Mesosphere is a San Francisco startup that’s developing software to make cloud systems more accessible. Sound familiar? Of course it does. Because however great their technology may be, to most of us, cloud technology startups are as indistinguishable as the clouds themselves.
And branding is doing the space no favors, according to Brett Wickens, Partner and identity design specialist at Ammunition. He would know. Wickens most famously designed the Sopranos logo for HBO, capturing all the wickedly enticing appeal of mafia in a few letters.
"The [cloud service] landscape is pretty full of obvious manifestations of nouns or categories of operation," Wickens tells Co.Design. "There are a lot of clouds. There are a lot of building blocks. There are a few cartoon animals."
In other words, there are a lot of clichés. Wickens (and his team) wanted to capture the idea of interconnected networks while paying homage to the mesosphere itself, what he describes as a "mysterious place" in our outer atmosphere, hiding between our planes and spacecraft. And, of course, there was the actual lettering in the word "mesosphere" itself to consider—which led to an interesting discovery.
"In lowercase, the top of every letter in mesosphere is curved. It’s really unusual to have a word where that occurs," Wickens tells Co.Design. In response, they chose a rounded font to highlight that quirk of lettering—a modified version of a font named Brown—to echo the curves of the mesosphere itself.
But atop that lettering lives, not a static image, but an animated network of curvy nodes that tug, color shift, and generally evolve over time. That network is actually a monogrammed M that, rather than being drawn or animated, has been birthed in code. So instead of penning sketch after sketch—which is typical in 2-D logo design—the team built an app in the open source platform Processing that allowed them to tweak a few variables.
"Processing is basically a new art tool," Wickens tells Co.Design. "[But] harnessing it—it’s kind of like a wild animal. You can just let it run around and not be able to capture anything useful."
Ammunition's designers made a gallery of their favorite iterations created in the software, and over time, they tamed the beast by tweaking variable after variable to suit their tastes. The result is a gorgeous, fluid logo for today—a curvy, elastic abstraction of the cloud—and also a simulation that can evolve alongside Mesosphere tomorrow, as the startup becomes a more established company, offering services that can’t be imagined yet. Because the logo is ostensibly an app, Ammunition has a platform to create an infinite level of variations.
All of this said, is it enough to call the project a success? Branding is highly subjective. Mesosphere certainly left happy, and the visual idea seems to play well into the business’s purpose. But does that mean we can we expect Mesosphere to be recognized in households around the world?
"The funny thing about identity is that it really depends on impressions," Wickens admits. "The more different people see it, the more it becomes accepted, recognizable, and familiar—and therefore, arguably successful."