“No grid, no rules”: How the Spotify design team created the identity for this year’s Wrapped
The campaign was partly inspired by chaos. And yet the visual identity has to be robust enough to work across countless countries, languages and formats. We hear how the team at Spotify grappled with this tricky challenge.
It’s that time of year again, when Spotify tells each of us individually, in no uncertain terms, who we really are. If you’ve opened your app over the past 24 hours or so, you’ll have seen it: a personalised experience for all Spotify users that breaks down the data of what you’ve listened to and for how long over the past 12 months. Your correspondent will keep his results close to his chest, but I can reveal that having a toddler somewhat skews the data (not that I don’t also appreciate the fine work of Vicky Arlidge, mind).
Last year, we spoke to the Spotify design team about the campaign’s visual identity, which was then built around a series of bold and colourful so-called “monograms”. This year, Wrapped looks altogether more fluid and free-flowing, featuring a range of eclectic shapes, colours and styles, and lacking the symmetry and sense of precision of last year’s identity.
1 of 6
The identity on a billboard OOH (Copyright © Spotify, 2023)
“There’s something about this year that felt especially chaotic in terms of how people consumed culture.”Rasmus Wängelin, global head of brand design at Spotify
This was an intentional move by the design team, and it was born out of a desire to reflect a certain atmosphere in 2023. “There’s something about this year that felt especially chaotic in terms of how people consumed culture,” says Rasmus Wängelin, global head of brand design at Spotify, who describes his team’s job as being “to make Spotify look as good as possible” outside of the digital product itself. This year, he and his colleagues also took inspiration from the blending of online and offline life. “The internet and real life are converging, so it’s sometimes hard to know what’s real and what’s not,” he continues. “That really became one of the centre-points of gravity for the design. We wanted it to feel like a blurred line between the internet and real life, to encapsulate that human experience.”
Following on from this, the team also took inspiration from nostalgia and the expressiveness of the early internet, albeit viewed through a modern prism. “We’re not trying to duplicate that style,” says Rasmus. “We’re inspired by it.” You can see this influence in some of the final designs – from the use of pixelated shapes to the more playful and retro-feeling animated elements.
The initial direction was decided upon way back in June. Rasmus then converted this initial concept into a brief for the design teams, and his aim with this is always for the team to feel both “inspired and hopefully a little bit nervous,” he says. “That’s when we know we’re in a good place.” After that, the design teams, under design directors Mariola Bruszewska and Bruno Borges, carried out a weeks-long phase of exploration and experimentation. “We start so early, in June, because we need that space to explore,” Rasmus explains. “To explore a lot of the bad design or a lot of design that just doesn’t make sense. We don’t settle until we’ve talked about the design one time too many, rather than one time too few.”
Once the team had explored a range of different options for the direction, they picked an idea that they were confident would look great, feel fresh and be able to scale to a global campaign. “That’s when the work actually starts,” says Rasmus. The goal is to produce what Rasmus describes as a “cohesive global toolkit, with descriptions, examples and templates”, which will then be sent around the world to Spotify’s comms and marketing teams, as well as external partners worldwide.
Building this toolkit is also how the designers stress test the original idea. “We have to prove to ourselves that it actually works in small, big, wide, narrow; in different languages; with different types of creative, whether that’s a playlist cover or an artist image or just a text-based creative; digital, physical and everything in between,” says Rasmus. All without ruining the integrity of the creative itself. “There’s always going to be a tension between trying to create something for everyone, but at the same time, pushing the creative to still be interesting and unexpected,” says Rasmus, who has led the design of Wrapped for eight years now. “That’s the true challenge for us every year.”
1 of 7
Giphy stickers from this year’s identity (Copyright © Spotify, 2023)
This year’s identity threw up a particularly intriguing challenge. It was designed to feel chaotic and fluid, but it also had to be incredibly systematised and functional, packaged up into a toolkit to then be executed by countless teams worldwide. “That was one of the challenges this year: How can we create something that feels so fundamentally fluid and organic, but as a system?” Rasmus notes.
He feels strongly that the designers on the team – Erin Safreno, Melissa Miyamoto-Mills, Chris Cyran and Will Oswin – succeeded in overcoming that challenge. The team came up with a layered approach, which allows them to dial up and dial down certain elements to create what Rasmus calls “a layout system that feels fluid and dynamic, untamed and playful” at the same time. “What I love the most about this year’s design is that if you look at it, it almost has this feeling of just sitting down and designing without overthinking what you’re doing,” he says. “It’s almost like you’re just putting on good music and letting the colours and the shapes just come together. And there’s no grid, no rules.”
For him, this is what happens when design strives for something beyond pure usability or, on the other side, beyond artistic expression without functionality. “I really hope the design industry embraces more of this over the coming years,” he says. “Because I love the intersection of the emotion you get from looking at art, and the functionality that design gives you. When these two worlds come together, you create the best work.”