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In this episode ECD Liz Gilmore takes us through the Brand Studio team structure at Dropbox and shares details on how she got buy-in from leadership and the team itself to restructure and implement a refined brand identity system to streamline things for Dropbox's next phase of growth.
0:00 - A little about Dropbox
1:55 - The 'end-to-end' approach to brand at Dropbox
4:00 - Brand studio team structure
10:15 - Getting buy-in for a team structure change
14:15 - The work involved in See, Buy, Use
17:45 - Collaboration with Marketing on the homepage
23:50 - A product strategy approach to a website
25:25 - The design and development process for the homepage
30:20 - Experimentation and optimisation
32:25 - Making a visual identity system flexible
35:00 - Working with agencies
37:20 - Metrics of success
44:00 - Project management at Dropbox
47:00 - What's next for Brand Studio
52:00 - Takeaways
Welcome back to Inside Marketing design. I'm your host, Charli Marie. I'm the creative director at ConvertKit. And on this show, I get to talk to my brand and marketing design peers and learn about how they get their work done at their tech companies. I am super excited about today's episode because I'm speaking with Liz Gilmore, who is the executive creative director at Dropbox. Now, I'm sure that you've all heard of Dropbox, but on the off chance that you haven't, their main product is a cloud storage and file organization system. And it's one that I've used myself for many, many years. They were founded in 2007 as like a scrappy startup, and now they are a publicly traded company with like an $11 billion market cap. So in this episode, you're gonna get fantastic insights into some changes they've made in recent years to the brand design team structure to better suit, you know, a company at this level. Before we get into it, though, let me tell you about our season sponsor Webflow and why I've also been using their product for many years. Webflow is a no-code website building tool. And honestly, my favorite part about it is how powerful I feel when I set up an interaction in Webflow. When I used to code websites by hand, I guess I'll call it, I could never get things to move how I wanted to because I didn't have deep enough code knowledge to know how to make that happen. But in Webflow you can set up animations and interactions on a timeline. So it's just much easier for me to bring all my motion ideas that I have for a website to life. So if you too are looking for an easier way to add life to your website designs, check it out for yourself at InsideMarketingDesign.co/webflow.
But now let's get into it and take a look inside marketing design at Dropbox. Welcome to the show, Liz. I am super excited to dig into this because I think the approach you've taken with Dropbox brand and with how you've structured the team is super interesting. People are gonna learn a lot from it. So welcome to the show.
Liz: Happy to be here, Charlie.
Charli: Let's start by talking about the Dropbox brand itself. How would you describe it as it is now?
Liz: If we zoom out a little bit, you know, Dropbox, you know, being on the brand team there, you know, we're really lucky as a creative team because Dropbox has a pretty high global brand awareness, about 64% globally, and a relatively high CSAT score of like over 70%. So brand at Dropbox is really important, as well as like critical to the business. And we really approach, you know, our brand, first and foremost, end to end, which I'll speak a lot on throughout this, but, you know, and we also believe that you can only really truly unlock, not only the power, but also sort of the impact and reach of a brand through that end-to-end consistency. So really thinking holistically. I wanted to take a pause just to clarify what I mean by end to end-
Liz: because that means a lot of things to a lot of people. When we think about end to end, it's really a customer-centric way to approach the expression of our brand. So it really should be providing a cohesive, consistent, and thoughtful experience for our customers from the first exposure to the brand and to how they learn and evaluate it and buy it, all the way to how they use the product and even return to it. We believe that a user-centric, flexible, but also opinionated brand and identity system is a really key part in upholding that integrity. So, you know, we really think of it through the full customer journey and really not individual surfaces, but many interconnected surfaces for brand expression. In fact, you know, our user research done maybe a couple of years ago now showed that an inconsistent or fragmented brand experience for a customer can really erode user trust. And as you know, we have really high brand equity and awareness, and we would never wanna erode that trust with ideally a solvable solution, with a stronger system.
