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August 18, 2022
Design

Helping Modular Humanize AI Through Brand

Modular is the next generation AI developer platform founded by the best and brightest in artificial intelligence.

The team behind Modular are shifting the current paradigm of AI by reinventing and rebuilding the software from the ground up. It was such a joy to help verbalize and visualize that driving force.

We knew from the earliest conversations that our work needed to amplify the inspiration and excitement around the future of humanity and AI’s role in that.

The Modular AI team is an incredibly talented and diverse group of individuals. Their passion was infectious from the outset and we couldn’t wait to dive into the research process and help build and craft their story.

Here’s how we aimed to humanize AI through brand.

Word mark, symbol & visual language

Everything in the universe begins with an atom, the basic unit of matter.

In Modular’s field, everything begins with a ‘bit’, the basic unit of information. When you merge these together, you have a common visual basis that bridges both archetypes. We felt this created a single design primitive that we could build from. Something that broadly connected with all of us in building out a common modular, composable, and layered design system.

The bit and atom fundamentally inspired the brand’s look and feel, becoming the unit or the module, upon which everything is built. From our grid system to our logos and visual language, it all comes from this lowest construct or primitive, represented visually as a simple square — but the basis upon which an enormous design language can be built.

Modular logo construction

The word mark is stripped back and clean, with lovely little details. The ‘bit’ missing out of the M and the R are a nod towards its construction and are later found throughout the visual language. We wanted to create an understated word mark with a more playful and abstracted symbol that can forever shift, build out, and evolve.

Modular AI is the foundation on which anything is possible, so it wasn’t about creating a flash and exuberant mark, but one that encourages others to build something magnificent from it. The software that Modular is creating is modular (of course), composable, and layered and we wanted to build a design system that perfectly embodied that.

Modular logo pins

Color palette

Modular’s color palette was inspired by the raw magnificence of nature and the enormity of space. This is a nod to our infinitesimally small existence in comparison to the vast enormity of the Milky Way. Yet, one which draws hope to human exploration and a better future with AI. We look to the stars as a symbol of all that is possible.

Modular colour sourcing

The palette is set in a beautiful deep blue, embellished with the colour of starbursts and gas clouds for accents. Not only did it feel fresh and different from the generic mid-blues of the field, but it also leaned into Modular’s overall aim to inspire software developers and hardware providers to create amazing things that will improve people’s lives and move humanity forward.

Modular colour

Typography

As soon as we laid eyes on TT Hoves, we knew it had to be our typeface. Hoves is clean, elegant and well-balanced, with plenty of lovely geometry and very little noise or unnecessary embellishment. It feels ‘of the future’ without any gimmick.

We leaned into the lighter weights, from hairline to regular, combining it with plenty of breathing room and we’re incredibly happy with the results.

Modular typeface
Modular typeface weights

Visual language

The visual language is built upon the use of two types of graphic devices constructed on a square grid system. Solid color blocks and jagged imagery.

The grid brings order and helps portray the concept of modularity in a visual way, whilst allowing flexibility in a plentitude of layouts.

Modular grids

The beauty of this system is that it extends to a wide range of shapes and provides flexibility to frame imagery, create intriguing masks, and ensure the visual language can evolve and stay fresh.

We felt that imagery was key to the overall story of AI and its impact on humanity – something many companies in the space seemingly miss. For this reason photography is a key element of the brand and is utilized heavily to reflect the use case or impact of what is being represented.

Modular posters
Modular business cards
Modular Instagram stories
Modular swag

Iconography

The bespoke iconography set is designed to feel like an extension of the logo. The icons match the brand’s blocky visual language, mimicking the feel of being built by bits. Icons also fit into the overall design system to ensure we create echoes of modular, composable, and layered composition.

Modular iconography

Website

As the brand developed, we started to build out the website, using block-frames, wireframes and content documentation. Our teams never work in silos, so conversation and decisions flowed back and forth, between brand and product.

Flexing the fledgling brand work into the context of a marketing site, helped to sharpen our output, ensuring it fit the purpose. We also wanted to ensure that we’re capitalizing on opportunities for delight and interaction.

Modular website design

Final words

It was such an incredibly daunting and equally inspiring task to build a modular design system that is reflective of the software and platform that the Modular team is creating.

The ability to craft a visual language that will be utilized in the broader developer platform — from the documentation, to other flows that the team is building, provides a unified language that elicits a visual story which is reflective of the future of AI software.

Modular brand guidelines

The future of AI depends on modular design, and we are proud to have helped create a brand that beautifully encapsulates an organization that is pushing forward the world of AI infrastructure. We believe they can bring a better world for everyone and we are deeply rooting for them.

