Upgrade 100: Rebranding Q&A
Upgrade 100 is the digital transformation festival of emerging Europe, attracting yearly around 4000 attendees from over 20 countries and up to 200 world renown speakers. This year, the festival rebranded from the old iCEE.fest and we helped with it. We’re sharing a bit about the process behind the new identity, starting from a few questions we received on social media.
Adrian Mironescu: What were the stages in the process?
Laura: We took all the steps that we normally do in a branding project: discovery, definition, naming*, design, fine-tuning and implementation. It was nice to get first-hand insights from some of the people who had previously attended the festival. The interview with the founder was particularly rich, I kept coming back to it along the way. It was one of those rare cases when the founder knew quite clearly what the brand was about and how it could grow in the future. From the beginning, he talked about the multilayered impact of technology on our lives, the continuous human strive for perfection and the profile of the unsettled who need to come to the festival to upgrade themselves.
Alin: A tech festival is a generous and challenging topic to work on, with so many cool events out there. We started with a thorough research, trying to figure out what we want and don’t want this new brand to be. For example, we prepared some moodboards that we discussed with the client, which helped us rule out the possibility of a minimalistic, full black & white look.
Liviu Vasilescu: How did you brainstorm for such an event? How did you arrive at this final visual concept?
Laura: There was a series of design decisions that lead us to what we eventually called ‘upgrade in progress’. We based them on everything we had learnt in the previous stages. There was no brainstorming per se, not in the sense that we were sitting and thinking about the identity one day and then the big idea popped up. The festival had been going on for 10 years before we came into the picture and rebranded it, so we felt a big responsibility on our shoulders. We really took it step by step.
Alin: Here’s some of the things we considered.
1. Should we write the brand name in lowercase or uppercase? The word ‘upgrade’ requires capital letters. It becomes easier to read, while making a bigger impact. Otherwise, there’s the ‘pgr’ sequence which makes the word quite heavy.
2. The identity needs to work well in a dark ambient. The presentation mood at the festival is dark, so we should first test the logo on a black background.
3. The condensed letters make the wordmark more compact, while emphasizing the meaning of the word ‘upgrade’. Tungsten is a very well crafted font, one of the few condensed with squared curves. I particularly appreciate the height and the mechanical feeling of the letters.
Laura: Oh, and the nickname! We thought U100 would be a cool way to shorten the name, so we created this quirky reduced version of the logo, which can be used as a favicon, profile picture or app icon. It looks good on totebags too, I’ve been wearing mine proudly since I got it. I like it how the incomplete 0 is a reflection of the U.
Mihai Paraschiv: “The cut” - where from and why?
Alin: After settling on Tungsten for the wordmark, I felt that it needed something to be memorable and give you that ‘aha’. Among other things, I tried cutting the letters and that was it, we both liked it. We presented two other identity routes, but only showed how this one would further develop and apply across different touchpoints. It was nice that the client connected with the proposal right from the start. Fun fact: he called several people in the room to ask them whether the name was readable with the cut and it passed the test, everyone could read it, of course.
Laura: There’s many ways to interpret the cut and we don’t want to impose any. I’ll tell you what I told the client when I heard that some people were asking about it. The strongest argument is what the brand stands for — an upgrade in progress. The static logo is like a snapshot of a continuously moving logo, one that keeps going up, keeps upgrading itself. For me, the cut suggests the unknown, the missing pieces, the new, the know-how that you find at the festival. It can lead to deeper interpretations too, like how technology sometimes makes us uncomfortable or human imperfection, but I doubt anyone stretches it that far. I guess we also pushed this because it’s unconventional, rather unseen, and it makes you wonder. So, why not?
Alin: The animation helps explain the cut and make it more acceptable, by revealing the letters in full. With movement, it becomes clear that the cut is intentional.
Andra Oprișan: How did you decide to create a moving identity, as opposed to a passive one?
Alin: It was the first identity I pictured in motion from the start. I knew that I wanted it to move and I knew how I wanted it to move, so during the presentation I said: “Imagine this logo in movement, always changing like a slot machine, going upwards”. The same goes for the patterns, which work as a moving graphic language. You can see them as levels, pixels or interconnected layers, but for this brand they are in fact an upgrade process while it’s happening, with a general feeling is of going up.
Laura: We actually talked about motion for this project ever since we heard about it, months before we started working on it. Not only because it’s what everybody does on Instagram, but because it would be a pity not to do so for a big tech festival. I can’t imagine a static identity next to an inspiring talk about the future.
Alin: Movement also fits with the idea we settled on, it’s a form of change and probably the new norm in design. Keeping the same principles, you can also upgrade this moving identity, play with it in new ways every year and evolve the patterns. Endless fun.
Laura: For us personally, it was a way of pushing ourselves. And we were lucky enough to have Anna Florea by our side to help with all the animation. We appreciate that she can practice restraint, which is uncommon among people who don’t do branding for a living — knowing how much is enough to make an identity move. Much grateful to her partner at Rivulet too, Șerban Ilicevici, responsible with the logo sound design.
We invited Anna on this question to learn about her side of the experience.
Anna: It was a new experience to work on an identity that was planned from the beginning to be in movement. It offered me a set of limitations that functioned as a well-defined playground and a strong base to rely on. My main guides were the brand system created by Hye and the idea of constant growth. I relied on vertical movements with velocities similar to those of growing organic matter as seen in timelapses — plants, fungi, such things. And I tried to keep things simple and straightforward to complement the clean and clear identity system designed by Hye.
* The credit for the new name goes to Dragoș Stanca, founder of Upgrade 100, whom we warmly thank for having such an open mind.