Branding a new event series; making data playful

I’m definitely one of those people who needs something to have a name before it’s a Real Thing™. Referring to “that event we’re going to start” only works for so long before it gets annoying.

For me, giving something a name feels like a commitment. An unnamed idea I can ignore, something with a name has to be addressed: engaged with or dismissed. And once something has a name, a logo and branding system can’t be far behind.

But lets take a step (or five )back — what is it exactly I was trying to name? Well an event, that’s what. An event that Verena and I had been discussing for quite a while. One that would bring designers and data folk together to meet and learn from each other. In some ways, it was inspired by our own work together at Hassle.com and in part by another event I run.

Verena and I knew we wanted the event to be very social — informal, friendly, accessible and unintimidating. This was going to be an evening where people made new friends.

For my part, I also knew that some of the content would be pretty hefty data science. That gave us an opportunity with the branding. Maybe all that heft could support (or be offset by) something quite playful?

So I headed off in the direction of “playful” and also set myself some (probably arbitray) constraints:

  • the word “data” had to be there somewhere
  • no histograms, no graphs, nor overly obvious data references
  • no "data-y" monospaced fonts

Then I started riffing on pairings of words and terms that captured the feeling of the event. From Verena’s desire to meet other “cool data people” it was an easy leap to words like “folk” and “friends” and then to “mates”. (As an aside, this riffing happens in notebooks, the edges of pieces of paper and sometimes just out loud.) When I hit upon the combination of “data” and “mates”, it just clicked for me.

So I jumped on Domainr to see if a decent version of the domain was available, and I just couldn’t resist the compactness of using the .es tld. No messy .com, or superfluous .io. Getting the .es meant I could bake the domain right into the logo, and wouldn’t have to worry about lockups with the website address.

I like rolling the concepts around inside my head and then just using type choices to try to express some of what I’m feeling about the brand.

From there I fired up sketch and just started typing datamat.es over and over again in different fonts, sizes, colours. For me this is almost absent minded designing. It happens with some good music in my headphones and normally a cup of tea. I know that 99.999% of it is going to be thrown away. But I like rolling the concepts around inside my head and then just using type choices to try to express some of what I’m feeling about the brand.

A note on typography

For me typography choices are just so core to a brand and at this point I’d wanted to use Whitney from Hoefler&Co on an identity for the longest time. I had also had been itching to test out their beautifully redrawn web fonts.

Whitney from Hoefler&Co

Whitney type specimen courtesy of Hoefler&Co

I had a sneaking feeling that the bouncy baseline and angled terminals of Whitney would have just the right amount of playfulness that I was looking for. As an added bonus, in it’s heavier weights, Whitney had always felt to me like something that should be used in a kid’s cartoon or on a cereal box — both reference points that seemed about right.

A logo starts to emerge

So eventually I ended up with datamat.es set rag left, in all caps, tightly leaded and slightly over kerned. And I just looked at it…

Initial logo type

I really liked the "bouncy" baseline Whitney gave

And it occurred to me that the dot on the “.ES” could be a data point. Like a single piece of data. And it struck me that all these attendees were like single data points we were hoping to connect to each other, but that right now they were lone data points. Or perhaps lots of little “data-no-mates”. And that sounded a lot like the name of character… And then while attempting a lock-up of datamat.es inside a circle, this guy just kind of happened:


Sometimes the good ideas just kinda happen...

This was one of those flukey things that now seems obvious, but I don’t quite remember ever thinking “I’ll make a little character”. I idly drew him without giving too much thought to the process and the end result was cute. Once I’d drawn him though I knew he had to be in the finished brand.

Using his nose as the the dot in “.ES” happened about 10 minutes later and created the lovely effect of him hiding shyly behind the text lockup. A shy data point. A coy data-no-mates.

The final lockup

Using his nose as the dot in the domain

At this point it was 2am and I gave myself 30 more minutes to set a colour palette and test out some applications before calling it a night. You can see the results of those below.

Some sample slides With colour bars

So did it work out?

So far we’ve had two events and the branding has held up surprisingly well — for something pulled together very late one night I’m quite happy with it.

And the response has been great. People seem to really like the overall effect and Data-no-mates has become a useful recurring element.

For the second event I introduced some more motion into the slide deck we use during the event and that really added so much more character to our little mascot. I’ve wanted an excuse to learn some proper motion graphics skills for ages, so this is something I’ll definitely be exploring for future events.

I’ll leave it at that for now — but do join us at the next event in March. Details over here soonish.