Charli: Yeah. And so what I think is amazing is like, first of all, everything you're saying, I'm sure everyone is nodding along. It's like, "Yeah, this makes sense. You want the brand to be consistent." But where I feel like you've gone a step further at Dropbox is not just, you know, focusing on the work of this as a brand, making sure that you're covering all the points, you've structured the team around this as well. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Liz: Yeah, absolutely. So early of last year we took an opportunity to really restructure our design team. So we have this new identity system that was, we really used this framework of end to end. So, you know, how we see things out in the world, how we buy our products, and how we use them. So we created a system that really thought about this holistic journey. So naturally we wanted to also reflect our team structure and how we work to really mimic that methodology. That also gives us really good touchpoints to the entire organization as well, and ensures that all surfaces are really being accounted for when we think about the creative that we're putting out into the world. So within my team, I have, you know, I'm sort of the executive creative director on the team, I have a layer of associate creative directors that really look over at those different work streams and then sort of me as an umbrella to make sure that it's consistent across all of those. So we use a framework called see, buy, use, which is kind of a user-first way of orienting ourselves within the brand. So, you know, see is usually our louder, more brand-forward marketing and advertising moments, by is primarily our website, our purchase journey, how people sort of educate, consider, evaluate, and buy our products, and then obviously like onboarding into the product and how we use. So we sort of divide our team into leads that are domain experts within see, buy, and use. And then our designers are actually fluid. So, you know, while they have a domain expert as maybe their direct manager, you know, their skillsets for their own personal growth need to be pushed by trying out different surfaces and sort of expanding their skills. So sort of the redesign of our design team, yes, mapped to the structure of our business, but what's great is it'll also map to growth development for our team. So it was a very people-and-business-first approach to how we could better situate the impact of our team.
Charli: Isn't it nice when both of those things can come together and we can serve both of those parts?
Liz: Absolutely. And it's also great to make those decisions around, you know, team development, not just based off of the business, but something that really complimented the desire of the individual designers on the team too.
Charli: So let's talk about how many people are on this team then. So there's you as the ECD and then how many associate creative directors and then how many designers as well?
Liz: So to zoom out just a little bit, so Brand Studio, so at Dropbox, design in general is centralized. So all design from product design to brand to even design strategy, to design operations, design research, content design, that's all centralized under a VP of design. Which is awesome. We're all centralized. We all speak the same language. It allows us to be much more connected to each other. And then within sort of the really large, you know, design organization is a team of horizontal functions, which is really an important nuance because a lot of the rest of the design team is a little more embedded with certain products, whereas there's a pretty large group of disciplines like strategy, operations, research, and brand, as well as many others, that are a little more horizontal. So Brand Studio is, you know, is nested right in there. And then within my team, you know, I have four associate creative directors that report directly into me and then they lead designers. So in total, the design team at Brand Studio is about 20-ish people. And those disciplines range from illustrators to web designers to design systems designers. So we have a really great sort of range of skillset and perspective that contributes to the work. It's important to note that I oversee sort of design, but we also have strategy, writing, and production. And there are other leads for those, but we all are very interconnected obviously.
Charli: And so that strategy, writing, production, is that a horizontal, you know, within the design team where they might work on brand, they might work on product stuff, or are you talking about a group of people who are really serving the brand?
Liz: So within Brand Studio, I would say it's serving the brand. We have content designers that actually do the writing within the product.
Charli: Gotcha. Yep.
Liz: Writing is a little decentralized, but it makes sense for the specific channels. But anything within Brand Studio is mainly focused on brand.
Charli: Nice. And what about research? 'Cause you mentioned that as another horizontal part. Does that mean that you get to work with people in that research team to do research on the brand side, like maybe user research on the website, things like that?
