As a marginalized group, LGBTQIA+ communities have always found ways to carve out physical spaces to gather, like centers, bars, and clubs. And while many have connected online as well, most of these existing online meeting opportunities have centered around apps for sex and dating. There has largely been a lack of dedicated digital spaces for LGBTQIA+ communities to connect for other means, and that’s a void that the new online community Serif has set out to fill.
Conceptualized by founder and CEO Brian Tran in collaboration with design studio Pentagram, Serif offers a new virtual space for digital connection that’s accessible to all, where members can celebrate their diverse individual identities through sharing and collaborating with other users across different industries and experiences.
The platform offers online discussions and events, along with opportunities for members to build professional, personal, and creative networks. Ultimately, they conceptualized Serif to appeal to everyone as an affirming, inspiring place where people feel comfortable to be themselves.
Pentagram partner Emily Oberman led the brand identity, strategy, and digital design for the platform, developing a look and feel that at once underscores individuality and honors the power of a collective. Emily was keen on establishing dynamic, engaging, and inclusive branding, and she did this through a morphing serif motif, custom alphabet, rainbow gradients, and blob shapes, among other elements.
Emily was generous enough to answer a few of our questions about the design of Serif below.
Where did the name Serif come from?
While I would like to say we played a part in the naming of Serif, I cannot. That was all Brian Tran. I love it because it is so beautifully, perfectly abstract. I love that it is not a pun about the LGBTQIA+ community. It’s a word that allows each person to give it their own meaning.
The need to connect virtually is critical now more than ever. How much of a role did COVID-19 play in the conception of the idea for Serif?
COVID actually played an important role in what Serif is today. Serif started with the intention of being a physical space, though certainly, always with a strong digital component, in the model of a Soho House or a Chief. But they pivoted to be digital-first as soon as COVID appeared on the horizon. I have to say Brian and his team saw the need for a change way before we all understood what the effects of COVID would mean for social spaces and moved very quickly to change what Serif could and should be. The platform feels very communal, and we designed it to be that way: for community and conversation. It feels very appropriate. And when the time is right, Serif will be able to move seamlessly into actual physical spaces.
Where did the idea for the morphing organic shape motif come from? What was it like playing around with that concept?
We wanted to make sure that you feel the whole concept of Serif in all the design; that you could see that Serif was about the idea of the convergence of all of the LGBTQIA+ communities and their allies. Here was a space where anyone who identified as such could feel welcome and be stronger for being part of Serif. So the design was all about connective elements and converging points. It’s also about all of our perfect imperfections, which we express in the ever-changing shapes that evolve from the logo and the imperfect circles that come from the dot in the I. We also try to express the individuality of every member in the color auras that live subtly in the background of the site and within the logo.
You said that an essential part of the brand meant recognizing the history of LGBTQIA+ movements and how far they have come while acknowledging that Serif can be what it is because of these pioneers. How were you able to achieve this within the branding you developed?
To capture the richness and diversity that thrives within the community, we looked both at ourselves and outside ourselves, and—most importantly—we looked to history. We knew that for Serif to exist, it had to stand on the shoulders of the tremendous amount of work done by a great many people who came before us. For us to be able to create something like Serif—designed to institutionalize progress—we had to honor and respect all the people that made sure progress was possible, and we are grateful for them every day. We hope that there is not any one specific detail that does that but the entire brand as a whole. We hope that we have captured the emotion of the history and a journey that’s far from over in what we have done. And we hope that the brand is strong enough to evolve with time.
Is there an element of the brand identity, strategy, and digital design that you’re proudest of?
The LGBTQIA+ community is a vast and varied group of people, so, at the same time, we need to highlight the collective and the individual. It was also really important for us to make it clear that Serif was a place of joy, equity, unity, empathy, and, yes, ambition. That had to come through in the marketing pieces, the animations, the sub-brands, and the platform itself. We want the community to be able to see itself reflected in the brand positively. So, if that comes through in the work that we have done, that is something that I will be very proud of.
Pentagram Project Team:
Eva Green, strategist and writer
Kyle Barron-Cohen, strategist and writer
Steven Merenda, designer
Daniel Seung Lee, portrait photographer
Claudia Mandlik, photographer