When we started Plato Design in 2018, we chose our name expecting it to be temporary. We liked the name because Plato’s theory of forms reminded us of the way computer vision models work by learning representations of objects by analyzing many examples, and we thought this was an interesting homage for a tech-enabled design agency.
But, we knew it wasn’t unique; Plato has a long history of usage within the tech industry that’d make it difficult to become, “the Plato” on the web or be able to get a trademark.
Over the last 18 months we’ve kept Plato under the radar, and didn’t want to dial up our marketing until we knew we could reliably support an increased scale of work while maintaining our quality. A few months ago we knew we were close to that point, and thought it was the appropriate time to rethink our name.
We started the process by coming up with a list of all the design and technology words that we could think of. Bonus points if they were also somehow related to philosophy. After coming up with about 50 names, we went through the process of creating portmanteaus, and increased the list’s size to around 70 names. From here, we came up with a list of 5 names that we liked the most, and moved into the domain name search.
Through this process, Aesthetic immediately rose to the top of the list. Not only is its definition, “a set of principles underlying and guiding the work of a particular artist or artistic movement,” but it’s also a branch of philosophy that deals with the nature of beauty and taste, as well as the philosophy of art. We couldn’t imagine a better name for a company that brands companies so they can feel cohesive as they grow. Startups are used to, “moving fast and breaking things,” and aesthetics are almost always an afterthought. We couldn’t imagine a better name for a company that’s flipping the traditional agency model on its head to help early stage companies establish a cohesive brand that they can rely on as they grow.
As a design agency that specializes in branding, the stakes were high for our own rebrand. After establishing the name for Aesthetic, we wanted to convey the brand personality of Aesthetic, and how it compares to Plato. We decided to use Jennifer Aaker’s brand personality taxonomy to evaluate and define Plato and Aesthetic in terms of excitement, sincerity, ruggedness, competence and sophistication.
This exercise gave us a clear direction that Aesthetic’s brand should be less tough, more earnest and more magical than Plato. With this breakdown of our target brand personality traits, we were ready to go through a branding exercise with our own creative agency.
“When we kicked off this project, we wanted to come up with a visual identity that established a human and playful use of technology that pushes the boundaries of what people think tech can do for creatives,” said Jeremy Van Cleef, Partner and Creative Director at Aesthetic. “We took this idea of creative experimentation and tried to really push that through each of our design decisions.”
“The foundation of the design approach begins by restraining ourselves to just the essential. This allows us to focus on clear communications and ensure each elements is achieving its goal. This also allows us the ability to rapidly change and evolve over time. For that we developed a clean utilitarian universal grid system underlying all elements, an understated black and white color palette and utilize a highly legible typeface made from the digital era: Inter. This comes together as an extremely tight and clear design system. Now that we have established our rules and parameters we selectively find moments to break them. This is where the experimental fun begins.”
We chose an understated black-and-white color scheme so that our own brand wouldn’t distract from the work we did for our clients. We knew we wanted to keep with this theme, while also thoughtfully adding some colors to accentuate our message. We ended up going with a limited secondary color palette that we could use to add touches of personality and experimentation.
We opted to pair a rich library of graphics that adds humor, personality and playfulness with a sophisticated grid system to create a dynamic and playful layout. We wanted to lean on the strength we get from a functional grid, and lighten it up with imagery that’s light, fun and clean. We commissioned Costa Rican illustrator Anthony Orozco to help us build out this graphics pack, with the goal of humanizing our brand while feeling fun, clean and alluding to the tools that designers are most familiar with.
When it came time to define our new logo, we decided that the foundation of the mark should be a timeless, highly legible wordmark that has a modern tech hint to it. Instead of creating a single logo, we wanted to define a dynamic system that would allow us to render our logo in many ways to continue playing up the angle of experimentation.
We worked with Finnish type expert Johannes Neumeir to help with this project. After looking at 100’s of variants of our wordmark and the different ways we could introduce dynamism, we ended up going with a direction that introduces pixelation into an otherwise sans serif typeface, which we could dial up and down based on the amount of, “tech” we wanted to push forward.
The first application of our new brand is our new website. We wanted to freshen up the language on the site to introduce some of this experimental and fun tone, while also keeping the customer centricity that we knew worked well from the Plato site. The copywriting for the new website was done by co-founder John Milinovich, and the web design by co-founder Nathanael Smith. The web development and CMS implementation was done by James Turner.
After watching many hours of user testing footage from people using our site, we realized that we had a bit of a, “leaky bucket” — many users had to leave our site to access key information like our portfolio of work on Dribbble. To address this, we decided to pull more functionality into our website so that we could be more useful to our users.
We’re very excited to get this new version of our identity out into the world, and want to thank everyone who was involved with its creation. We’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback on our new identity.