Liz: Absolutely. And I feel very fortunate to have a very mature and talented research team here at Dropbox because, you know, in some of my other, you know, jobs or roles, research has been a really scarce resource or it has to be outsourced. We actually have a lot of amazing in-house research teams that really, really give us the important information in order to really have an impact. So from a brand perspective, absolutely. We work with sort of our, you know, our market research and insights team over in sort of the research and insights team over in design research. When we were working on the entire sort of new identity system, a lot of the strategy behind that was pulled from some research, as well as things that are a little more boots on the ground. So when we're, you know, redesigning the homepage, we're gonna use a lot of user testing and hypothesis around sort of what the best output is. And we can get into that as well, but we have a multi-phase research approach before we even start to get into actually creative execution. So it's a really informed and holistic approach to design that I have such a great appreciation for being at Dropbox.
Charli: That's amazing. So this team structure, the see, buy, use, that you have, like, I mean, to me, it's pretty new. Like I haven't heard from anyone else who has structured the design team in this way. How was it getting buy-in from Dropbox as a company for this to be the way that you structured the team? Is there anything you can share about how you advocated for this internally?
Liz: Well, luckily, a lot of the sort of see, buy, use framework was introduced a year before we actually restructured the team.
Charli: Mm. So it was a slow, you know, so sneakily got it in there. I like it.
Liz: Yeah. Language and approach. Leadership had already knew that there was a lot of value in approaching our brand that way. That was, like I said, a common term that we use at the company. What we found is that, you know, within see, buy, and use, there's pretty clear key partners within each vertical as well. So across the organization, also sort of organizing the team this way gave our cross-functional partners really clear sort of partners to work with across advertising, across the web, and across the product. So it also was mutually beneficial, you know, as far as efficiency and, you know, a point of contact for the rest of the organization too. I'd say the biggest challenge in sort of a reorg of a team, not so much at a company level, but more like an internal team level. When I joined the team, sort of the previous structure had been around for a really long time. We started to see a lot of silos in our previous structure. Again, not really thinking like how all of these touchpoints are interconnected. They're just, you know, really focused on these silos. As well as the rest of the organization. I mean, that's just an organization. So this also really benefited the work, but was definitely a different mental model for the design team that they also needed to transition, they also needed to understand that their work is much more strategic and holistic and cohesive than maybe they had visibility to before. So they also can have, ideally, have a very clear connection to how they're bringing value and impact to actual business goals with sort of this restructure. So I would say, that's your question, I would say the harder buy-in was actually the design team, not so much leadership.
Charli: And how did you get them on board? 'Cause I'm assuming now everyone is like, "This is great. I totally get why Liz wanted us to do this."
Liz: A lot of communication, a lot of documentation around sort of roles and responsibilities, and honestly, a lot of, what do they call it, you know, building the plane as we fly it. I'll be the first to admit, there's definitely some holes and flaws or maybe opportunities in the structure that, now that we've been doing it for almost a year, we're definitely seeing, oh, like this one thing doesn't perfectly fit in this. And like, how do we approach this? And I think that's a lot of building the plane as we fly it, but at the same time, it gives a lot of opportunities to the design team and the designers to also step up, you know, lean in and step up as a leader to find some of these opportunities that we might be able to solve for. And another one of the goals in this restructure was we were a bit triangley in sort of our approvals and our creative.
Liz: One of my, a really, really important goal was to promote from within to elevate the institutional knowledge of the design team that has been here for like a really long time and really uplift them. So I'd like to think maybe we used to be a triangle or a pyramid, now we're more of like a mesa where we're trying to really empower the designers within our team and kind of, you know, spread the sphere of influence and give more empowerment and influence and impact, not just for me, but for the entire team.
Charli: And I'm sure that this idea of, you know, building the plane as it's flying brings everyone along in the process, right? So they feel like, "Okay, this is a big change, but I'm also having a hand in like how this change comes to life. So like, this is mine too." Which is much better than it being dictated to you, you know?
Liz: Like I said, one of the reasons in this restructure was, yes, for the business, but also for the people. So this gives people much, ideally, much clearer career trajectory, growth opportunities, like, you know, really setting expectations for like how to move forward or laterally or just get really good at what they're doing now.
Charli: Yeah, I love that. Let's talk about the different, like, scopes of work, I guess, that fall in the see, buy, use. And then I know we have HelloSign as well at Dropbox.