From the Survey:
What challenges are you facing today?

Most of our startup founders were primarily concerned with financial budget constraints, prioritization of focusing on the right product features, getting buy-in from stakeholders and investors, and keeping up with the constant changes in the market.

Enterprise leaders had a different challenge, concerned with the ability to get organizational alignment and clarity across complex levels within the organization.

However, the common challenges that both startup founders and enterprise leaders from the majority of our participants were around hitting timelines to ensure speed to market, available resources, and ensuring the product would resonate with customers in today’s market.

PLAN OF ATTACK

User Research

Talking to users to understand their needs, requirements, pain points, and how a product could better enable or change their day-to-day life.

Concept Designs and Prototypes

Establishing the underlying product idea and how it will be expressed visually. This includes ideating and designing the differentiators (more on this later). Then, testing those design prototypes with users to understand their reactions.

Product Market Fit, Vision, and Strategy

Determining a product's value proposition for a given market and understanding the widespread set of customers it might resonate with. Looking at the competitive landscape to identify competition and their strengths and weaknesses. Mapping user needs to business opportunities to create a vision, goals, and objectives that your product will address.

Product Definition

Identifying all the key features needed, high-level design direction, user journeys, and high-level happy path flows. This also determines the conceptual architecture, tools, technologies, and high-level operational needs to bring those key features to life.

Design and Development Sprints

Working in an iterative, sprint-like manner during the product delivery lifecycle. This allows you to focus your efforts in two to three week bursts, designing out key features and moments of the product, testing it out with users, developing those features, performing quality assurance, and then retrospectively learning from the past two weeks to improve.

Go-to Market and Marketing

A go-to-market strategy is a detailed plan for launching a new product or expanding into a new market. This helps you launch your product to the right audience, with the right messaging, at the right time.

From the Survey:
Where would you invest?

In our survey, we asked product leaders where they would invest most heavily in the product cycle. The majority of answers come in with Product Definition, followed by determining Product Market Fit and Strategy. Design and development of the product along with user testing took the middle priorities, and go-to-market and QA took 5th and 6th respectively.

Finding the right focus

Discovery + Solution
Prod
Def
Foundations +
Differentiation

30%

Feature Design
Development + User Testing

60%

Marketing + Growth

10%

30% focused on getting to Product Definition

User Research
Concept Designs and Prototypes
Product Market Fit, Vision and Strategy
Product Definition

We find this is typically the right amount of time to ensure you have an understanding of the opportunity areas and that your product addresses 1) the needs of your target market, 2) has a design and features that are differentiated from competitors, and 3) it will be able to generate your target business goals.

60% in Design, Development and User Testing sprints

The bulk of your efforts should be focused on creating an exceptional user experience for your product. This is where you bring the product to life and test that it resonates with your target audience. You always want to measure to ensure that it meets your needs.

10% of time and efforts towards Go to Market and Marketing.

Once your product is ready for showtime, you need to dedicate time to ensure it will reach your target market. You also want to validate that they understand its value and why they should engage with it.

VAlidators

Do our monetization plans make sense to drive revenue?
Will this resonate with the market?
What is the competitive landscape?
What are the key features that will drive early user adoption?

Differentiators

Domain
Experts

product
blueprint

Now that you have a strategy and your differentiators in place, it’s time to draft the entire product experience into a single document. This is a key step in the product lifecycle called product definition. 

One of the key deliverables that comes out of the product definition is the product blueprint. Your product blueprint allows you to visualize the entire product service on one page. This helps manage its complexity, including the actions and touchpoints of all the actors, key features, technical dependencies, and operational requirements.

Behind the scenes, there are several key assets that power this product blueprint: 

Goals and objectives
Priorities
High-level designs
Definition of key features
User journeys
Technical architecture and plan
Key operational dependencies
High-level roadmap

This view helps to ensure your team is aligned on the critical pieces of success.

That being said, it’s easy to go overboard with product blueprints, so don’t boil the ocean! Focus on the few critical features and components that will make a big impact for your customers.

Remember to trust in yourself and the research that has been done. Your customers don't always know what the right solution is for their wants and needs. That's why it's your job to consider their needs in the context of your product's potential and develop an appropriate blueprint that can scale in the future.

Skilled
Makers

We saw earlier that you’re going to be spending the majority of your time in the product definition/design, testing, and build phases, which means you need a talented team of skilled makers. 

This may seem obvious, but when building the right team with the right chemistry within your budget, there are a lot of factors to consider. How long will it take for the team to gel? Do you stick with who you have? When should you contract vs. hire?

