The REWORK podcast

A podcast about a better way to work and run your business. We bring you stories and unconventional wisdom from Basecamp’s co-founders and other business owners.

EPISODE 0051

Farewell, Happy Camper

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Basecamp has a new website and a new logo. If this is the first you’re hearing about it, it’s because CEO Jason Fried opted out of the big rebranding announcement that many companies undertake. On this episode, Jason and marketing designer Adam Stoddard talk about what prompted the new look and the laidback way it came together.


The Full Transcript:

[00:00:00] Broken By Design by Clip Art plays.

Wailin: [00:00:02] Welcome to Rebrand, I mean, Rework, a podcast by Basecamp about the better way to work and run your business. I’m Wailin Wong.

Shaun: [00:00:09] And I’m Sean Hildner and I totally understand how you got confused on the name because this week we’re talking about rebranding. If you are a Basecamp customer or maybe you just watch the website from time to time, you might’ve noticed a new look. We redesigned the website and introduced a brand spanking new logo.

Wailin: [00:00:25] Today on the show Basecamp CEO Jason Fried and marketing designer Adam Stoddard talk about why it was time for a change and how they approached it. Now, a lot of companies go through a long and expensive process to redesign a brand identity. Basecamp did things differently, dare I say, casually.

Shaun: [00:00:44] We’ll kick things off talking to Jason Fried.

Wailin: [00:00:51] I think first things first, can one or both of you, since this is a podcast, describe the old logo and then describe the new logo for our listeners who might not be aware.

Jason: [00:01:03] The old logo was based on a logo that I actually think Ryan designed back in 2004. It was like a mountain basically in a snow globe. That was the idea. And then when we launched Basecamp 3 we just threw a face on it. And the funny thing is, the reason we threw a face on it was because we had to differentiate between Basecamp 2 and Basecamp 3, I think, in the launchpad, which is like the place where you log in and you get all your different accounts. And/or, it was like to differentiate a Beta for whatever. It was kind of like a temporary thing, let’s just throw face on there so we can tell one from another and then it kind of stuck.

[00:01:41] We’re like, well if you look at a face long enough, it’s smiling back at you. You’re like, we should probably just keep this, it’s pretty nice. So we just kinda kept it and then it was still a mountain in a snow globe. I think we’d flattened it out once before we kind of, it was a little bit more 3d way back in the day, but basically—

Wailin: [00:01:55] It was a green mountain against a blue sky in a snowglobe.

Jason: [00:01:57] Yeah, there was like a lot of gradients. Like the blue sky in the snow globe was sort of a gradient light blue to slightly darker blue and the mountain had a few different greens in it.

Wailin: [00:02:06] And Adam, do you want to describe the new logo?

Adam: [00:02:08] Yeah, yeah sure. The new logo came from a concept that Jamie had many years ago. Jason, do you know when that first, I mean it was sometime in Basecamp 2, I think?

Jason: [00:02:18] Yeah, we actually used that logo kind of in Basecamp 2. We launched something called Basecamp Personal, which was a one, like you pay once, I think it was 29 bucks. I don’t remember exactly the number now, but you paid once and you can use it forever. And it was like you could buy a project at a time and we used that logo for that, but that sort of didn’t last. So the logo had had sort of been around but it sort of went away after we’d stopped doing Basecamp Personal. So that was, yeah, Basecamp 2 era.

Adam: [00:02:44] Right. So yeah we revived it for this and it’s a still the same snow globe and mountain scape inside, but it’s reduced to a simple shape in the form of a paperclip. The idea of being that Basecamp holds all of your stuff much in the way that a paperclip holds stuff together.

Wailin: [00:03:02] I guess this would be a good time to back up and explain why even make a change.

Jason: [00:03:07] I’d say there’s a few reasons. One was, it just felt time. It’s like let’s get a new wardrobe kind of feeling. You know, it’s like we’ve been using this basic shape, basic color, basic set up for a long time now and that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s anything wrong with it. It’s actually, it was really distinctive and nice but it just felt like it was time for a change. Like, let’s renovate the kitchen, let’s like… the kitchen works fine but let’s get a new kitchen and let’s just kind of do something for us. So there’s that.

[00:03:33] The other thing though was that I felt like there was a bit of a disconnect. We’ve always been an opinionated company and we used to basically host our opinions under 37 Signals, which was what we used to be called. And that logo was sort of this really abstract dot-based logo. It was actually like a human form looking at you with its hand raised saying hello. But no one knew that.

Wailin: [00:03:5 Really?

Jason: [00:03:54] Yeah.

