, when the seed investment money starts rolling in, you’ll know it’s mostly because of this off-the-shelf, slick-ass, no-nonsense brand you got for free. Keep it, or upgrade it when you’re flush – just remember us when you’re a unicorn.

Typeface cards

How you talk to the world is critical to your success. This typeface will give you the leg-up you need. Are you a regular Joe? Do you have a bold vision? Are you known for a heavy-handed approach? A typeface is literally a face made of type – and that face speaks volumes to your audience and staff. Say hello to your new best friend.

Emoji expression cards

It’s true what they say about faces: everyone has one. It makes sense, then, that you have one for your brand. It adds a friendly and approachable demeanor to your brand and will instantly make you more likeable. It’s all in the eyes, you see. And the mouth (take our word for it).

Naming Cards

What do these letters stand for? Whatever you want! It doesn’t really matter anyway… nothing says “boring but probably trustworthy” and “this company was founded back when steamboats were new” like a three-letter acronym.

Ooh, you got a Latin name. It’s the best of both worlds: it has gravitas because it sounds like a word a lawyer would use all the time, and it also sounds vaguely creative and exotic for some reason! You don’t need to know what it means… it’s a dead language, after all.

We live in an increasingly fast-paced world, so nobody has time to waste on frivolous things like vowels. Cutting them out of your name shows that you’re agile and efficient (even if you do sound like you have a mouthful of fudge whenever you try and pronounce it).

Okay, so technically this name doesn’t “mean anything”. At all. In any conceivable way. But that’s actually a good thing! It means that you create the meaning of the name yourself – while also benefitting from an unearned sense that your brand is “fun", “modern" and “totes rando”.

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Jason Little

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