Standing Out in a Sea of Enterprise Blue: How Asana Made Work Fun Again

March 28, 2016

Amanda Linden has been working on solving complex design problems for more than a decade. Over the course of her career, she’s helped design PeopleSoft CRM and Wells Fargo’s online application experience, managed the team responsible for Yahoo!’s platform components (including the login and registration pages) and led Intuit’s QuickBooks redesign project.

So when Asana, makers of collaboration software that helps teams track their work and projects, needed a brand overhaul, enlisting Linden’s expertise was a no-brainer.

As a starting point, Linden encouraged the design team to take a step back and define who Asana was as a company before delving too deeply into visual design components. “If you’re a hipster in the Mission or an executive in San Francisco’s financial district you know what to wear. We just didn’t know what our style was. That hadn’t been defined. The photography and visual style was generic and businessy. The typical enterprise blue in our app and our logo and lots of photography on our site of people in the work environment added up to give Asana a traditional enterprise look and feel.”

And traditional was far from what Asana’s co-founders, Dustin Moskovitz and Justin Rosenstein, were going for.

“If you looked at all the other enterprise software companies out there,” says Linden, “You’d just see more of the same – people at work and all blue. We weren’t telling a story that was unique or ownable.”

The Asana team knew they needed to come together to define and tell their unique story. Afterall, the company was trying to redefine the way people work. In order to truly do that, they needed to create a broader narrative – one that would make its customers excited to use the product. “We wanted to show people that we were pioneering a new way of working and a new form of teamwork, but that just wasn’t coming through in our early branding,” says Linden.

Developing a Brand Narrative

The team immediately set out to create a brand narrative from which brand attributes and a visual motif would flow. Linden knew from her experience at QuickBooks that whatever narrative they came up with, it would have to convey an emotion that would give both employees and customers a sensation beyond just the functionality provided by the software.

“At QuickBooks, the narrative we came up with was ’Remember the moment you decided to go it alone as a small business owner.’ That was extremely powerful. It gave you this feeling of independent entrepreneurialism that served as the core of everything QuickBooks’ new brand encapsulated. From advertising and product experience all the way down to customer support, this feeling was pervasive.”

To give its customers that same ‘bigger than yourself feeling,’ Asana’s design team eventually landed on ‘Do great things together.’ “We wanted people to get that feeling of, ‘I’m working with my co-workers, everybody knows what we’re doing, we’re excited, we can’t wait to get stuff done together it’s that forward momentum with your team – that successful teamwork feeling,” says Linden.

Building Out Brand Attributes

With that core story defined, it became extremely clear that Asana’s brand – from its logo to its colors on down to messaging and overall look and feel would need to be redesigned end-to-end to create an experience that conveyed the feeling of “Do great things together.”

Linden and team started with Asana’s brand attributes. “We had about seven or eight, and while they weren’t bad, people just weren’t remembering them.”

That was a real problem, because a brand is only consistent if everyone across the company is able to internalize it.

Eventually, the attributes were pared down to just four: purposeful, empowering, approachable and quirky. Memorable, to the point and, most importantly, related to the overall brand narrative.

So with the brand narrative and attributes defined, the Asana team, in consultation with branding firm Moving Brands, set out to redesign their logo.

“Knowing our attributes and our core brand narrative, we were able to design a logo that felt purposeful and empowering, but still much more approachable than the letter forms of the prior logo. While I would argue that the new logo isn’t exactly quirky on its own,” says Linden, “The logo’s three dots move and animate in interesting ways, which give it a more playful feel.”

Creating a Visual Motif

Despite the work the team had done to build out the brand narrative, pare down attributes and create a logo, there was still something missing. When it came to designing the product and website, Linden says the team was missing a “motif.” In other words, if Asana was a person, what would her style be? What clothing would she wear?

In order to portray a brand that was purposeful, powerful, empowering and quirky, Asana’s design team produced a visual motif that was a mixture of a clean, white canvas ready for a user’s work interplayed with moments of energy and bursts of color. Concepts like ‘hearting’ tasks and glowing animations when tasks are marked complete serve to reinforce good behavior while also playing up the brand’s quirkier side – kind of like “getting a pat on the back” to make work fun and collaborative.

“We wanted to do a little better than what we typically see in enterprise applications. If you look at Gmail or Google Docs, the products are fantastic and amazing, but they’re not really doing anything to give you emotional feedback. One of our core brand attributes is ‘empowering’; it was important to build those moments of feedback into the product.”

Pushing the Envelope, Continuously

With a new brand that really gets to the heart of what Asana is all about – enabling teams to work better together – where does the design team go from here?

“Though the rebrand was launched in September, the team is continuously improving and refining. We’ve updated fonts, colors and illustration style. The designers have defined a photography style. It’s never really done. The experience is still improving day by day,” Linden says.

“What needs to be lasting about a brand, enterprise or otherwise, is that core feeling and the attributes and motif that ladder up to that emotion. Asana’s brand will always be a balance of clarity and energy. But we can visualize clarity and energy in hundreds of creative ways. That keeps the brand from getting stale. We can keep tuning and tuning.”

“We hope that we’ve pushed the boundaries of what people think of as enterprise design. We set out to create a brand that is not only appropriate for business users, but one that still feels human.”

And in the end, it’s that combination that creates a great experience and a lasting impression.

Illustration by Rachel Worthman.