Case study cover image

K2XO INC.

Agency
K2XO Inc.

VP Digital Experience
Eric Yu

Account Director
Kennth Cheung

Head of Innovation
Martin Byrne

Creative Director
Simon Coyle

Art Director
Edward Phung

Taking a Digital Agency Back to Basics

It's not often you get the opportunity to reconstruct an organization from the ground up, but that's exactly what happened when K2 Digital was acquired from its parent company and undertook a rebrand, a symbolic break with the past and the beginning of a new future.

As someone who has been working in and around digital agencies for over 20 years, I have plenty of thoughts and opinions on the industry. With the K2 rebrand, I saw an opportunity to give form to some of those thoughts.

Digital agencies (especially small ones - K2XO was 8 people when we started) have opportunities that most other types of companies don't. We get to be progressive, nimble and take on a wide array of client work, the whole spectrum between purely experiential and purely technical. Add to that mix the other parts of the business, the research and strategic planning, testing, workshops, and you have a constantly-changing environment where any two projects are rarely the same.

But all that comes with a big downside. There are many, many digital agencies and by and large, they all do the same things. Quality, experience and ability vary wildly, but to an outsider (and most importantly, a client), the lists of services look identical. In the absense of a distinct offering, you must have a distinct voice. But even that is a challenge.

K2XO primary logo on black
Image showing various pages of the K2XO brand guidelines document
Black and white XO posters

In the face of this, most digital agencies have spent the last decade or so engaged in kind of a semantic arms race. Where there used to be designers, there are now digital storytellers, solutions engineers, directors of innovation, and so on. Whatever you like, you can be that.

And that's fine, but it's not for me. I don't like obfuscation or what I perceive as an increasing lack of clarity around role and function that is deployed for reasons other than communication and understanding.

With the K2 rebrand, I didn't want to get into that game, I wanted to step out of it. I could go on, but the first two pages of the new brand guidelines we developed sum it up pretty well.

Detail of brand guideline document - Why K2XO?
Brand guidelines - The Voice of K2XO

So we were very clear on what we didn't want to be.

As for what we did want to be, I wanted to take advantage of another opportunity afforded by being a small digital agency - the freedom to not be bound by rigid brand consistency. Who has time to be an internal brand cop when there's client work to do?

Rather than any kind of visual consistency, I wanted to achieve consistency of tone. The tone of a group of people talented enough that they don't have to be uptight about what they do. That are willing to poke a little bit of fun at what is frequently a bit of a pompous industry.

Animated K2XO logo
K2XO rebrand launch print collateral
Book cover design
Black and white letterhead print collateral
Workshop presentation deck bumper slide designs
Future State whitepaper front cover with large green logo
K2XO business card designs
Embossed K2XO logo on white paper
Promotional marketing cards
Resonant Imagery

That being said though, there had to be loose guidelines as opposed to what was on-brand versus off-brand, mostly around imagery. My one big stipulation was that if any picture looked like it would be comfortable on LinkedIn (man writing on magic glass screen, woman in pantsuit leaping chasm, "abstract technology background", young businesspeople looking hopefully skyward etc.), we weren't allowed to use it.

But as fun as coming up with rules is, I also wanted to find resonant imagery, pictures that captured what we were really getting at with XO, the necessity of a symbiotic relationship between experience and operations.

Secondary XO branding elements on iceberg image

Icebergs really did the trick, but they're such good metaphors, they get used all the time for everything. Like the word "solutions". Yes, it can mean what I'm talking about, but it can also mean absolutely anything else.

Overhead photograph of highway - secondary branding material

I much preferred these, the overhead highway shots.

Aesthetically, they suited the contemporary, refined but austere appearance of the K2XO logo. And unlike the icebergs, they didn't just illustrate the XO philosophy, they embodied it. Experience and operations working together in optimal harmony.

And that's what we offered our clients too. Getting all this terrifying complexity working in the only way it possibly could - harmoniously.

Logo on background

Simon P. Coyle
Graphic design and art direction

Toronto

Made in Leslieville
© 2019 all rights reserved