Read time: 15 seconds

Yes, brand development can be agile.

Brand is not superficial. You can rally your brand dev team around a crazy ambitious goal and be stronger for it. Branding will also help you grow up as a company, raise money, support a business model pivot and stand for something greater than just a functional product.

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TL;DR Read time: 10 minutes

An Agile Approach to Branding

PlayFab is a VC-funded startup with the first unified ops platform for the $100B global gaming industry. Here is the adventurous tale of a total brand revamp in record time.

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PlayFab’s Old Website
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PlayFab’s New Website

PlayFab original brand identity had a youthful look, which didn’t match their robust and sophisticated technology. More challenging was the need to simplify how PlayFab talked about their product: a backend platform for games which automates operational processes.

Since some of this functionality was radically new to the industry, we needed to show the “eco-system” and all of the moving parts.

Through collaborative work sessions with the client we gained clarity on the core product functions and how it relates to a whole as an integrated ecosystem. We represented the system through a cubic system.

a. The Cube

At it's most basic form, PlayFab is like a cube. Their platform seamlessly integrates their core functions and third party add-ons, hence building blocks. To add depth to the concept, we created isometric renderings with behind-the-scenes cutaways to reference how PlayFab makes complex things ridiculously simple.

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PlayFab Ecosystem

b. Mission Control

This idea implies connectivity, like a central nervous system. We created textures that emphasize unification and data flow. Other elements — the product’s interface details and the isolation of game characters juxtaposed in front of gameplay screens — add depth and give PlayFab street cred within their industry.

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Snapshot of the Vis ID System

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c. The Logo

To round out PlayFab's refreshed identity, we needed a symbol to align with the rest of the sophisticated visual ID system. Strategically we knew the logo needed to convey the overarching theme of seamless information exchange. The client was integral in defining tight logo criteria, which helped us complete this part of the process much faster than typical logo development.

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Truth Bomb

Startup branding can only be as scrappy as the CEO.

It's not uncommon for a young company's CEO to be the primary holder of customer insight. We rely heavily on extracting these insights to develop the brand. James Gwertzman, PlayFab's CEO, was this project's linchpin. He made himself fully available, acted quickly and authoritatively when faced with decisions, and was a master at prioritizing his time and team.

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Every good tale needs a plot twist.

After we completed the initial phase, PlayFab dropped a big piece of news. They changed their pricing model to a freemium structure AND they would launch two new products in time for the biggest gaming convention of the year – GDC: The Game Developers Conference.

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This gave us 2.5 months to execute a full brand strategy and complete the necessary design assets, including a new website, user interfaces, trade-show booth and collateral pieces.

Due to the time constraints, our typical linear process was upended. Instead of relying on brand strategists to drive design, we all had to be brand strategists. The design work done in the visual ID system stage fed into the brand identity, which filtered back to the strategy team. This real-time feedback loop powered the entire project.


Truth Bomb

We can move as fast as you can make decisions, but there will be consequences.

The concept of "sprinting" for brand development is rare in the agency model but can be done. Moving at high speed often results in multiple, quick pivots, which can greatly alter the scope of a budget if not tightly managed by the primary point of contact on the client-side. Each pivot represents additional costs in design, copy, and/or developer time.

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a. Trade-Show Booth

Our original role with the booth design was consultative. We acted as a strategic sounding board for PlayFab to review the work of their trade-show booth vendor. We offered input on the complete user experience, including the booth's look and feel.

However, after incorporating our visual ID updates, it became natural for us to take over the design of the booth. What started out as an effort to improve the proposed design, turned into an overhaul of the booth, both graphically and structurally.

In the end, to mimic the PlayFab platform, we created a footprint with a central location surrounded by four separate demo stations to convey the idea of how PlayFab's service unites the development process and teams.

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Initial Booth Design Proposal
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b. The Website

Of course, since this was a full rebrand the website had to take center stage. We referred to the original visual identity to inform our treatment of imagery, custom CSS elements, typography and iconography.

For the UI, we needed to design the pages to balance dense information with ease of navigation for two distinct audiences — Engineers and Game Operators.

After wireframing, this was our process:

  • We deliberately applied design one page at a time, checking to make sure our navigation wasn’t getting cluttered.
  • We distilled the product down to its four most basic elements (Game Services, Game Manager, PlayStream and Marketplace), then branched out to the rest of the features.
  • We kept the two core audiences top of mind by structuring the page layout with a summary section first (for the Game Operators)and then offering a more thorough checklist for the Engineers.

The Role of Brand Strategy

When the project pivoted, we were halfway through the brand strategy research phase. This meant that our position and messaging were not final.

Because we had to start designing and writing the website, we made the decision to flip the order of operations and start with sub-pages, working from the bottom up toward the home page. By the time we were ready to architect the homepage we had a clear focus for the messaging.

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c. The Game Manager

And then there's the actual product. PlayFab’s Game Manager interface needed a fresh coat of paint. Cuing the brand identity work, we incorporated PlayFab’s new core colors, as well as the refined typography, hierarchy and image treatment. The interface morphed to a more elegant side-navigation approach, and elements were given a concise visual library of icons.

Playfab Casestudy Gamemanager Before
Playfab Casestudy Gamemanager After

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The curtain call — bravo team!

The formula for a great story often includes a character who wants something and overcomes adversity to get it. In this case, our biggest adversary was time.

Both teams rallied with stellar focus and creativity— we were truly one team, united against the clock.


What did we learn along the way? Yes, a complete brand revamp can be done in mere months, but there are caveats. The client and agency must be in constant contact with each other. Tools like Slack were a vital lifeline during this project to help the CEO, designers, strategists, writers and producers communicate and make decisions with minimal lag time.

Moving at this speed also requires a CEO who knows how to keep his team focused, motivated and operating with clear priorities. PlayFab's CEO played a lead role in this tale’s successful conclusion.

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Shit no one else will tell you:

• Contrary to the bitching and moaning that agencies will do about needing adequate "think time" to develop a brand, you can revamp a brand in mere months. To be this agile with branding, the project must be a top priority for your company and key decision-makers must be trusted to make quick decisions.

• PlayFab was excellent at prioritizing, actually one of the best clients we've ever encountered at this. With any project, you ALWAYS need to prioritize, regardless of the scope or timeline. There is always a version of the project that is too grandiose for the actual time and resources available.

• Rely on your agency partner to vet other vendors (e.g. booth vendor, video vendor). We usually won’t charge you for this because execution is critical to design. You can waste money if the vendors aren’t good communicators or qualified for the task at hand.

• Working through time and materials can be a cost-effective way to work if there is a primary point person with full authority to make decisions.