Let’s get one thing clear, we aren’t a brand agency. Yes, we do brand work, but just not for everyone.
We've entered into a new world, where products aren't just complimentary tools to businesses — they often are the business. For the past decade, clients are starting to come to this realization, however, all too often, brand is the piece that gets forgotten.
So MetaLab does offer branding services, but only for product-led startups.
These clients understand that brand can’t be created in isolation from the product. This is where we step in and help build the brand and product experience from the ground up.
We’re sitting down with our Brand Director, Matt to hear a little more about MetaLab’s unique approach to brand.
What makes your approach to brand different from what’s already out there?
We work at the juncture of brand + product
This is what makes our approach to brand different.
Oftentimes, brand and product are tackled separately with large branding agencies creating without the product user experience in mind.
Treating any brand as a skin for product is an outdated approach. We’ve had clients come to us after spending huge dollars with a branding agency, only for the work to fall short in key product experiences.
By simultaneously building brand and product, we’re able to develop something cohesive that tells a deeper story and addresses the critical solve for the user.
We create brands that are usable, scalable, and full of potential
Our product-led philosophy means that we create brands that can evolve based on the application. We’re able to balance the daily, utilitarian product experience design with rich and immersive brand moments.
The team has a solid understanding of how a brand needs to roll out beyond product so they think big when it comes to building a bold visual language, while still balancing the product experience.
Our designers have experience in all areas of branding development including print, digital and out-of-home, so we are set up to help clients launch their brand in a powerful, cross-channel way.
What’s your brand ethos?
The brand must connect to a human truth
Brands are so more than simply a veneer, a pretty logo, a typeface, and some colours.
Great brands tell compelling and real stories, and those stories connect to a fundamental human truth and emotion. Our goal is always to build brands that have hearts and connect to the people who interact with them.
Luckily we get to work on the ground floor with many of our partners. Founders come to us with an idea and a solution to a real need that’s out there in the world. Then we work with them to uncover their core DNA.
Brands must flex and evolve over time
Startups go through an incredible journey in the first few years. They have to find a market fit while getting to know their voice, their product, and their users. It’s a time of constant evolution.
We always take this into account when developing brands.
Rather than building something that attempts to capture what the startup should look and sound like 5-10 years from now, we keep things lean and focused. Product is always prioritized first, as we know that this is what will drive business and success in the early days.
That being said, certain things remain constant such as the core DNA, mission, and vision.
Our brand systems stay true to these pillars while also allowing for extensibility and adaptation. In doing so, we develop brands that can transcend time and trends.
Brands must be backed by research
A brand's look and feel have to emotionally connect with the user, rather than the whims and tastes of the founder. That’s why all of our brand work is supported by research gathered directly from users.
To steer away from subjectivity, which is inherent to brand, we ensure we are well versed in what makes customers tick:
What do they need? What do they like? What do they not like? What makes them happy? What fundamental human truth resonates with them?
This data along with competitive analysis and stakeholder insights inform every brand decision and act as our north star throughout the entire building process.
What does your process look like?
We always start with the core brand DNA
To get to the heart of the brand, we hold an extensive workshop at the beginning of each project.
There we go deep with the client to understand why they exist, what problems they solve, their vision, and their mission.
These learnings are then distilled into an overarching narrative that represents a fundamental human truth. Then we validate our narrative through user testing to make sure it connects with the user.
This narrative is a constant hook we come back to throughout the brand-building process that allows us not to get bogged down in subjectivity, and ensure we are always prioritizing the user experience.
We work like a product team
Many of our brand designers, including myself, have experience in product so product design is second nature to the team.
We work in weekly sprints and validate our ideas through user research — operating very similar to a product design team.
For tools, we work in a mix of product tools like Figma and traditional branding applications like Photoshop or Illustrator.
Cross-functionality is very important to us and we keep in close sync with product developers and engineers. We’ll also leverage specialists like illustrators or videographers at different stages of a project.
We work fast, typically building a brand from the ground up within 6-8 weeks.
We’re clear and collaborative
We’re not the type to condescend, speak in jargon, or work for months in isolation to present a rigorous 150-page brand deck.
Instead, we establish a collaborative relationship with clients from the get-go and bring them along on the journey.
Weekly check-ins are a part of our process, allowing clients to provide real-time feedback, and learn more about the branding process. We’re not afraid to show work in progress but always come with a perspective and rationale.
We’re never not learning
While we’ve naturally been doing brand this way for a long time, we didn't think it was special. In fact, we downplayed it and felt our brand offering was of less value than what the other big players in the branding scene were doing.
What we’ve come to realize is that our approach is exactly what most startups need.
We come in at the right time of the founder's journey to support them in creating a product-informed brand that appeals to authentic human emotions and needs.
As more of our clients have been asking for our support with brand, we’ve been growing our team with intention and purpose. Our small but mighty team is made up of humble designers with a range of specialties and aesthetics.
The celebrated MetaLab approach to product inspires how we do brand, and we are never afraid to try something new, fail, iterate, and try again.
At the end of the day, the aim is to create moments of delight and emotional resonance with users.
What are some of your favourite brands MetaLab helped create?
I love them all for different reasons but out of the ones we can talk about right now, Rain, Heroic, and of course Slack stand out.
Rain is a cryptocurrency company based in the Middle East. Their core narrative centres around giving people the freedom they need to succeed as they build their wealth.
My favourite thing about Rain is how different it feels from other crypto apps out there. We achieved this by paying homage to the legacy and history of the users it serves.
Just as travellers once crossed thousands of miles to trade goods and exchange coins, cryptocurrency offers a seismic shift equally as big.
Heroic is a training platform that blends ancient wisdom with modern science to help you become the best, most heroic, version of yourself.
The brand is big and bold and unapologetically iconoclastic. It knows who it is and who its core users are.
We're helping Heroic build their product now. We're excited to see this one come to life.
The OG. Although Slack was before my time at MetaLab, it’s the perfect example of product-led growth with just enough brand.
Our work with Slack pioneered our approach to brand, even if we didn’t know it at the time.
We've got a bunch of new brands in the works that I'm so excited to share soon. Stay tuned.