The Daily Heller: Illustrating an Entire Startup From Head to Toe

Posted inThe Daily Heller

In 2020, Francesco Zorzi received the job of a lifetime (well, at least for me it is). The assignment was a complete redesign of the visual identity for a startup that started up three months prior, called isendu. The business is a web app able to connect small to medium e-commerce owners to every different courier’s platform in order to control everything from sale to delivery. Zorzi based the logo design on Bauhaus-inspired forms without mimicking the original. (For more, go here.)

He was also creating delightful illustrations for isendu‘s blog. Before he knew it, the flower bloomed larger than he could have imagined, and he was designing identity-based imagery for all their publications. And in the bargain, he was hired as both creative director and illustrator (later becoming design director). Meanwhile, he started working as an architect, designing the office spaces of isendu‘s headquarters in Florence, Italy: A grand 1800s palazzo, currently a cornucopia of colorful customized wallpapers, fanciful lamps and witty partitions created by Zorzi, printed and installed by local artisans.

I asked him to give us a personal tour. So let’s begin …

Would you say that this is the largest job you’ve ever done?
It started two years ago as a commission for producing a regular series of illustrations for isendu, a brand new startup’s blog, and soon after it became something bigger. I’ve since been asked to redesign their logo and visual identity from scratch. Their growth in the first year has been quite impressive, and further impressive is the freedom that I have in everything I do for them.

It has been the occasion for me to work within all the professional fields I’ve been in throughout my career, spanning from architecture to graphic design, and from branding to illustration—the beating heart of the entire project. In some sense I could say that my initial approach to the illustration series included elements I’ve continued to use and expand even after, when I was asked to work on their visual identity.

How did creating some illustrations turn into such a mammoth experience?
When I started designing the illustrations for their blog, the subject of the articles was not defined; therefore, I decided to create a series that was totally unrelated to the text. I decided to focus on illustrating the “spirit” of the startup, the essence of their work. Working with this level of abstraction has been key to creating an interpretation of their “essence,” which I incorporated when redesigning the logo. At the same time, the illustrations immediately became part of their visual language as its own sort of “alphabet.” Then, when the company moved to their current headquarters, a huge three-story palace (“palazzo”) near the center of Firenze, the illustration project naturally expanded to the third dimension through architecture and decorative pieces.

Naturally? Really? Had you done environmental graphics before this? What were the challenges of this work?
I’ve worked on a large scale. In 2018, I designed illustrations for the visual identity of The Lincoln Center Out of Doors festival in NYC. I’ve also created the identity and the graphics for venues such as a sculpture museum in Tuscany, in addition to other temporary projection installations in Firenze; however, this was the first time I’ve worked with environmental graphics in such a massive way. Today, there are 45 walls covered with my illustrations in the isendu headquarters. The biggest one wraps around the entrance and snakes up the staircase on each side for two stories. Finding a voice and balance on such large walls (the average height of each room is more than four yards) has been challenging, specifically deciding how to make them coexist with the “monumental mood” of the palace (palazzo) and its massive frescoes in the “ballroom.”

How did you determine what the theme of these murals would be?
When I started, I selected some illustrations from the collection I had already designed and used in their blog. I converted them into art pieces. At the same time, having the recurrent element of the red circle and the movement inside many pieces is like telling a silent story on the walls. As the project evolved, I enjoyed creating site-specific graphics, like the huge tiger in the forest that wraps around the staircase. That idea stemmed from the 50-foot Christmas tree in the central part of the staircase, so I wanted to design something related to nature, wild nature. I used the same theme to introduce the parallel theme of space on the first floor; the design covers two corridors and features the tiger opening its mouth to the star-filled outer space. The most recent designs are for two new rooms, and based on their physical location under the roof, I was inspired to create a wintry mountain scene with skiers, snowboarders, mountaineers and hikers.

How long did it take you to plan and execute the whole thing?
Everything happened in different steps. I developed the initial idea for the first illustration series in two weeks, then designing the proposal for the logo and the brand identity took two to three months, and then everything else has been designed during these two years. I’ve been working on more focused tasks each time and designing for different fields at the same time (i.e., packaging boxes, furniture for the event room, specific wallpapers for the same room, etc.), operating into the isendu in-house design studio with two graphic designers, Fabio Massimo De Luca and Luca Terzo. The project is ongoing.