Chemistry is Key to Achieving Velocity

Too often, we see companies spend big budgets hiring a ton of great developers and designers. They throw them onto a project expecting the product will be delivered fast only to find the team isn’t hitting their milestones. Why? 

Teams typically struggle to get going immediately because of differing working styles, personalities, mindsets, and honestly… sometimes ego. That’s why you shouldn’t focus on individual hires but on the team as a whole.

If you have time, budget, and desire to invest in the future culture of your company, you have to invest time to build the team dynamics. We find that it typically takes 4-5 sprints for a team to find its groove — approximately four months, or more.

If you are an early stage startup, and don’t have a lot of time (six months or less), but still want to get a product out there quickly, we recommend hiring a pre-built team of skilled makers who have launched several products together. 

The key takeaway is to not waste all of your time and money hiring. Building a successful team takes time and cycles of members working together to hit their stride. When necessary, augment with experts to help your team grow, add a skill, or just simply to outsource a function. It ultimately comes down to how you want to allocate your resources.

From the Survey:
Hires vs Contractors

Industry leaders we spoke to prioritized Engineering, Product, and Design roles as full time hires (in that order).

Research and Brand functions to be the first specialized roles that could be contracted. There is no one-size-fits-all answer: this could work for those who are racing to build quickly and already have many of their market questions answered, but could cripple a team that is in the opposite situation.

With CEOs and Execs, the most suitable roles for contracting work are Research, Brand & Design.

Accelerators

Don’t reinvent the wheel… and don’t build everything from scratch! Accelerators are existing tools and technologies you can leverage or integrate into your product.

Accelerators enable us to get new products to market faster and enhance our team's capacity to build quality into the development process and focus on solving the most important problems.

There are three main types of accelerators we leverage at MetaLab:

Design and Prototyping Tools

Some of the tools that we use to help accelerate the design process to create and test out designs, concepts, and prototypes with users include Figma, Framer.io, and even Typeform.

Figma: Design Tokens to improve styling and brand consistency in the products we build
Figma: Lokalise integrations for supporting localization in the design process
Chromatic to enable simple VQA workflows in conjunction with Storybook for component libraries and design systems

SAAS Integrations or Cloud Platforms

For development, we use many different tools and platforms on our projects to help accelerate the product development lifecycle and build products that can scale to meet customer demand.  Several of the most popular and impactful integrations and platforms used by our teams include:

The wide range of resources and services offered by Amazon Web Services allow us to architect globally scalable solutions
IaC tools like Terraform Cloud to accelerate the deployment and management of foundational architectures that we see across many different projects
For quickly enabling teams to build and deploy web prototypes and services we’ve come to adopt Vercel and Heroku for ease and simplicity
Microsoft App Center enables us to construct build and deploy workflows across multiple mobile platforms like Apple App Store and Google Play
We leverage a wide range of content management systems that allow us to quickly model data schemas and provide administrative capability including Storyblok, Sanity, Contentful, and others.
Sentry provides our engineering teams with visibility into code quality, error logs, and performance early in the development lifecycle

AI Tools

AI is everywhere these days for a reason. It’s powering brand new ways to get work done and being incorporated into almost every tool we already use to make workflows easier. From content creation to scheduling, we are seeing tools popping up for everything. Here are a few that can help accelerate product development:

Image/Video Generators: Dall-E and MidJourney (image) and Runway (video) are tools allowing for renderings based on a few lines of text as a prompt or by using another image as inspiration. Adobe Photoshop also includes a generative AI that can not only add to an image but help with the editing workflow as well.
Large Language Models: Perhaps the most popular AI tools, LLMs like ChatGPT and Google Bard have a laundry list of useful applications like content generation, researching new topics, generating code, refining copy, and much more. With the right prompts, ChatGPT can also help with generating user stories and epics at the onset of a project.
Interface Design Tools: UIzard, Galileo, and Genius can all help to create UI structures and frameworks to boost design efficiency.

There are important considerations to keep in mind when using any AI tool in a responsible way. Sensitivity of data uploaded into any of these systems and the originality of the content is a big one.

Policies and regulation with AI are still being figured out, so it’s wise to exercise caution when setting guidelines for your product teams. Leverage these tools as inspiration or starting points for copy, as pieces of a larger composite for images, or to get as specific as possible with prompts in order to generate something unique.

Feedback
mechanisms

Product development succeeds when teams develop a culture of continuous learning. This is fueled by rigorous testing, analytics, and strategic iteration during key phases of the product lifecycle.

In the discovery phase, we immerse ourselves in understanding our potential early adopters' needs and motivations (see #validators). Alongside this, we work with clients to think through solid analytics strategies. This step instills a data-centric culture from the start, setting the stage for ongoing learning and adaptation. 