Wailin: [00:03:55] I’m learning that for the first time.

Jason: [00:03:57] That’s kind of a really abstract version of it. It’s like it was this place, this company where we could say what we wanted and poke the industry and sort of, in some ways offend some sensibilities in terms of like how people run businesses and we kind of just have always been a little bit pokey let’s say. And that kind of worked under 37 Signals, but when we changed the name of the company to Basecamp and kind of went all in on Basecamp and then had this smiley face logo. It’s kind of weird to have an attitude with a smiley face logo, it just didn’t come. There’s like a disconnect, and it was sort of okay, but it still felt like we were trying to still punch at the industry a bit, but it didn’t feel like it made any sense anymore underneath that brand.

Adam: [00:04:37] Generally speaking on kind of multiple fronts, it’s fairly inflexible, both from kind of an emotional standpoint. It’s hard to modulate the emotional state when you have this plastered smiley face on something. You know, it’s like, we lost all your files, ha ha! Like hopefully we don’t do that. But you know, it’s, it’s really inflexible from that perspective. But it’s also very flexible from a production standpoint. It’s multiple colors already, so it’s hard to reduce to one color. It’s hard to invert. There’s a lot of, a fair amount of detail in it, so it’s hard to make very small. It’s just something that we kind of fight with as opposed to just kind of doing what we needed to do when we needed to do it. From Queer Eye, I know Jonathan talks about like when the clothes wear you versus you wearing the clothes and it’s, I felt like we were kind of getting into that kind of situation where the logo is wearing us, not the other way around.

Jason: [00:05:30] So I think what we’ve tried to do here is to sort of simplify, keep the spirit of the snowglobe and the mountain for those who know, but it gives us, it’s more of a simplified shape. So it gives us I think, a chance to return to our roots. I think those two things, it was time, let’s do something new. And also there’s a disconnect between how we act and talk and how we are represented in logo form.

Wailin: [00:05:52] Adam, and can you talk about how the yellow got introduced, flipping the color scheme?

Adam: [00:05:56] Yeah. So, we wanted to change things up on that front as well. And at least for my part, I was kind of happy to break away from the camping pastiche, you know, where it’s all these very earthy colors with the blue and the green and the beige. And so the beige stayed as a, as a point of consistency with where we were. But I wanted to kind of step away from that very kind of earthy look and feel. You know, yellow is a really nice color in that it has a very kind of fresh and sunny feeling to it. And it works really well with the rest of the color scheme. That’s basically it.

Jason: [00:06:36] I think Adam hit on a good point, too, which is that sometimes, you know, we did the Basecamp logo back in 2004. Or maybe we did it in 2003. Basecamp as a word wasn’t really used. I mean there’s the real Basecamp, right? But it wasn’t really used that frequently. A lot of brands hadn’t adopted it. But now there’s a Garmin Basecamp and there’s, I was just REI this weekend. There’s like, they use the word Basecamp on their tents and a lot of people use Basecamp and inevitably all the logos are mountainy. And so there’s a point where it just gets crowded and it’s time to just break away and move on from that. Just simply to move away from the pack. So you don’t look obvious. You know, we didn’t look at, I mean maybe Adam did. I, I shouldn’t say we didn’t, but we didn’t look at like lots of shades of yellow. We didn’t put a bunch of Pantone clips or chips on the table and pick one. It’s like, no, this is a happy fresh color. This feels good. It’s punchy. And uh, it just felt like it worked. And because we don’t have rules necessarily for how to do, like we could decide that maybe we want to go with red in six months. Like, I don’t know, it’s not that big of a deal in a sense. We find things that we like, you know.

Adam: [00:07:40] It’s, if you look at the website, it’s probably a more accurate representation of like where that particular color sits in the hierarchy. It’s not… really the main colors are black and white. Yellow and beige are accent colors within that. And yeah, absolutely. That accent color might change in six months in might change in a year. It might change in five years.

Jason: [00:08:00] The other thing I think we wanted to do was move away from, um, this is more of a website design thing, but it touched the logo a little bit, move away from this illustration style, which has served us well. But again, it’s sort of like everyone has illustration, you know what I’m saying?

Adam: [00:08:14] Everyone.

Jason: [00:08:14] Right. And while the old logo wasn’t like illustrated in that style, because it had gradients and it just kind of felt like it was from that era in a sense. So moving away from that was it was nice, too. And also Adam as you just said, like the black and white is really the primary, I mean sounded really, those aren’t colors, but the primary color scheme, which was kind of a throwback to 37 Signals way back in the day when it was, we launched 37 Signals.com which is black and white.

