From Old to Bold: Instrument Rebrand Signals Energetic Shift
Written by JD Hooge, CCO and Co-Founder
Over the last seventeen years, much has changed about Instrument. What started as a nimble crew of 3, is now 392 employees across three offices IRL (in Portland, Los Angeles & Brooklyn) and virtual talent all across the US. As we’ve grown in almost every way imaginable, our people, our values, our ambition, and our progress have set us apart. Last year, as we began a new chapter, emerging from the pandemic with new leadership and a dynamic, distributed workforce, we began the effort to refresh our brand to signal this energetic shift.
As a partner to some of the world’s most iconic brands, when it comes to our own brand identity, we’ve always exercised restraint, letting the client take center stage while our visual identity has remained subtle in the background. We took pride in being understated for years. But as we’ve evolved into a confident, vibrant, multifaceted organization with diverse backgrounds, interests, and talents, it feels natural to reveal and express more of our personality.
Nishat Akhtar, our VP of Creative, reflects on why now: “Design and technology are intrinsically connected to time and its inevitable progress. Instrument’s brand was long designed through the fabled “white cube” minimal lens, but we have evolved. We not only shape the work that is in front of us, but we are shaped by it. Our people, disciplines, clients, projects and culture all are contributing factors to who we are, and can be. It is an exciting time for Instrument to launch our new visual identity, one that expresses our many parts together in confidence and harmony.”
Our collective personality takes on many forms. We’re caregivers, pet parents, friends, bipoc, immigrants, queer folks, athletes, bookworms, artists and deep thinkers. We’re experimenters, creatives, activists, travelers, introverts and extroverts. We’re both logical and emotional, patient and ambitious, playful and strategic. We create experiences that are functional and expressive, bold yet refined, technical and human. To reflect these nuances, we set our sights on creating a dynamic brand system that adapts to different contexts. Rather than simply expressing this multidimensionality as a harmonious amalgam or blend, we leaned into the contrasts. This choice defined the conceptual approach we built our system around.
The new “magazine masthead” wordmark conveys enthusiasm and confidence. It's bold, it's chunky. It loudly declares ‘we’re here’, while still leaving room for subtleties. The negative space is defined by narrow, almost clinical, apertures providing a stark contrast with the letterforms. Tuned to the concept of polarity, we used the ‘U’ as our fulcrum point to create a sense of balance.
The rigidness of the wordmark allows all of the other elements like typography and imagery to breathe and be a little more freeform, creating contrast and dynamism. To fine-tune the wordmark at various sizes, we developed a variable version that lets us make optical adjustments as needed.
Typography plays a big role in communicating the brand concept in this system. Rather than relying on existing typefaces that felt close enough, we chose to build a family of typefaces that together could portray a variety of feelings – at times creating harmony through a shared anatomy, or contrast through dramatic sizing and dynamic pairings. To design our custom suite of serif, sans, and monospaced typefaces, we collaborated with independent Chilean type designer Rodrigo Fuenzalida and the Google Fonts team. The result is an elegant narrow serif paired with a workhorse sans injecting the brand both with a timelessness and a sense of modernity.
Meant to be used sparingly, the new secondary mark suggests forces, ideas, methods, perspectives or ideas contrasting, yet coexisting. The fact that it resembles a cymbal or vinyl record is unintentional, but with music playing such an important part in our founding story, it feels meant to be. Like the wordmark, we’ve made multiple versions of this symbol that work at different scales. And of course, it lends itself well to motion!
Polarity plays a key role in our color palette as well. We’ve chosen pairings that offer plenty of contrast and rich color to compositions, while reflecting the energy and personality of our multidisciplinary talent. Behind our palette is a color system that we’ve created with accessibility in mind. The system leverages the perceptual uniform color space to ensure our colors guarantee sufficient contrast across our brand surfaces.
By adding all of these visual ingredients together, we can create all kinds of fun things, with a beautiful sense of variety and consistency. That variety, we feel, is the best part of this brand concept. Sure, it’s about contrast, but it’s also about the middle ground found in between. It’s about nuance and compromise. More than a brand system deployed by a brand team, we wanted to create a toolkit everyone at Instrument could engage with and participate in; to try stuff, to create things and express themselves fully. In short, this is just a start for this rebrand.
Many thanks to all that were involved in this effort: Jordan Egstad, Nishat Akhtar, Jack De Caluwé, Jonathan Raissi, Jessica Burke Blair, Steph Lanning, Travis Barteaux, JD Hooge, Marisa Olson, Ravi Mongia, Jamal Qutub, Symphony Allison, Shanelle Felice, Jules Cordova, Nick Frisone, Luca Vergano, Mike Creighton, Paul Welch, John Brown, Omene Addeh, Angie Fritz, Julianne Perry, Danny Nowell, Justin Levinsohn, Samir Zahran, Daniel Hovey, DC Morales, Emily Dokken, Isabella Abatgis, Michelle Cruz, Steven Grimaldo, and Erica Abrahms.