Expert or Empath

We live in a pretty great moment as far as communication tools go—there are performance-based algorithms, CRM, CMS, SAS, and on and on. Sometimes the biggest challenge is figuring out which tools you need. The thing that cannot be outsourced is our ability to be compassionate toward clients. We can keep ourselves up to date on the latest techniques. We can study audience habits, get training in communication skills, but to understand what is happening across the table or on the other end of the phone means we have to consider where they are coming from, what they are going through, and how far those things are from what we are doing and thinking.

A few months ago we began the process of rebranding. There was no hierarchy of involvement, which is to say that it wasn’t a case of, “this has to be done by a partner,” instead we decided to see what came of letting all the designers in the shop take a crack at it.

Everyone loves a logo and what brand could any of us know better than our own?

It was an eye-opening experience. Designers spoke in hushed tones to one another, they absentmindedly yanked on their hair or tugged on an ear lobe. “I just don’t know—” they’d trail off. Sometimes there would be nervous laughter and then silence, followed by a “Maybe I’ll come back to this.” The weight of creating something to replace our current brand proved to be more daunting than we imagined.

A few weeks passed, and there was nothing to look at as a group, so we invited designers to meet one by one to try and get to the bottom of what was stalling people. Turns out, the emotions people were feeling are very similar to what clients go through.

“What if I can’t come up with something better than what we have?”
“Is it possible that this isn’t necessary?”
“Why are we rebranding?”
“I don’t know if I can design this.”

We revisited the creative brief, which had been a deliberately informal discussion about who we are as a company, how we feel about the brand and how it relates to our current composition of people, skills, and desired work. Again, very much like we do with clients, we talked about how our goals can be supported by strategic design and language choice. We mapped out tactics and uses, as well as adjustments to the process.

Everyone went back to their workspaces with ideas. We let a few weeks go by with people free to work on the brand as if it were a paid project for a client. We decided to combine the crit of the logos with the day that we brewed beer at Mean Max. When we gathered to review it was early afternoon. We had the place to ourselves, and we laid out all the different versions beneath the bank of windows.

A group is gathered in a half cirlcle reviewing sheets of paper on the floor.
We set down our brewing tools and darts and reviewed the brand update explorations that had been done.

It was a strange sensation to look at the designs; I couldn’t completely remove myself from the situation and be the client. Looking over the work, I saw risks that had been taken, respect that shone through, and more, in the faces of each designer I saw vulnerability, hope, and uncertainty. I also saw admiration. They were proud of one another and, perhaps most poignantly to me, they were proud of belonging to Trampoline.

A man can be seen looking over sheets of paper placed on a hardwood floor. He is wearing a ball cap and jacket. Sunlight pours through the windows onto the papers.
Derek kneeled down to take a closer look at some of the work.

It’s been a few months, and we are poised to launch a new website. We are not, however, ready to unveil a rebrand. The more we talked, the less certain we were that the brand was what needed to change. I think there was a collective wave of, “So this is how it feels,” recognition as we thought back the rebrands, name changes, and brand refreshes we’ve conducted over the last several years. I realize that I have been guilty of saying that it’s an emotional process without truly demonstrating patience with and empathy for the process people have to go through to navigate change.

The experience of going through this together, poking and prodding our materials, scrutinizing our process, and really taking the time and focus to consider how we want to exist has pulled us together in new ways. We’ve learned a lot, not the least of which is that the exercise of considering a brand has a lot to do with people and emotions. These can be things that get lost in the pursuit of milestones and deadlines. At the core of any story or graphic is human emotion and chemistry that never gets its due, the exchange between artist, brand, and audience.

Our commitment, for ourselves and our clients, is to keep the expert and empath connected. And maybe one day we’ll rebrand, but for now we feel good being exactly who we are.