Development, branding & 4am deli sandwiches
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Building Nodejitsu has been a lot like building a house, or a spaceship, or maybe even a synthetic super human. But let's use an analogy that everyone understands: it was kind of like building a house. The first step was to lay a solid foundation. In the same analogy, branding could be thought of as house paint, and house paint was the last thing on our minds.
We were focused on developing a tool-chain that addresses the problem space. Out of the first few dozen of 4am nights we spent developing none of it was spent on visual treatments. We did, however, have a great photo of Keanu Reaves:
By about August when we competed in Node Knockout we realized that our humorous splash page needed an update. We also realized that a lot of people were using things we had built and we had done almost nothing to build on that branding opportunity. So with what limited bandwidth we had, we wrote a little bit of CSS and had a friend (and super talented cartoonist/designer James Novy) draw a little ninja for us. We were so rushed that we didn't even have time to let James polish his sketch in Illustrator:
Things looked raw, it wasn't sexy, but it was a step towards something. This was also before we launched our private beta officially and we really just needed something that positioned text and spaced form elements properly. Eventually, we began to realize that we had a working product in our hands, and it needed to look presentable to the consumer. So with James' polished ninja character in hand we revised our design once more:
There are things that the above design did well: it was cleaner and more consistent. It was, however, also overly playful, loud, unfinished and lacked both depth and texture. For a company that offers first class scalable, fault tolerant cloud hosting for everyone from individuals and enterprises, loud and playful were not the most appropriate vocabulary to emphasize in the language of our brand.
When we went back to the drawing we thought a lot about what it means to write quality software and we came back one theme: that great code is craft (or even art). So our choice of the bonsai tree made sense: it represents a malleable, growing platform that can be crafted and to some could be considered art. The typography and colors in the new design are more subtle, and the overall dark tone gives it a more professional look-and-feel. We also added more depth and texture to offset the flat finish of the graphics and type. This new design set the stage for an iconic brand that we are going to grow. For those of you concerned about the future of our ninja, he'll be around but in a less central capacity.
Branding and design in general is a topic far too large for a blog post (or even for one point of view), but we hope our journey at Nodejitsu will give some insight to you out there building your own brands. We're all developers here at Nodejitsu, so it's ironic that the biggest take away for us was something we already knew: just like good software, good design and branding is an iterative process. There will be iterations as we evolve, but they will be more about refinement than re-invention.