Start by looking inwards
It’s easy to start the design journey by looking at competitors. But getting too caught up in what others are doing can lead to mindsets becoming diluted and primed to conform.
By first looking inwards, you identify the values and character inherent to a brand – qualities it can authentically claim, own and amplify throughout its identity and experiences. This is where you find distinction – playing to a brand’s intrinsic strengths, not wandering straight into the playground of others.
The recent Duolingo rebrand demonstrates this. It’s become the norm for tech companies to combine a simple wordmark with a symbol as their logo – think Slack and Squarespace. Instead of adhering to this convention, Duolingo imbued Duo the owl’s character into the identity itself, through a quirky, feathered custom font. Still friendly, and retaining the necessary trust cues. But a little fresher, more authentic to its character and just distinctive enough.
And what about the friendly (and usually faceless) illustrations much loved by tech brands? Their exaggerated proportions and bright colours say, “We’re a tech company but we’re human and you can trust us”. They might look great alone, but become overfamiliar and repetitive in a wider context.
Instead, Duolingo derive illustrations from their personality. Human characters have faces and feel like a cohesive extension of the identity, not an external transplant that could easily apply to any tech brand. They fit in – because human illustrations have become a signifier of friendliness and trust – but stand apart, because they’re firmly rooted in the brand’s character.