The first story in this series on PhonePe’s brand can be read here.
The initial PhonePe brand identity evolved organically and intuitively in response to the needs of a rapidly scaling business. It was limited to basic assets — a logo and the purple brand colour. Given the brand’s ever-expanding presence both online and offline, a richer and more sophisticated identity system was needed.
PhonePe partnered with Gurgaon-based design studio, Codesign, for this part of the process. Translating the brand strategy into brand identity was an exercise in finding common ground and at the same time serving the unified brand in very different contexts.
The common ground was provided by the core brand idea: ‘Karte ja, Badhte ja’ or the idea that you move a step forward with every transaction, small or big.
The differences had to be factored in along two dimensions:
- First, the context of multiple interactions — which could be anything from buying a life insurance policy to paying utility bills, or using a third party app. While PhonePe’s identity needed to be consistent, it was also important to reflect the nuance of each context.
- The second category of differences was the basic truth of usage across devices — ranging from basic smartphones to top-end models. Every asset of the identity system, from logo to colour and sound, had to be evaluated, tested and fine-tuned to ensure that the brand experience remained consistent across the device spectrum.
PhonePe’s unique organisational structure is a key factor in ensuring fidelity across channels and interfaces.
An independent creative team works alongside both marketing and product teams. This team is headed by Harmind Singh, Creative Design Director, who has previously worked with Uber on complex design systems. Singh’s team not only develops creative assets for marketing, it is also responsible for the visual design of the PhonePe app. The benefits of this go beyond standardisation. “The attempt,” says Singh, “is to craft each visual element so thoughtfully, that the need for text instructions is minimised and users can navigate intuitively.”
The New Brand Identity System
The exercise focused on preserving existing brand equity and creating a brand world that was differentiated but scalable.
The PhonePe logo was retained, but redrawn for more balanced letterforms.
The Colour System
The distinctive PhonePe purple was preserved, but the exact colour value was changed.
Teams working with implementation of merchant-side branding had shared a recurring issue: The purple colour tended to fade to a blue-ish shade over time. This is a peculiar Indian problem. As any designer working in India will know, it is impossible to guarantee against colour-fading across environments. As a safeguard therefore, it is best to specify colours that will do the job, even when they start to fade. The colour was shifted to a warmer, richer shade, also a better fit for the new brand personality.
In addition to the primary colour schematic, a secondary colour spectrum for the brand was also created. The expanded colour spectrum allows PhonePe to add a layer of relevant expression in different communications.
The new system includes a graphic device called the Beam, which appears in different avatars across physical and digital communication. Its purpose is to embed a sense of progressive movement in all PhonePe communication. The device uses transitions of colour in motion and composition in static media, to bring the same essence to animated and static states.
Sonic & Motion Branding
Sonic and motion branding were also part of the exercise, to enable a stronger connection between marketing communication and product experience.
A sonic logo was created and an abbreviated version signals a successful transaction to customers. The app audio notification was re-engineered to be able to cut through ambient noise and work effectively across low and high-end phone speakers.
A wide range of motion graphics, reinforcing the Beam and sonic logo, have been developed by Codesign and motion identity firm Addikt.
PhonePe’s creative team has developed a very interesting system of illustrations. By assembling a vast set of gender-neutral components like heads, upper bodies and lower bodies with different poses and expressions, they have created a universe that can serve multiple use-cases and be used by different teams, without losing consistency.
Each icon in PhonePe’s icon set is not just consistent in terms of style and colour, it also incorporates the rounded descender of the Devanagari Pe.
At the end of the day, the best identity systems work only when they are implemented correctly in the field.
Instead of the typical ‘grand reveal’ at the end of a brand design initiative, elements of the identity system were continually stress-tested and modified. For example, the best-performing size of the logo on the QR code in kiranas was studied closely. What information hierarchy would the customer see when they entered? How would their eyes move? Different sizes of logos were tested in the same store and data about app usage from that store analysed, before the final size was determined.
The journey is far from over as Singh and his team continue to build out the brand world. The roll-out, which is still in progress, focuses on the following:
- Ensuring a two-way flow by capturing best practices within teams to know what has worked well and using this knowledge to inform the creative guidelines
- Consistent brand sensitisation, to ensure that teams on the ground understand what is required in terms of implementation and why it is important
- Regular audits to capture and discuss any aberrations
“At the end of the day, you have to make brand systems easy to implement for teams on the ground as well as internal and external design teams.You also have to ensure that they have a sense of ownership. Only then will the intent of any brand translate into actual experience.”Harmind Singh, Creative Design Director, PhonePe
PhonePe’s brand redesign is especially important to study because it spans both the online and offline world – a state that is now almost default for any brand with scale in India.
Codesign’s Ray has an interesting point of view. According to her, the break in physical and digital worlds arises from a linear sequencing of brand design — thinking applications before intent.
“A consumer’s recall of a brand today is a collective memory of multiple sensorial triggers. We focused on the overall intent and behaviour on Day One. Assets were not designed in isolation and then adapted for every media. Instead they were designed as dynamic, malleable components with inbuilt behaviour and properties to transform intelligently across physical and digital worlds.”Mohor Ray, Co-founder, Codesign
Considering a redesign exercise? Here’s some advice
“Understand the medium and seek data-based feedback. Experiment, stress-test, understand how your brand assets behave in the field. The era of creating a one minute film and then slicing it for use in other media is over. Every medium has its own demands and its own psychology and you can always find a way to collect data and feedback.”
Harmind Singh, Creative Design Director, PhonePe.
“Invest time and attention to sharpen the intention behind a rebrand and redesign effort. A brand identity programme needs nurturing beyond the exhilaration of a relaunch announcement or campaign premiere — for it to truly establish differentiated presence. So continue to invest in it, grow it and embed it across all experiences.”
Mohor Ray, Co-founder, Codesign