By aligning qualitative user insights with a framework for quantitative data capture, we ensure the product strategy we craft will continually evolve to meet user needs.

As we pivot to the alpha and beta stages, the emphasis turns to iterative improvement. We engage early adopters in testing programs. Their first-hand experiences provides invaluable feedback to detect bugs and potential enhancements. 

This feedback, bolstered by real-time analytics data, drives our evidence-based refinement process, prepping the product to be market-fit.

By investing in this cycle of continuous learning — persistent testing, data-informed analytics, and strategic iteration — we embrace a user-centric ethos in product development. This equips our clients to not just navigate, but also thrive.

When Ravi Mehta (former CPO at Tinder/Product Director at Facebook) was working on the first iteration of his personalized coaching product, he validated it quickly with a paid offering he pieced together with a number of low-code tools.

Leveraging learnings from a community of early adopters, he partnered with MetaLab to help enhance, refine, and evolve the product into the Outpace app.

Outpace launched earlier this year. It provides guided programs for personalized career development designed to level up with the support of a one-on-one AI coach.

Revenue
drivers

We are in a post-WeWork/Theranos era of founders promising growth without showing any profit. You need to ask yourself "What do we need to show investors?" Users are great, but how is this actually going to make money?

You have to show real numbers and an actionable monetization strategy. This means outlining your marketing and growth strategies — and the mechanisms that will bring in not only revenue but profit.

Revenue strategies can vary greatly, but the following are a few of the most common buckets of digital product monetization mechanisms:

Direct Payment

One-time purchases, subscription models, pay-per-use, or any other mechanisms in which users are paying you directly for access to the product.

Advertising/Marketing Platform

Revenue generated from 3rd parties such as advertisers within the platform, commercial sponsors or partners, or marketing and selling other products.

Commercialization and Licensing

Leveraging your product, or packaged-up data, as a platform to license out to customers for their use. This can be through licensing, white-labeling, or some form of direct payment access.

Ancillary Model

Offering a main service that customers find valuable and then focusing on adding additional features and value at a cost. This can be done through bundling, cross-selling complementary products, a freemium model, or, most commonly, in-app purchases.

There are many ways to monetize a product, and this is by no means an exhaustive list. The right way is the one that will resonate with your audience, so feel free to experiment and be flexible when choosing a strategy.

We’ve been supporting Modular with the release of their new AI platform and product offerings. Early in our engagement, they asked us to design a marketing site to help them grow and segment their sales pipeline. This allowed them better understand, and target, existing and potential users. We took those early learnings to ensure the product landed with their audience and supported their revenue targets.

The product lifecycle doesn’t end with a launch, it goes far beyond. Once you begin to get a better understanding of your customers and their purchase behaviours, it’s vital to adapt, being flexible with pricing, monetization strategies, and identifying unexpected revenue drivers. 

For example, you may see that your primary offering for your SaaS tool is slowly gaining traction, but over and over customers are requesting access to an API for a specific data flow. You may be sitting on a large additional untapped revenue stream and there could be more. Meet your customers where they are!

Trusted
Advisors

It helps to consult the people who’ve been there before. There are a million people on LinkedIn who are trying to sell you a service or product that you may not need. There are critical steps that could cost you if you miss them. There are shortcuts you may not even know exist. Trusted advisors can help you navigate this and more. There is just no substitute for experience.

Find seasoned product leaders, designers, or engineers who have launched products in the past and will be familiar with the nitty-gritty details. They will have the perspective to help you find the forest through the trees. You want people on your side who can make sure you are spending your time, efforts, and money on the right things.

These are the Product Survival Kit items that we recommend to anyone who is creating and launching a product in today's climate. It's a mix of techniques, processes, people, actions and tools that we've seen provide success to many of our clients, colleagues and partners out there. But remember — each product is different, so find the mix that worst best for you. 

It may seem daunting but it is possible to successfully bring your idea or product concept to life today.  This may even be the right moment to go after it. Companies who launch useful and impactful products during economic downturns have a history of surviving and thriving. The next one could be you.

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This guide is based on the collective learnings of the team here at MetaLab but a special shoutout to those who helped us with the writing of this post:
- Angie Amlani, Research Director
- Anshul Sharma, Product Director
- Aaron Geiser, Engineering Director
- Mike Wandelmaier, Head of Design

Modular is the next generation AI developer platform founded by the best and brightest in artificial intelligence.

The team behind Modular are shifting the current paradigm of AI by reinventing and rebuilding the software from the ground up. It was such a joy to help verbalize and visualize that driving force.

