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Fresh Eyes Lead to an Effective Brand Refresh

“The shoemaker’s children go barefoot” is an adage that hammers home a fact of life: Busy people rarely have time to see to their own needs. And the same, naturally, holds true for creatives. Realizing that they’d gone about as far as they could with their own identity after 15 years, San Francisco branding and design firm Noise 13 decided it was time for a change.

  • Brand
  • Print
  • Digital

They kicked off their brand-refreshing process by consulting with Bay Area strategists SeriesC to ensure that they created a voice that not only would stand out amongst competitors, but one that conveyed Noise 13’s unique personality as well.

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A Fresh Perspective
Any experienced branding team will tell you that clients are usually the last people to know what their “message” is and how best to express it, something Noise 13 realized right off when they decided to update their own look.

“We could have done it ourselves but after 15 years in business we needed a fresh perspective and a view from someone who was not personally connected with the brand,” says Noise 13 Founder and Creative Director Dava Guthmiller. “Since we wanted all the benefits of the professional audit we provide our clients, we found SeriesC to be a perfect fit to provide those services back to us.”

Noise 13 began researching a redesign for their website back in 2013, gradually realizing that what they really needed was a complete overhaul. In March of the following year they hired SeriesC, which did its homework by interviewing Noise 13’s clients to determine what they’re really best at.

“With the SeriesC team we also discovered new ways to communicate our core messaging, and had them as a sounding board for our internal visual rebranding work,” says Guthmiller. “Their team also organized creative workshops with us to draw out our core values to really define who we are. They provided us with ideas to consider and drafts of positioning statements that we would use to shape our final message.” 

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Noise 13 Meet NO13E
After SeriesC’s research (which also included an audit of all of their print and digital assets), Noise 13 was left with a pretty clear vision of themselves and their strengths. Now it was their turn to translate all of that into a fresh, appealing new face for the outside world.

For starters, they decided to inject a bit of mystery into their logo by spelling it “NO13E,” and in some cases even shortening it to a type of monogram: N13.

“We wanted to come up with a new way to integrate the 13 that didn’t seem like an afterthought,” says senior designer Christine Lee. “Since this is core to our founder’s personality, we didn’t want to change the name but integrate it into the ‘noise’ team as a whole. Also, we love clever logos and saw this redesign as a great opportunity to create a mark that makes an intriguing first impression. After we landed on this concept we went through a ton of revisions, doing tiny tweaks to get it to a place we were all happy with, and where it was readable as both the ‘is’ and the ‘13.’ ”

Whether on a sheet of letterhead, on envelopes, or on the front of a business card, the logo is extremely eye catching.

“We all rallied behind the idea that a little bit of mystery — that ‘double take’ — can actually be a good thing,” says senior designer Janu Flores. “Convincing our clients to go in this direction can be a challenge, but we are so glad we stuck to our guns and have a logo that shows it can work. It demonstrates our cleverness and creativity — it’s nice to put our money where our mouth is.”

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Little Paper Emissaries
Though a sense of fun has always pervaded Noise 13’s collateral and website, they decided to put their personalities clearly on display in a number of ways.

This began with choosing a signature dab of yellow to offset the clean typography and act as a backdrop for the N13 on everything from business cards to their website.

The cards themselves feature the usual contact information on the front, but a piece of personal photography for each team member on the back with the N13 at its center.

They “were first printed offset (duotone photos on the back), then a foil was printed (all yellow elements, both front and back), and finally letterpress (all dark gray text on the front),” Lee explains. “They were printed 10-up on Mohawk Superfine Ultrawhite Eggshell 130lb Cover, which allowed us to do small runs for each employee with their own custom photo. We chose the foil because we could achieve a nice glossy finish to contrast with the uncoated paper. The letterpress was added as a last minute decision to add even more tactile quality (and luckily, barely increased the cost).”

Some of that cost was saved on the stationery side when they came up with a simple, white, pre-printed wraparound sticker that affixes neatly over a gray standard #10 envelope, creating a distinctively elegant look. “No expensive, custom envelopes for us,” says Guthmiller. “We’ve made that mistake in the past and know where to spend and where not to.”

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Making Some Noise Online
Perhaps one of Noise 13’s most needed changes came with the launch of a fully responsive site, which quietly debuted at the end of October 2014.

“We wanted to update our website for quite some time but held out until we finished the new brand positioning and identity,” Guthmiller says. “We also had many projects for the portfolio that were not public yet and needed client approval for us to show. Add in some time to get everything back from printers and photographed by our partners at Gamma Nine, and finally we had all the elements for the new site. Better late than never.”

The result is professional, friendly and functional. On the home page, a gutsy use of black and white photography contrasts nicely with the firm’s new yellow accents.

And while many design agencies love to get quirky online, Noise 13 puts their work front and center with a handful of landmark projects, including the rebranding of the SF Chefs event as Eat Drink SF, as well as their branding strategy for Living Greens organic juices.

That’s not to say they don’t enjoy a bit of quirk. Their About Us page completes the promise made by their friendly new identity. Under the heading “The Noisemakers,” each member of this 12-person (and 2 canine) team is photographed in a fun pose that best expresses their personality, with a personal phrase that appears when you mouse over each. (Project manager Ashley Kasten quietly steals the show with “I’m not the type of person you should put on speakerphone.”)

Finally, line art illustrations by Flores are a great supplement to the text. “The illustrations integrated the yellow dot/spotlight in fun ways to show process,” he says. “We try to do illustrations for clients in house whenever possible, so it was really cool to get to do them for ourselves.”

While Noise 13 created all of the visual elements, it was the deep interaction with SeriesC in the early part of the rebranding process that the team credits with getting to the root of who they are, which in turn allowed them to share that with the world.

“Hiring people who focus on strategy and positioning was a little luxury for us, but it was such a great exercise for our team to get someone else’s viewpoint,” says Guthmiller, “and push us that much further.”

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Author: Aaron Berman

A former writer and editor for USA Today, Aaron Berman is also the editor of PaperSpecs, and covered the newspaper industry for the Newspaper Association of America’s monthly magazine, Presstime.

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