Liz: We do. And we have DocSend.
Charli: And DocSend too. Okay. So is there an ACD feature of those as well?
Liz: Yes there is. So for HelloSign has, well, let's maybe go to the beginning. So when we think about see, or I like to call marketing and advertising, those are really like, you know, sort of their charter is, you know, consistently show up in culture in the world at large. So that's a lot of advertising, that's a lot of marketing, you know, that's a lot of like really pushing the brand forward. So the way that we think the brand in relation to that is like that's gonna be you're much more brand-forward moments, a lot more colorful, a little more experimental. We really rely on a lot of our advertising to expand the contours of our brand and help us evolve it because they're constantly uncovering new ways to play with our toolkit. Within web or sort of buy is primarily all of our websites. Plural. We have a lot of websites. We don't just have dropbox.com. We have a lot of other different interconnected surfaces. And then, so, you know, a lot of our web designers or interactive designers, sort of that's their wheelhouse.
Liz: And then, interestingly, we also have an entire team dedicated to our brand and product, which is a very unique role and specialized role for our team. Usually they have a product design background or they map to a product design role, but they really index high on visual design as a product designer. So having a lot of that design systems thinking that's essential to product design and scaling a system, but also with sort of the art direction and visual eye for understanding how to bring in key brand elements into the product. In my past, there's always been a really big disconnect between a marketing website and the product usually because of org structures or just like siloing. And that's a pretty glaring gap for a user when they experienced this really beautiful and like, you know, storytelling and like a lot of graphic elements when they go to a website, and then they log into the product and it's not the same colors or the same type face. You're like, "Wait, where did I go?" So that's like a really important part of the user journey for Dropbox as brand.
Charli: And those people, the designers who work on that, sit within the brand team, but they have that product experience.
Liz: Yeah, they're actually, I think, half of that, well, the lead for that team, or the ACD, is a product designer, but she does report into me.
Charli: Yeah, that's amazing.
Liz: So she's still within our team, but she definitely indexes higher or has skills within product design that really kind of give that superpower for that particular sort of vertical. And then like you mentioned, we also have our acquisitions. So we sort of, you know, we have HelloSign and we have DocSend and who knows who else we'll have eventually. So right now we have an ACD that's focused on HelloSign. HelloSign has been part of Dropbox for a couple years now. So they're much more mature and their integration with Dropbox, with the organization, and with the brand. So we have a dedicated ACD for that who's fantastic and amazing because we're sort of in that transition with them. I'll let you know about the other acquisitions when we get there.
Charli: Sounds good. And also for anyone listening, stay tuned because next week's episode is actually featuring Bernice who is the ACD on the HelloSign side. So there we go. You're gonna get to hear a continuation and hear about it from her side next week. Cool. And I'm guessing that the see side of things with all the advertising that they work super closely with marketing. Probably closest out of all of the brand designers on team.
Liz: Yes, they work very closely with marketing and brand marketing. So the difference is that brand marketing is measured off of awareness, not necessarily product adoption. And then marketing is a little more focused on like integrated marketing and product marketing. So high level, brand marketing focuses on the super high level top of funnel awareness, and then ideally we have an interlock with the rest of the marketing team that pulls that same messaging and targeting all the way down to specific products. And yes, they are huge stakeholders for our advertising. But I will say that marketing at Dropbox has a lot of ownership over our website. So marketing is a really, really critical partner and approver of a lot of our web work as well.
Charli: Actually, that's what I wanted to talk about. So maybe we can go there next. A website or like a new landing page or something like that that happens at Dropbox, where does that start from? Like, how does it come to life that everyone decides this is a thing we need to work on? Does it come from marketing? Is that brand saying, "We need to work on this. This page is old." How does it start?
Liz: Yeah, well, let's use the use case of a pretty highly visible surface, which is dropbox.com.