[00:08:44] And then throughout the years we used some color sparingly, reds and blues and black and white then and it’s a little bit of a throwback to just like getting—like we tightened up the copy and we, I think we tightened up our pitch and it’s sort of remembering sort of the sharp angles we had in copywriting and point of view and bringing that back. And then yellow’s more the accent.

[00:09:03] It was more the website redesign and just a reset on our visual approach and language. And the logo was actually part of that. Had we just slapped the new logo on the old site, it wouldn’t have felt right. And I felt like the logo was like 5% of our effort. And the website was 95%. That’s really, to me, that’s what really matters, which is like how we communicate the product, how we show the product and how we structure the way people find the product, how we change the pricing table, all these things that we did. That’s really, to me the more interesting side of things. And of course that’s the stuff that most people ultimately won’t comment on as much.

Adam: [00:09:38] Yeah. And the overall website redesign, it was really kind of reorienting everything around what we’re really good at, which is copywriting. And so it’s now this, this vessel for copywriting first and foremost. Instead of kind of getting bogged down in visual style or illustrations or other things. It’s just copy in your face.

Jason: [00:10:01] Copy and product shots. Yeah. I think like we’re trying to bring you some imagery back is important, but let’s just show the product.

Adam: [00:10:07] Yeah, it’s the product.

Jason: [00:10:08] Yeah, it’s the product. So, I think that was the main focus of this whole project.

Wailin: [00:10:12] And is the timing thing a matter of gut for you?

Jason: [00:10:17] To me, it just felt like, let’s explore this. I posted something, Adam do you know when this was? Like a year ago or eight months or something.

Adam: [00:10:24] It was at least six months ago.

Jason: [00:10:26] Yeah. I just kind of felt like, let’s just, I dunno, let’s explore something. So it was more like, let’s explore something as we typically do. Like if we find something we like, we just kind of run with it versus like, well let’s explore 50 other things and then come back. I dunno, I feel like you can spend a lot of time doing that and not get anywhere, although that’s not also not fair because maybe you could spend a lot of time and get, somewhere even better, certainly. And I think we’ll just save that one for another time. We’ll, do something else and explore this maybe another few years or five years or who knows. We’ll go down another road. But for now I think this feels pretty good.

Wailin: [00:10:57] You look at the way other companies do rebrands and they’re these really long, exhaustive processes. They cost a lot of money, often outside consultants are brought in, and you have white papers ,and it kind of is this endless exploration process, Jason, I think that you had talked about. And clearly we didn’t do that here. Is that kind of like a conscious thing?

Jason: [00:11:19] Well, we’ve never really done that. We’ve always just sort of made something that we liked and moved on. I don’t know. I’m a bit averse to the standard rebrand ceremony, which is, a lot of companies will typically go outside, outside the firm and hire an agency. Pentagram is the one that everyone seems to want to hire, right? And they go and they hire this agency and they, and they write a check for a quarter million bucks or 1 million bucks or whatever and you know, and then they write up the big long post about it and how it’s supposed to evoke this and evoke that. And I always find it, whenever I read those, I don’t read them anymore, but when I used to read them I was just like, yeah, come on. It’s just like I get it like, okay, it’s, I like it. I like the way it looks. I get your point. But we don’t need to take ourselves so seriously. It’s just a mark.

[00:12:06] And different people will have different points of view on how serious you should take a mark and the whole thing. I’ve just felt like you should feel good about it. It should feel like it represents you in a way and everyone should be happy with it and then should look cool and should reduce in different sizes and it should be flexible. Like those are the kinds of things versus like it has all this deep meaning behind it. Anyway. I just find those things to be very precious. These write ups and, and it’s sort of, I think, kind of a way to justify an expense. Like, this cost a million bucks. Therefore like, let me tell you how important it is. It’s probably not that important.

Adam: [00:12:40] I’ve always been averse to these kind of, overly hand-wringy kind of, explanations. By and large consumers aren’t going to consciously think of any of those things. And it’s just not that important at the end of the day.

