Hey there. I’m Matt. I’m Creative Director at Drift, which means I’m the lucky chap who gets to lead an amazing team of designers, developers, and video producers who make Drift look, well – like Drift. We were recently asked about the concept behind the graffiti we’d incorporated into the design work for our HYPERGROWTH19 events in London, Boston and San Francisco.
I thought it would be fun to expand on it here on our blog. Hope this helps. And maybe I’ll do more of it? OK, let’s dive in.
The simple answer to “Why graffiti?” is that it’s a fun way to differentiate the visual expression of the brand and create an exciting environment for our events. But there is an overarching concept behind it that speaks to the core identity of Drift as a company.
I love talking about design and explaining concepts but fair warning: if “visual vernacular” is a phrase that makes your eyes roll back in your head, click away now.
If you’re still with me, let’s break it down!
The Visual Language
It’s pretty straightforward. As a creative director, I have a ton of low cost, easy-lift assets to leverage. Amazing photos on, say, Unsplash. Lovely illustrations from Humaaans, and killer icons (not to mention ever fresh!) from Nucleoapp. But if I can subscribe to all those for $X.99 a month so can everyone else. I’ve used all these services in the past on various projects and it always amuses me when one of the things that I bought/used for X, shows up in one of my feeds for Y.
Drift’s design DNA is work that feels analog, handmade. No stock. Great copy. Graphic. Bold black and white typography punctuated by flashes of garish color. Barbara Krugeresque type treatments and vibrant graphics that give a nod to the work of Reid Miles, Basquiat, Jamie Reid and Shepard Fairey all combine to create a look that is a little gritty, sometimes flashy and, hopefully, fun!
Like all of the cultural/design movements we reference in our visual language, we try to honor their intent. We also try to capture that exuberance and innovation in the way we do things across our business, all guided by our Leadership Principles, and amplified by everyone’s work. These principles describe a kind of self-reliance, innovation, risk-taking and authenticity that is critical to the way Drift operates. But all of these qualities really get to shine when it comes to “creative.”
So how do we take all of this energy and intention and transmit it to an overstimulated, overloaded audience in a crowded marketing space?
Standing Out In A Crowd
Think of it this way. If you have a brand that needs to stand out, and the crowd you are in is all doing the same thing, are you going to follow their lead or find inspiration elsewhere?
(Pro tip. Do the latter.)
Hip-hop was a way to make music without instruments. Blue Note records created an elegant graphic system with minimal resources. Basquiat pioneered street art – graffiti before graffiti. Punk was a visual design language without a budget, handmade and repurposed. Grunge was, for the most part, an experiment in authenticity. Obey was guerrilla marketing. EDM is an experiential, high energy insider community.
And all these things have their touchpoints in the Drift culture and the way we share that culture. (And bonus, all of these things are a part of our CEO’s DNA. He saw it all happening around him. So this visual language – graffiti, wheatpaste posters, hip-hop, SAMO! and lots and lots of music – tap into his roots as an entrepreneur growing up in Queens.)
We borrow freely and innovate from them all – the graffiti theme for the current series of HYPERGROWTH events, the wheatpaste graphics for our virtual events, the distressed textures and the color duotones for our site. All of these celebrate the visual and cultural innovators we are inspired by.
The reason all of these have resonance with Drift is that they are intrusive. They challenge the status quo, they channel the work of Mavericks, they overwrite the thing that came before them and change our perception of everything going forward. Like the alley door covered in tags, or the construction hoarding (POST NO BILLS!) overwritten with layers of wheatpaste. The voice is persistent and demanding and a little subversive.
There are more than 7,000 MarTech products in the marketplace. If we followed the SaaS playbook, we’d have a marketing website that is some kind of blue. The site design would be obviously optimized for SEO and likely accompanied by some vague “doing” illustrations. (Here I have to give some props to Mailchimp and the amazing Collins for just full-on bucking most of these trends – stay quirky my friends.) Some of these companies may have started out unique but as you can see from the thread below, at some point they all get “serious” and fall into line.
There is, of course, nothing wrong with the perfunctory, SaaS blue or optimizing for SEO. It’s utilitarian and, to some degree, clear about its purpose.
But it doesn’t sparkle ✨
At Drift, we want to create work that sets us apart. So, we make a point of using extreme type contrasts and mess with the “above the fold” mentality. We skew closer to B2C and “editorial” because B2B is traditionally impersonal. B2C treats people like people, and that’s what we want to do at Drift. Instead of looking to other “tech” companies, or the direct competition, we look to Apple, we look to Nike, we look to Supreme.
To understand a brand you really have to understand the company and the people behind it. Drift is full of people who don’t ascribe to the norm. They are our brand – authentic, energetic and unconventional.
We zag. Drift is a disruptive B2B platform that wants to change the way businesses buy from businesses. Drift created the Conversational Marketing category as a way to eliminate the friction in the B2B buying process. No more forms, no more waiting, no more wondering if you’ve been approved. Drift is a way to connect instantly with your buyers (or your vendor) without all the friction of traditional B2B.
Drift’s commitment to this kind of “non-conformist” culture is reflected in our Leadership Principles. We use them every day to think about how we can best serve our customers as well as a guide for how to navigate the work.
We try to be direct, conversational and avoid jargon whenever possible because we think that all of us just want to speak and be spoken to in the most plain, engaging and most easily understood way. Especially when we are buying something. We don’t want to be sold to and figure our customers (and yours!) don’t want that either.
So in a way, the graffiti is our way to mark the space and an homage to all the folks out there who aren’t just fitting in, but trying to find a new way – their own way of doing things.
Want an opportunity to do work that you love? Here is my advice:
Who do you work for?
Find a company where the CEO appreciates and understands the value of design (you should be able to tell by the kind of design they’re currently doing). And yeah, it kind of needs to be the CEO, otherwise you’ll just be shoveling sand against the tide. So, how can you tell? Look at their shoes. The shoes don’t lie.
Have some, get some. Do the thing that feels right. You know the story, tell it. If you are wrong, own it and move on. (but you know, don’t be stupid about it. Everyone has to eat.)
Don’t follow the pack.
Period. There is no upside to “also-ran.” No blue for you!
Every great brand has one. Why is this like this? There should be a reason behind your “design stuff” and it should tie into your mission/vision, even if it’s tenuous because one good story begets another.
If you (meaning the CD/CMO/board/CEO) just love the heck out of Burnt Umber. Just own it. It’s like pumpkin spice latte, don’t be shy, chug it! Let the haters hate.
Your design/vision is rarely the thing that grew out of your head in the middle of the night. Something is driving it. Understand that and you can make it 10X stronger.
Have some damn fun!
It’s just design, and thankfully most of it is digital. It’s not like you have to chisel the names off the Stiles like back in the day!
Not everyone is going to like your thing, or your stuff. You cannot win everyone over. But if you focus on creating work you believe in, and take good care of the people who pay attention to it, they will become your best promoters. Trust the work, collaborate, accept feedback as the gift it is, then run like a wild thing.
P.S. Get up right now and go give your designer a hug.