If you’ve visited the blog before, you’ll have noticed that things look a bit different. We’ve launched the new branding that we first announced back in October 2018! But the start of the project, which we’ve worked on alongside United By Design, actually dates back even further.
Bytemark has more web properties than most. There’s the blog, docs, panel, and the list goes on… This, paired with the fact that we’ve been in business since 2002 and have had the same brand identity for the majority of that time, made the prospect of overhauling our entire look daunting. Exciting, but definitely daunting. So this post reflects back on the whole process and offers some insight on how we got from the initial idea of refreshing our brand to this:
There were discussions among the leadership team about how Bytemark could continue growing, enabling us to provide hosting and cloud computing solutions to more businesses and developers. It was suggested that, as our goals and objectives were growing increasingly ambitious and forward-thinking, we might benefit from a modern new look that could grow with us. So, a plan was put in place to research what a rebrand would involve.
Finding an Agency
We decided that we wanted to hire a professional design agency to work on the project with us. It’s not that our team are strangers to design work, in the past few years we’ve created a style guide for the blog and redesigned our careers site.
But creating an entire brand concept is a different kind of design entirely. And it had been a while since we thought about changing the websites’ appearance at that level. (See screenshot below of Bytemark.co.uk in 2004 and note the same logo and colour scheme as was used in 2018):
So we started the hunt for a design agency. Two things were important to us from the offset:
- We wanted to work with a fellow Yorkshire company to help support local businesses.
- We wanted a team that would engage with Bytemark’s values and help us to incorporate them into the brand. Not someone that would just try to sell us the latest design trend.
After some online research, asking for recommendations and viewing portfolios of past projects we got in touch with United By Design (UBD). Their studio is less than 4 miles from our York head office, so that was an instant tick for requirement number 1.
Defining Bytemark’s Identity
As soon as we started working with UBD properly, we knew we’d made the right decision. They were available for face to face meetings early on in the process and they sent us a list of questions to help them learn more about the company. Both big pluses for requirement number 2.
The questions included topics like:
- How would you describe Bytemark?
- What perceptions do you think there are about Bytemark? (positive and negative)
- Where do you want Bytemark to be in the future?
Having a third party to help us consider different aspects of the company was an added benefit of working with an agency. Questioning our identity and values really confirmed that a rebrand would be best for us going forward. By reviewing how Bytemark was portraying itself and whether that accurately reflected our goals and objectives, we realised that we could do a better job of presenting these values.
Talking to the Team
Everyone who works at Bytemark is a voice for the company. We didn’t want the new branding to be a product of just the leadership team, or the marketing team or any other isolated silo. It was important that everybody had a chance to contribute their thought and ideas. So we held a company-wide workshop to discuss the Bytemark brand.
As you might know, we have offices in York and Manchester, as well as several remote workers. So getting everyone together at once can be challenging. Luckily, this stage of the process coincided with Bytefest (our biannual meetup where everyone comes into the York office).
Alongside catching up and snacking, we did some interactive activities to gather the team’s perspectives. As well as asking some of the questions UBD provided about Bytemark, we asked about other brands people admired.
We wanted to learn more about the brands our team liked, and what they think those brands would bring to Bytemark if we were to collaborate. This helped us to generate some ideas about what made a good brand.
The responses varied a lot, ranging from small local breweries to global fashion brands and, of course, a fair few other tech companies. But the reasons why people liked the brands often overlapped. Recurring themes included simplicity, good quality and standing out.
We collated all of the information we had gathered and highlighted the key values and features we wanted our new branding to encompass. This included terms like:
Then we sent everything off to UBD and waited to see what exciting stuff they’d come back with!
Choosing a Design
In August, UBD delivered us a 30+ page presentation. It offered two different design routes, each with a fully thought out concept behind it. There was reference to the ideas we provided about the direction we wanted Bytemark to take and the brands we admired. As well as case studies outlining how other companies have gone through similar rebrand projects in recent years.
We were impressed with the level of detail they included, and the fact they related every design choice back to the Bytemark values that we wanted to emphasise. After some discussion it became clear that one of the designs was the favourite within the company. So we selected our preferred design, and apart from a few tweaks to contrast ratios etc., this is the design you can see across the websites today!
At this point, it had taken several months just to get the new brand identity finalised. Now the hard work could begin implementing the new designs.
Making Changes Behind the Scenes
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, Bytemark has a lot of web properties. Before the rebranding could be launched, we needed all of the fonts, colours, images etc. to be updated across all of our dev sites. This would enable us to deploy all of the changes at once, preventing any confusion that might occur if we changed one website at a time. We didn’t want to rebrand the blog weeks before docs and have people think they’d gone to a completely different company website if they clicked from one to the other!
To make this possible, our designers and front-end developers, both at Bytemark and UBD, were hard at work creating new WordPress themes, designing new icons, updating CSS and more. The entire process took around 5 months, stretching from mid-September to mid-January.
Once everything was ready behind the scenes it was just a matter of “pressing play” and deploying the changes to the live versions of the websites. Well, not quite…
Blog & Docs
Our blog and documentation site run on WordPress, so for these we were able to create new themes using the rebranding style guide and then test everything in advance using the live preview feature. So when it came to launching the rebrand, it really was as simple as clicking a button to switch the theme over.
Status & Panel
Status.bytemark.org and the Panel had the design work carried out behind a feature flag. Again, this meant that extensive testing could be done on the dev site. Deployment to the live site then only took a few click when we were ready to launch.
The main website (Bytemark.co.uk) was the biggest challenge. All of our updates to this site are made using GitLab. This meant that a separate branch was created from the development branch (which controls the dev site) to carry out all of the rebranding work. Working in a branch is great for long projects, this method allowed us to continue pushing other changes from the development branch to the live website without the partially completes branding changes causing issues. But it did make deploying the completed rebrand design a bit more complicated.
Firstly, we had to merge the branding branch back into the development branch. Then, we had to resolve any conflicts that had arisen because content in the development branch had changed since the branding branch was originally created. After this, we were able to test the new branding on the dev site and fix any problems which weren’t raised as a conflict in GitLab. For example, a couple of pages use a simplified navigation header which had not been redesigned to match the new branding. Once all critical issues were resolved, then we could deploy the new branding to the live website.
That brings us up to now, when all of our main web properties have been rebranded! As you can see, the process has involved a lot of time and hard work but we are proud with the result. Let us know what you think of our new look 🙂
We’re Not Finished Yet
But, despite all the work so far, there is still more to be done! Over the next couple of weeks we will be continuing to make improvements to the websites, fixing a few minor issues with colours and layouts. Then we will move onto rebranding beyond the digital world. We’ve got invoices, letterheads, business cards and much more which will need redesigning to match our fresh new websites.
Have you had experience rebranding across different web properties and softwares? Let us know your highlights and what lessons you learnt in the comments!