hey all you people

Glass and Color: Designing the Fourth Iteration of Applied’s Brand Language

September 22, 2021

Every year, we evolve Applied’s brand language to reflect the evolution of our company and to continue raising the bar for brand design across the industry. In 2019, we revealed a new logo and brand identity to “articulate the heart of Applied’s mission.” In 2020, we launched a new website with over 20 custom animations to represent our “significantly expanded product portfolio and customer base.”

The focus of this year’s brand language evolution was driven by our progression to be a ‘software tools provider for all vehicles’ as well as our decision to bring select products out of stealth. To effectively tell this story we expanded the components of our notably minimal brand language by broadening our material, typographic, and color palettes while maintaining our signature simplicity. The result is a more sophisticated and richer aesthetic launched with our new website that still feels on-brand (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Before (left) and after (right) of our website

From Clay to Glass

You might remember seeing a little white car zooming around our previous website. This custom car was instrumental in setting the foundation of Applied’s brand language, but it felt increasingly generic. To further distinguish Applied’s brand we made two changes: introducing glass as a new material and moving from a simplistic toy-like car to highly realistic vehicle models (which are slightly modified versions of the same 3D models used in our simulation products).

Figure 2: Car before (left) and after (right)

We chose glass as the new material because it is a core component of vehicles in real life and can take many different forms in different settings as our search for inspiration and references showed us (Figure 3). 

Figure 3: Glass examples

Using a glass material gave us a far more sophisticated look and feel than clay, but, as we discovered, it was also far more difficult to work with. Glass requires constant tweaking of reflections, opacity, blur, and refraction. For example, high refraction caused the car to look muddy, while low refraction made the car take on a ghostly appearance (Figure 4). Neither of these approaches were close to the aesthetic we were trying to achieve, which was made even more difficult by the various environments the vehicles needed to appear in across the website.

Figure 4: Earlier renders of our glass material with high refraction (left) and low refraction (right)

To solve this problem, we added a layer of frost to the glass and simplified exterior details of the model to give the car a more weighty, substantial presence (Figure 5). To balance the glass body and provide contrast, we retained the clay material from our previous car for the wheels. The examples shown here are only two of the countless iterations we went through before arriving at a solution that hit all of our requirements: a sophisticated-but-simple, more elegant aesthetic for Applied.

Figure 5: Our final car model has frosty glass, simplified exterior details, and clay wheels

A Palette With Purpose

Our blue and white color palette was a strong foundation for Applied’s brand, but its intentionally minimal nature was too restrictive for showcasing a broader range of products in our portfolio (it also risked becoming repetitive). So, we developed a bold color palette to better represent our individual products and extend Applied’s brand while still showing our signature restraint. 

Because the all-white animations used on our previous website successfully told the story of our products (Figure 6), we felt that we could evolve this core concept without fundamentally changing our imagery. The animations had specific moments of color in the cubes and other aspects of the scene, which is what we focused on to help dial up the uniqueness and boldness of our imagery in a way that still felt on brand with Applied.

Figure 6: Previous white animations with specific color pops

The two main challenges with our animations lay in finding the perfect balance in the materials and colors. Using too much glass made the animation difficult to comprehend, while using too much clay wasn’t a big enough departure from our previous branding. For color, we needed to strike a balance of more vibrant colors while still retaining the color subtlety of our previous website. To solve these two challenges we made many adjustments to scene lighting, used a tonal approach for colors, and created a greater sense of depth by adjusting the angle and composition of our animations (Figure 7).

Figure 7: Exploring different amounts of glass, types of lighting, and shades of color

As the imagery created a strong anchor point and individual identity for each of our products (Figure 8), we were able to pull color from the animations and use it as an accent on the rest of the pages (e.g., as background colors and dual tone headlines).

Figure 8: The colors chosen in each animation represent their product iconography 

Armed with a color palette that could be applied (no pun intended) to the rest of the page, we expanded its role. We brought our existing, rich dark blue into the footer to be a strong (but not overwhelming) anchor of color to each page. We also reduced the opacity of our dark blue into a grey that was used to create different sections on individual pages (creating this grey from dark blue instead of black creates a visual cohesion across the site).

In these ways, we stayed true to one of our core design values: using color with intent. This shift in our color palette highlighted different aspects of our growing business and allowed each product to have a unique character (Figure 9).

Figure 9: Bold use of color across our product pages

Type Ties It All Together

The written content on our previous website was relatively sparse, and as a result, we only deployed two text styles: a headline and body copy. For our new site, we needed to develop a more robust typographic structure to support the additional content (Figure 10).

Figure 10: Before (left) and after (right) of our paragraph styles

The new typographic system is still simple: a colored “eyebrow” set in all capitals communicates the category of content, while the headline set in a “black” weight carries the main message. We also keep a short rag for copy across the page. Not only do these aspects make our pages easier to read, but the modularity of type allows the content to either stand alone or be paired with product imagery (Figure 11).

Figure 11: Modular layouts

The combination of a new glass material, a richer application of colors, and a more sophisticated typographic structure resulted in a robust yet modular system of components that will continue to strengthen Applied’s ever-evolving brand.  

Creating Original Design Solutions

At Applied, we think deeply about the core concepts that drive our design decisions, because doing so is the only way to create original work and solve novel problems. Our original brand foundation was strong but limited, and this year’s re-branding allowed us to build on our design language while still keeping signature aspects of our identity.

Did the ethos and creative process covered in this article resonate with you? We’re expanding our product design team—check out our design page and apply to join our team!