Marketing Design Dispatch

The jaw-dropping story behind Zapier’s rebrand

Published over 1 year ago • 3 min read

This isn't clickbait, Reader,

Back in Issue 65 I broke down Zapier’s fresh new visual identity, but I had no idea about the real story of the journey the team went on to create it.

The RE-rebrand of Zapier

Shortly after publishing that issue of the Dispatch I got on a call with Zapier’s Creative Director, Michael Jeter, to invite him on to my podcast. As we were talking about the rebrand, I mentioned that I’d noticed (through some light Internet Archive sleuthing…) that they had shipped the new homepage design several months before they launched the new brand identity. Why was that? Why not launch it all together?

Michael responded, “Well, that’s an interesting story…”

He was not wrong.

I could help but sit there like 😮 as I listened.

You see, the Zapier team had started this rebrand as many companies do: enlist an agency to help, spend months and months going back and forth on brand strategy, brainstorming visuals, getting feedback from stakeholders, and refining the ideas down to a core concept that resonated with everyone.

They had settled on a visual identity system they were happy with, at the core of which was a logo the team lovingly referred to as a “chonky Z”. Everything was ready to go.

Then, just two weeks before the rebrand was due to be launched, Putin started a war in Ukraine.

And his followers started using a Z insignia to show their support for the war.

A visually different Z from the chonky Z that was to represent Zapier.

But a Z all the same.

At first it was easy enough for the Zapier team to say to themselves “well, no one is going to think we’re a part of that”. But as the war quickly progressed and the Z insignia became more widespread, the team had to make a choice. Could they really do this?

Michael leaned on peers in the industry for counsel on this difficult choice, and through his network he received this advice from the great Debbie Millman. She said:

"You have no choice. Symbols matter. They have power. That's our whole existence as designers, and if you launch into culture with a Z that's currently being used an oppressive symbol, you've messed up, pretty deeply.”

Michael knew what they had to do.

And when company leadership realised the impact that taking on this symbol would have, they were convinced too.

Of an upcoming company retreat (the first time the whole team would be together since the pandemic started) Michael said:

"What's gonna happen if everyone shows up in the airport wearing giant Z's on their chest and there's hundreds of people? What's that gonna look like? And that just for everyone was like, "Oh, yeah, we can't do that," so we killed it. We killed the Z.”

Making that choice meant scrapping all of the hard work the team had been doing for many months.

At first, company leadership asked Michael if he could “just swap out the symbol”. But doing so would pin Michael in to the typeface and style choices that had been made specifically to counterbalance a chonky Z, which would ultimately weaken the system.

Michael asked:

"Can you just completely give me a blank canvas again? I won't waste money or time. I'll be responsible. But I need a blank canvas to be able to fix this problem.”

He asked them for three weeks to come up with a new solution.

Then he hit the ground running and, alongside a talented and hella resilient team, they freaking made it happen.

To hear all the details of how they made a completely new visual identity system in such a compressed timeframe, go listen to the Zapier episode of Inside Marketing Design.

You’ll not only get to hear this full story from Michael himself (and he’s an excellent storyteller) but also learn about the changes they had to make to the design process to fit it in on this timeline, the internal advocacy work Michael does, and many other pieces of wisdom about brand and beauty.

Find it in your favorite podcast app, or watch it on YouTube here.

video preview

This is probably my favorite episode of the show that I’ve ever produced. So I do hope you check it out. Here’s that one listener had to say about it:

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This issue of the Dispatch was written outside on my terrace as it’s finally cool enough to sit outside in the mornings here 😍

Hope you have a great week ahead,

Enjoy this issue? Click the heart to let me know!


Marketing Design Dispatch

by Charli Marie

Join 17,000+ creatives receiving insider insights about brand and marketing design – featuring landing page and rebrand breakdowns, useful career content, and a behind-the-scenes look at running a Brand Studio team in tech.

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