We knew from the earliest conversations that our work needed to amplify the inspiration and excitement around the future of humanity and AI’s role in that.

The Modular AI team is an incredibly talented and diverse group of individuals. Their passion was infectious from the outset and we couldn’t wait to dive into the research process and help build and craft their story.

Here’s how we aimed to humanize AI through brand.

Word mark, symbol & visual language

Everything in the universe begins with an atom, the basic unit of matter.

In Modular’s field, everything begins with a ‘bit’, the basic unit of information. When you merge these together, you have a common visual basis that bridges both archetypes. We felt this created a single design primitive that we could build from. Something that broadly connected with all of us in building out a common modular, composable, and layered design system.

The bit and atom fundamentally inspired the brand’s look and feel, becoming the unit or the module, upon which everything is built. From our grid system to our logos and visual language, it all comes from this lowest construct or primitive, represented visually as a simple square — but the basis upon which an enormous design language can be built.

Modular logo construction

The word mark is stripped back and clean, with lovely little details. The ‘bit’ missing out of the M and the R are a nod towards its construction and are later found throughout the visual language. We wanted to create an understated word mark with a more playful and abstracted symbol that can forever shift, build out, and evolve.

Modular AI is the foundation on which anything is possible, so it wasn’t about creating a flash and exuberant mark, but one that encourages others to build something magnificent from it. The software that Modular is creating is modular (of course), composable, and layered and we wanted to build a design system that perfectly embodied that.

Modular logo pins

Color palette

Modular’s color palette was inspired by the raw magnificence of nature and the enormity of space. This is a nod to our infinitesimally small existence in comparison to the vast enormity of the Milky Way. Yet, one which draws hope to human exploration and a better future with AI. We look to the stars as a symbol of all that is possible.

Modular colour sourcing

The palette is set in a beautiful deep blue, embellished with the colour of starbursts and gas clouds for accents. Not only did it feel fresh and different from the generic mid-blues of the field, but it also leaned into Modular’s overall aim to inspire software developers and hardware providers to create amazing things that will improve people’s lives and move humanity forward.

Modular colour

Typography

As soon as we laid eyes on TT Hoves, we knew it had to be our typeface. Hoves is clean, elegant and well-balanced, with plenty of lovely geometry and very little noise or unnecessary embellishment. It feels ‘of the future’ without any gimmick.

We leaned into the lighter weights, from hairline to regular, combining it with plenty of breathing room and we’re incredibly happy with the results.

Modular typeface
Modular typeface weights

Visual language

The visual language is built upon the use of two types of graphic devices constructed on a square grid system. Solid color blocks and jagged imagery.

The grid brings order and helps portray the concept of modularity in a visual way, whilst allowing flexibility in a plentitude of layouts.

Modular grids

The beauty of this system is that it extends to a wide range of shapes and provides flexibility to frame imagery, create intriguing masks, and ensure the visual language can evolve and stay fresh.

We felt that imagery was key to the overall story of AI and its impact on humanity – something many companies in the space seemingly miss. For this reason photography is a key element of the brand and is utilized heavily to reflect the use case or impact of what is being represented.

Modular posters
Modular business cards
Modular Instagram stories
Modular swag

Iconography

The bespoke iconography set is designed to feel like an extension of the logo. The icons match the brand’s blocky visual language, mimicking the feel of being built by bits. Icons also fit into the overall design system to ensure we create echoes of modular, composable, and layered composition.

Modular iconography

Website

As the brand developed, we started to build out the website, using block-frames, wireframes and content documentation. Our teams never work in silos, so conversation and decisions flowed back and forth, between brand and product.

Flexing the fledgling brand work into the context of a marketing site, helped to sharpen our output, ensuring it fit the purpose. We also wanted to ensure that we’re capitalizing on opportunities for delight and interaction.

Modular website design

Final words

It was such an incredibly daunting and equally inspiring task to build a modular design system that is reflective of the software and platform that the Modular team is creating.

The ability to craft a visual language that will be utilized in the broader developer platform — from the documentation, to other flows that the team is building, provides a unified language that elicits a visual story which is reflective of the future of AI software.

Modular brand guidelines

The future of AI depends on modular design, and we are proud to have helped create a brand that beautifully encapsulates an organization that is pushing forward the world of AI infrastructure. We believe they can bring a better world for everyone and we are deeply rooting for them.

Celebrate little wins
Embrace the scroll
Coach them though big ideas
Embrace the scroll
...make sure anyone can use it
Give them one task at a time
Teach by example
Create a 'consumer-friendly' feel
Focus on the most common user needs, but...
Start with mobile
Principles we
can use today
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