Jason: [00:12:59] We just put ours out there. So we just like changed it. Changed it, like launched a new website and then also just changed the logo everywhere we had the logo and um, a lot of people spoke up about it, which was great, but everyone was like, where’s the write up? I can’t believe you haven’t explained this. And it’s like, well, there’s not much to explain. It’s a new logo we like. This is not… Why do we have to explain it? I mean, I’m going to write up a post this week about it a little bit, just something, but why does it have to come with an explanation? Why can’t we just change it? And I just find it to be funny. It’s mostly like, who’s saying this? It’s mostly designers who expect those kinds of things. Which I, again, like people want to know why, I don’t hold anything against them for wanting to know why. Of course, people are curious about it, but the expectation is there’s going to be this big write up with this big team and like we’re going to show a bunch of sketches on paper of 50 different directions and, and we’re gonna show like a picture of a meeting room with a bunch of post it notes and like, no, it’s more like we wanted a new logo. It was time for the two reasons I mentioned to you and we were playing around with some stuff and then we kind of reached into the back catalog and realized we kind of had something we liked that we used a few years ago and we all felt like it was pretty good and it was flexible and interesting. And so we went with it. Adam touched it up, we tightened it up a little bit, we changed some proportions and changed some, some line weight and stuff and kind of got it right. And we launched it.

Wailin: [00:14:18] I mean, do you think that people expect the big write up or the explanation, not only because it’s what most brands do, but because you’ve made a reputation for being a commentator and a thinker about design?

Jason: [00:14:34] Yeah, I think someone’s mentioned that. So there’s a site called Under Consideration, I think that’s what it’s called. They kind of review logo redesigns and one of his comments was Basecamp says, like, explains themselves very clearly when they do things and I’m surprised there’s been no explanation about this. Because that’s the reputation we have.

[00:14:52] And um, there’s a couple of reasons why we didn’t want to do that. First of all, I didn’t want to draw any additional attention to the new website, which we launched at the same time. Because we kind of wanted to see what traffic would do without any announcements. So even like a logo announcement is an announcement. So we’re kind of holding off for that reason to begin with. And also there’s just not a whole lot to say.

[00:15:09] But yeah, I suppose people do expect that and we’ll give them something. It’s just there’s not much to say is the truth. And I feel like in most cases these logos would be better announced with fewer words. Just like, here’s something. We changed this from this. Here’s why we like it. We don’t need to justify that we had 50 people working on it and we spent this and we hired this firm. Like, here’s our new logo and we hope you like it. We do. And you’ll start seeing it on our stuff. And that’s that. I don’t think there’s much more to say.

Wailin: [00:15:39] This kind of relaxed attitude that we’ve brought to the redesign process. I assume that carries over into the process of reacting or not to what everyone else has to say about it. Because like, I don’t know. People have so many feelings and they’re tweeting them at you constantly.

Jason: [00:15:57] Yeah. I don’t know. Adam, how do you feel about that? I have my own opinions, but…

Adam: [00:16:00] Yeah, I mean I don’t really pay much attention to the reactions. I mean, talking about logo redesigns is like a sport amongst designers. So like you have to kind of take it as that, it just isn’t that important at the end of the day. So yeah, it doesn’t really influence me one way or the other.

Jason: [00:16:21] Yeah. I think people just get used to stuff, too. So—

Adam: [00:16:23] Yes.

Jason: [00:16:23] —if we change the logo in five years, people will be like, oh wait, wait, don’t change that. I love the paperclip thing. Well, remember back when we launched it, you didn’t like it. It’s just, people will get used to these things and it’s totally cool to be a commentator and throw your through your opinion in the ring and go, hey, you know, here’s my punch and here’s what I think. And you know, the line weight’s not right or like whatever. Like, you know, people come up with all these things. The proportions are weird. I don’t get it. Like if I, if I didn’t know what the mountain was, I wouldn’t get it. And it’s like, that’s okay. Like, you know, there’s a lot of symbols that don’t really make a whole lot of sense, but they are a brand symbol and that’s what it becomes. So I’ve also just grown thick skin, just being on the receiving end of a lot of opinions over the years, just about what we say and how we act and the whole thing and so it doesn’t bother me. I mean, it’s flattering in a sense to see that people care, obviously. But then it’s funny to read sort of the academic criticisms of something that we just happened to like. We don’t see it as an academic exercise, so it’s weird to get academic feedback on it, you know, just like, no, it’s a fun thing that we made. We’re happy with it and we like it and that’s that.

[00:17:28] Broken By Design by Clip Art plays.

Shaun: [00:17:34] Rework is produced by Wailin Wong and me, Shaun Hildner. Our theme music is Broken By Design by Clip Art. You can find our redesigned website in the same place our old website was at Basecamp.com where you can sign up to try our software for free.

Wailin: [00:17:48] The website for show is Rework.fm. You can reach us on Twitter @ReworkPodcast or leave us a voicemail at (708) 628-7850. We are on Apple Podcast. Google Play Music, Spotify, and everywhere you listen to your favorite shows. Leave us a review unless you have something mean to say, in which case keep it to yourself because my skin isn’t as thick as Jason’s.