Liz: A homepage, obviously. Brand Studio will typically get briefs from internal clients, right? That could be marketing, that could be growth, that could be recruiting. So we essentially get a brief. So this brief was from marketing. Our previous homepage didn't tell you why to choose Dropbox. It talked about really high level like messaging that really didn't say anything about what Dropbox is. So we didn't get a lot of like conversions to trials or sort of sign-ups in general. People were often really confused by the homepage. It was outdated messaging, very sort of abstract visuals, and we didn't get a lot of really great performance from it. So marketing was like, "Hey, you know, we wanna take this as an opportunity to really answer the question 'Why Dropbox,' right, in order to increase conversions, comprehension, and sign up." So they were the requesters for that.
Liz: The process for this, interestingly, this is just one homepage, was not just the design of it, but also the strategy. We really wanted to think about what's a better strategy for this? Kind of going from like a previous strategy that was like really high level to something that was a little more focused on the jobs to be done. So that was a big shift in not only the visual design, but also the strategic positioning, the copywriting, sort of the approach for how we can transform the homepage into more of a traffic circle, whereas previously it was just like a dead end. We wanted to really leverage that homepage as a way to get people to the right plan and the right offering for them. So because this wasn't just a design exercise, this project actually took a year, which was weird for maybe just like a design-centric project. Oh, like we're just like redesigning the homepage. That's what's great about working at Dropbox in a highly cross-functional is that that team was made up of marketing, writers, design research, engineering, product design, and obviously brand design. Very cross-functional team. Seemingly large, but really tight. This was a multi-phased project that actually started with research.
Charli: Right. I was gonna ask about that.
Liz: Yep, worked with an amazing design researcher to just sort of bring in initial insights on like helping to sort of really frame the problem. And then once we kind of had our hypothesis around it, we not only did international, but we did international testing, as well as testing specific to visuals, testing specific to messaging. We did another round after we got those learnings. So it was really, really iterative. I think we had about three or four phases of research before we even really moved with like kind of medium to lo-fi prototypes that we then put in front of users. We did qualitative research with actually asking people sort of what they were thinking with actual customers that was really, really beneficial to our outcome. So again, it was very highly cross-functional. And with anything on the web, it was also phased. So it wasn't gonna do 100%, you know, GA.
Charli: Everyone sees the new homepage straightaway.
Liz: Right. So then we also had to work with our product partners to make sure we were gating it appropriately. Our goal was do no harm metrics. So we just didn't wanna decrease anything, which it definitely passed. And now, I think, right now, if you go into the logged out dropbox.com, you will see that design. But what's great as sort of a creative director for my team is that within brand, I think, I'm really generalizing this, but I think, you know, people that don't understand brand design think, "Oh, you're just like gonna make it look pretty or like, you know, add some stuff." We really see design at Dropbox as like a strategic lever to be pulled. So we really wanted to root our decision-making not in our, you know, personal aesthetics or what we think is right, but in actual data and, again, customer-centric insights. And that just makes the work so much more valuable, so much more impactful, and also allows our team to be strategic partners with the rest of our team, where instead of just designers that execute on a different sort of solution, right? So positioning our team as more strategic partners is a really important, I guess, task that I'm working on, not only this year, but also into the rest of next year, obviously leveraging sort of our new structure and everything.
Charli: Yeah, because we don't wanna, as designers, just do exactly what's asked, exactly what comes in the brief. We wanna be strategic about it and first ask, is this the right problem we're solving? And is this approach that someone has outlined the best way to go about it? I love that you did so much though, over the research beforehand.
Liz: That was new for me, actually. I wasn't used to that. I'm like, "Oh yeah, like a homepage。 Cool. Ship it." But this really let us do it the right way. I mean, really, it's kind of like a product strategy approach, right? Where you have a hypothesis or you like, you know, you identify the problem, you come up with a hypothesis, you test that hypothesis, then you figure out your solutions. That is definitely a product strategy approach to creative is very different than a brand design team is used to. But that is also something that's really important at Dropbox, that we get our team thinking more, you know, our website is a product. Yes, it's, you know, a URL, but like, it should also be thought of as a product. So that's a bit of a learning curve for our team to not just jump directly into solutions, to really take a step back, understand the strategy, understand the problem. Like if you can't tell me what the problem is, I don't wanna see designs. And that's just like, you know, that's growth development for our designers, as well as our team. Like it just, it's gonna enable us to have a lot more muscle when we think about the greater organization.
