Zenreach makes digital marketing easier for time-pressed small business owners, managers and marketing employees. I worked in-house to develop systems that streamlined the design process for our internal teams as well as the merchants we served.
When a merchant signs up for Zenreach, the first thing they need to do is install a WiFi router at their business location. Once the router has been successfully installed, they need to design and configure a series of automated email campaigns, social ads and a WiFi hotspot for contact collection. Previously, every asset needed to be designed independently using a WYSIWYG composer. User interviews confirmed that this was a time-consuming and frustrating process and further, that merchants were generally unhappy with the look-and-feel of their campaigns.
My hypothesis was that idea of merchants designing their own campaigns one-by-one was fundamentally flawed. I wanted to position our merchants as Creative Directors, instead of Production Designers. Dan Nieh and I realized that the easiest way to do this was to have merchants establish a global style (or ‘brand profile’) for their business.
We found that we could automatically pull a logo, color palette, photography and location information by simply having the merchant link their Facebook business page. From there, we asked users to choose their best photographs, describe their brand voice and select the minimum and maximum incentives they were willing to offer to bring in customers.
Using this brand profile we were able to generate suggested campaigns which the user could then modify, approve and launch. The suggested campaigns included on-brand accent colors, photography, pre-populated marketing copy and a range of incentives based on the ‘difficulty’ and quality of the audience (e.g. small incentive for new customers, big incentive for lost customers). Using the suggested campaigns, a merchant could get their account fully up-and-running in under 10 minutes. This feature later became an integral part of Zenreach’s user onboarding process.
Next, I turned my focus to Zenreach’s own brand identity. Their existing visual identity was a patchwork of one-off designs created by an array of designers (and others) over the previous years. There were some loose themes: a generally cool color palette of blues and greens, a few different variations of a wordmark set in Semplicità, and an assortment of monoweight icons. But there was no explicit identity documentation and no unified vision for the company’s mission and values.
We hired RedAntler to lead a brand audit and provide creative direction for a new identity. Over the next 6 months, the design, marketing and executive teams worked together to establish the company’s mission statement, core values, customer personas, messaging and visual style. I was responsible for drafting the internal documentation as well as developing an icon and illustration system, which you can see on pages 14–19 in the style guide at the link below.
Zenreach’s brand identity is intended to be flexible, trustworthy and utilitarian—while still maintaining a level of distinctiveness and approachability that sets it apart from competing players in the space. It’s a rule-abiding identity by design. With a small staff and changing market landscape, an easy-to-understand (and easy to replicate) visual style was crucial in building trust and responding to new challenges. Accordingly, we strived for simplicity and predictability.
I see design systems as a style guide for thinking. Rather than starting every project from scratch, a design system establishes a framework in which design can be produced. It streamlines the design process by reducing repetitive, arbitrary decision-making. A good design system starts with the theoretical (mission, values, voice) before outlining constraints (grids, components, patterns) for putting the theory into practice. An effective design system is rigid enough to produce consistent results, but flexible enough to allow for experimentation and evolution.
Design systems are often discussed in the context of helping large teams deliver a consistent experience. Through my work at Zenreach, I learned how a thoughtfully established design system can also help small, scrappy teams scale their output without sacrificing quality.