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  • 01.12.17

This Open-Source Brand Is Nothing But Three Keystrokes

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If you’ve ever seen a branding brief, you know what a new logo looks like. It’s not just a picture. It’s pages of explanations. Close-up images of the slightest curvature on a wordmark. It’s packaged as extremely precious, because it not only represents a company, it represents its ego.

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Dotdot, a new brand built by Wolff Olins for the internet of things consortium Zigbee, is as disposable as a cocktail napkin. And what does it look like?

:||

That.

Dotdot is what Zigbee is calling its new, open-source internet of things language that connects the smart toaster to the smart lightbulb to the smart refrigerator. Inspired by the dots and dashes of the original electronic language, Morse code, the Dotdot brand does not live as a conventional PDF or Illustrator file. It’s actually a code string on Github that renders the logo on web pages in CSS. It’s also producible for print and other materials by simply using two open-source characters from Google’s universal font project. So to recreate the logo perfectly, all anyone has to do is download a free font and type two symbols. Done.

But really, Dotdot is just a colon and two slashes that’s agnostic of any brand standards–it’s a series of glyphs that can be typed in any messenger or tweet. The biggest difference between texting the logo to a friend and rendering it on a web page is that it’s rotated 90 degrees. That’s about it.

“We talked a lot about how language exists, because we were designing a mark for language. One of the ideas was, how is language evolving? Clearly it’s becoming more pictographic,” says Forest Young, head of design at Wolff Olins San Francisco. “[Choosing] the emoticon language was less so to create something that was cute or very now than something that was referencing the way language is evolving today and may be hacked or forked tomorrow.”

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Young’s point about hacking and forking isn’t mere marketing speak. It’s actually key to Dotdot’s identity. The source logo code can be manipulated within Github, allowing anyone to put their own spin on the brand mark to accommodate an online culture known for mixing and remixing media online, adopting emoji and new Snapchat filters as second nature. “With logos and marks that are so sacrosanct, it’s all about perfect replication,” says Young. “That’s an old way of looking at brand assets . . . if logos are marks, and marks are language, and language is evolving.” Given that Dotdot itself is aimed at the open-source community, especially, an ever-evolving logo is not just an academic conceit but core to the ongoing utility of a product that’s designed to be touched by countless developers.

Someone running to the store might forget the words “Zigbee” or “Dotdot,” but the product logo can be sent via text, just like an emoticon.

Furthermore, Young muses that merely typing :|| could become a shorthand for coders working on Dotdot products, too. In the future, maybe :|| could be auto-linked to an API. Maybe software could evolve to the point where anyone could text their smart devices a :|| to connect them to a personalized network. “In a nut sense, who is to say that mark doesn’t exist in some kind of functional way?” says Young. “How it will [work], we don’t know, but we want to make sure it wasn’t something you couldn’t type, and therefore couldn’t be integral to language itself.”

But Wolff Olins’s vision for :|| doesn’t end at the level of typography and code. Squint at those marks long enough and you’ll probably see a face, too–a phenomenon that Dotdot’s more conventional, slick branding videos call out through cute animations that turn dumb products into smiling machinery. It’s a move in-line with a larger trend we’ve seen recently, as technology companies use anthropomorphic faces to package their AI-powered gadgets.

A skeptic might see all of these faces and emoticons as a way of obfuscating powerful machine learning algorithms that are learning from endless waves of human-generated data. “We thought of it less as . . . a means of humanizing tech than giving eyes to things that couldn’t see, couldn’t understand,” contends Young. “To ‘dotdot’ something means to give something awareness. We almost served to called it the ‘internet of creatures.’”

Wolff Olins also imagines this open-source language extending to industrial design, so that objects from self-driving shuttles to gadgets to personal dwellings could be designed such that consumers could innately understand their interoperability. “Do these two things sort of match?” any Luddite walking the aisles of Best Buy might ask themselves. “Yeah? Alright, then they should talk to each other just fine.”

About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started Philanthroper.com, a simple way to give back every day.

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