We all know that the internet can be a deep, dark, scary place that has dangerous repercussions on our culture, lives, and livelihoods. While it has its benefits, social media can be particularly nefarious, serving as a breeding ground for misinformation, toxicity, and hate. A new platform wants to address this problem head-on, offering a safe online space for community, connection, and conversations.
Welcome to OpenWeb.
To make their vision come to life, OpenWeb needed a visual and verbal identity up to their ambitious task. Founders Nadav Shovel and Roee Goldberg sought out the branding experts at COLLINS for the hefty undertaking, with a team led by Tom Wilder and Design Director Megan Bowker. Composed of designers Barney Stepney and Tomas Markavicus, writers Tom Elia and Maddy Carrucan, and business director Ian Aronson, COLLINS worked closely with Shovel and Goldberg throughout the project.
“It was a collaborative alliance from the start,” says Bowker. “That’s our favorite way to work.”
I reached out to Bowker to learn more about her team’s process behind the brand reimagination for OpenWeb and all of its old-timey newspaper goodness.
(This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.)
How did your team at COLLINS strategize taking on a project of this complexity?
The initial problem was the scale of OpenWeb’s ambition. There were too many problems they were taking on, and each of those was as tangled as the internet itself: tech companies with misplaced incentives, bad behavior online, walled gardens, and misinformation. It goes on.
The first thing we had to do was untangle these issues and identify the most immediate, important problem OpenWeb was trying to solve, and in doing so, better define their audience and what they needed from us.
So we identified the most pressing problem—the struggle publishers are currently facing to maintain their own local communities to survive and continue to thrive. That has a ripple effect on all the other problems. But in sharpening this problem with specificity, we could begin to make smarter strategic and creative decisions that help address this single goal.
How did your team land on the motif of 19th-century typography and old newspaper headlines in the branding?
With publishers defined as the primary audience, we looked into the history of print and publishing in America, especially legendary newspapers and magazines. We wanted a callback to a time when more effort, craft, and consideration were required to put words into existence through printing text on the letterpress. All letters, words, and stories had to be made out of ink and metal.
We also wanted to use tools that would be familiar to publishers. Old-school newspaper headlines carried a blunt urgency that was appropriate to support the types of messages OpenWeb needed to communicate. These voices create tension, and we see that tension in visual design as a good thing, especially these days when we’re all swimming in a sea of slick, polished, vibrant typography—much with hollow messages.
Can you share the typographic choices you made in the OpenWeb branding?
Clear typography sits appropriately at the center of the new OpenWeb identity. We knew the voice of this brand needed to speak with precision and dignity—an inviting authority. That led us to the superlative work of Village’s Chester Jenkins, who created Galaxie Copernicus—an elegant serif typeface inspired by the 16th-century classic Plantin but drawn with a more contemporary approach. We loved the enduring grace of this voice, and it’s not something we’re seeing much in digital tech products.
In addition to the core brand voice, we introduced secondary typefaces that reflect a diversity of voices (publishers and their many audiences) that we hope to engage in conversations online. We chose four ubiquitous system fonts—Times New Roman, Arial, Futura Bold, and Impact—to act as this diverse choir. By recontextualizing these familiar typefaces (that are typically poorly used), we thought we could flip them on their head and strike a chord of familiarity, but also one of surprise. They also carry an air of nostalgia for media like The New York Post or, say, even your local newspaper. It might be a little cheeky from a graphic designer’s perspective but remains serious at the same time.
How did your team land on OpenWeb’s new color palette?
There’s a lot of noise online. A lot. Instead of adding to it, we kept their palette subdued; we used the soft color of aged paper and black. Or “ink.” We complemented this simple monochromatic palette with tiny sparks of vivid RGB for text and diagrams, serving as a tool to help communication and define a visual hierarchy. But it addresses the fact that this is also a 21st century, technology-driven company that lives almost entirely on the screen.
What was the process like for developing the OpenWeb logo?
Our logo explorations are always intense, intramural investigations at COLLINS. We easily considered a hundred variations, if not more. This particular symbol stood out from the rest because we saw so many ideas within it—enlightenment, exchange, differing perspectives, harmony.
In other words, we thought it had promise as a good vessel for the values OpenWeb wanted to champion. It had a simplicity that made it feel like it could be the symbol of a political or social movement. It also didn’t hurt that these seven “W”s came together to form a single “O.” Seven turned out to be the perfect number since you can still see the individual letterform of the W and the O concurrently.
At COLLINS, we’re always driven to make sure that we craft ideas that can be as compelling in motion as they are in static. Knowing OpenWeb’s symbol would appear on screen often, this was especially the case. We have a cool kaleidoscope collection in our office library that may have found its way into our inspirations.
What aspect of this brand reimagination are you proudest of?
To see the impact of the cumulative strategic and creative decisions we’ve all made together pay off tangibly with our friends at OpenWeb is very rewarding. Especially when it’s for people who are not only great to work with but whom we admire. OpenWeb has centered its mission like a laser to create a positive difference through technology—differences that will support more thoughtful, more meaningful voices and conversations. This work is probably as far from a surface “re-skin” or a “brand refresh” as it gets. This has been a comprehensive repositioning that maps out a new trajectory for OpenWeb with the potential to change the way we communicate with each other for the better.