Do we distill the essence of our brand identity or just get a clean logo that fits on an app button?
We’ve done the long, navel-gazing mood board branding process at other companies in the past. They take time—something we didn’t have a lot of when starting up Joust, a banking platform for independent professionals. It was a fast, intense, hot burn of a ramp-up and we needed to get a pitch deck great visuals out to prospective investors.
There were two main messages we wanted to convey. The first: you can trust us with your money—and it had to speak to angel investors and seed-round venture capitalists as well as our future customers, freelancers. Those are two very different groups. The second message: We get it. As entrepreneurs, we understand what it’s like to get your own business running.
We had to balance conventional reassurances about financial safety and soundness, but also have a certain boldness that would resonate with freelancers. One of our founders is a former bank examiner, and we pride ourselves on doing regulation right, but the Ionic columns of the US Treasury building weren’t exactly what we had in mind for our imagery. As an all-digital platform we were aiming for something more abstract, less brick and mortar.
We started with a word: “freelance.” From there, we got from “lance” to “joust.” We’ll admit we’re walking that fine line between meaning and corniness. What mattered: we could get the url for joust.com.
Coining the company name helped us move forward with the imagery. If you want to get philosophical, money is an abstraction. So is technology. Abstract styles work well in the “fintech” (financial technology) space. The cliches in that market are hexagons and Calder-ish lines connecting circles. They’re a dime-a-dozen, so we avoided those. On the other hand, we weren’t going to go with a knight on a horse with a lance. Because that would be too hitting-you-over-the-head with our pun, too busy, and banking doesn’t need more pictures of white guys.
One recurring question we’ve had through the branding journey: Do we lead with our overall platform or the product that really starts to differentiate us from all the other “neobanks” out there?
Our flagship product protects freelancers from clients who pay late or not all. To extend the jousting metaphor, we called it PayArmour. A knight’s shield is an historic format for presenting visual information and the shape is basic enough to draw with a Sharpie marker. Once that all dawned on us, the logo concept was a clear call.
To the creative professionals reading this: we appreciate your work! Knowing a talented graphic designer who we’ve worked with before helped us immensely. Shout out to Nathan at Ember Designs, who moved quickly create a logo we continue to love. He took the shield shape, added lines evocative of heraldic ribbons, and created a simple, clean image that is neither too obvious, nor too random. What matters: it shows up clear and strong in the ultra-small format of app store icons.
If you’ve read this far, you deserve an outtake from the cutting room floor. At first, before the jousting concept, we played around with a rhinoceros. They are really solid and have great defenses, and they’re also fun and edgy! A bit too much so, it turns out. Apparently rhinos are very trendy right now. We wish the best to the actual endangered animals, the worst to their poachers, and hope they survive forever as a species, but rhinos as a marketing emblem are going to be so over in a decade.
Back to our main story line: remember how we mentioned that investors and freelancers are different? And the debate about pushing the whole platform vs. one particularly compelling part of it? Those tensions came out in the color decisions. The early iterations of our logo used orange and purple. We loved the colorway, because it was beautiful and because it was so un-bankerly.
As a startup founder, when you accept funding you also have to accept some advice. We were leading hard with PayArmour. We got some input that maybe that’s too narrow and limiting, and we should strive to be more of a boutique bank.
Point well taken, but the broad idea of everything we are is a lot to get across succinctly: an FDIC-insured deposit account, a merchant account to process all payments world-wide, budgeting features to set aside money for tax payments….and the list goes on.
Our investors suggested a bright robin’s egg hue would evoke the sort of aspirational sentiment they had in mind. We still push back on the messaging, and think of ourselves more as a hardworking brand that luxury brand, but, hey, the color switch was easy and going with a single color helped simplify our visuals. At the end of the day, who can argue with a lovely shade of robin’s egg blue?
Even if freelance graphic artists think that color is too safe, we bet they still care about getting paid.
We created Joust to offer independent professionals the type of critical services that big banks offer to their corporate clients. Why shouldn’t the solopreneur get the same advantages?