Charli: And how do you decide? You mentioned like knowing this is a high-impact project, so we're gonna take this cross-functional approach. How do you decide when you are gonna take the time to do all this research versus something where you might be like, "Well, if we do a bunch of research on this, maybe our time could be better spent elsewhere, so we're just gonna go ahead."
Liz: Money. Money. The home page is obviously a highly important revenue-driving surface that wrong decision-making can really affect money. And so we have to get it right. So I would say that's probably from my perspective one of the main driving forces in a lot of that. That's also sort of how they prioritize bringing in a more cross-functional TPM.
Charli: That makes sense. Let's talk about the design phase, then, of the homepage. How many designers were working on the design of this page?
Liz: It was a lean team. So I would say the two maybe design leads were a growth product designer, obviously revenue-driving page, a lead brand and visual designer, as well as maybe two other supporting designers that worked on the assets. So the illustrations and the photos and sort of the UI that we showed. So it was actually a really lean team. This project has the history of being like a really successful project, I think, because the team was lean. When you get to large companies like Dropbox, it's very easy to have like 17 people on a project. And I think what was really a shining star on this project is we kept it lean, we were really, really, really close, we met very, very frequently, and we all were, because we did this phased approach, we always knew what we were doing, we knew the problem we were solving, we always had access to all the same information. So really, I would say about two designers. In the research, sort of the research phases before we actually went into like final designs, we were doing a lot of prototyping. We provided Figma prototypes for all of our user research. They probably could have been more lo-fi, but we're brand designers so.
Charli: We can't help ourselves sometimes, can we?
Liz: We can't. I would say at the very, very beginning they were a little more lo-fi, but then as we iterated through those phases, it definitely got a little more hi-fi. And I would say what we prototyped was very similar to what we ended up developing with our engineering teams. And our engineers were involved also throughout the entire process, you know, making sure that what we were proposing was feasible technically, and also worked within their existing dev ecosystem. So it was a really collaborative approach.
Charli: Speaking of engineering, yeah, how does that work, the collaboration with developers? What team are they on, and what's the relationship like?
Liz: Right, so engineering, obviously, at Dropbox is on the engineering team. So engineers are part of, you know, larger projects like this one. So the partnership there is important because engineering really roadmaps a particular way. So that was a learning for me. It's like, "Okay, we need to make sure to get them involved early and often because if something is gonna have a larger end lift, I wanna make sure we have commitment from their team to actually do it." And full transparency, there was trade-offs. There were some sort of interactive elements that we really wanted to do to make it a little more engaging, but, you know, had to sort of be deprioritized just because of, you know, their priorities and what they were already working on. But that's a good thing, right? It's push and pull, and we also create much better relationships with them when we are a little more open-minded and collaborative.
Charli: Yeah. And of the engineers who work on like building out the dropbox.com and other sites, do they also work on Dropbox the product or are they just front-end on the websites?
Liz: The latter, what you just said. So obviously, as you can imagine, engineering has a whole big structure to it too. The developers we mainly worked with are actually part of our, sort of our foundational team that works on web systems. So we at Dropbox, we work on a design system on the web. Our website is on the platform of AEM. So we use like a lot of, you know, kind of like your atomic structure of design systems. We have our own system component library. We have, like, our token system, which is fun because that has a lot of parity with our design system within the product. So we have two systems, logged out and logged in. While they are definitely slightly different because there's different needs, they also have a lot of consistency between the two of them at the global layer. A lot of the eng, a lot of sort of the technical pipelines and thinking behind that has parity with each other. Again, kind of going back to that consistent experience end to end. So a lot of the work we'll do on the website has to be supported by that web system. And if there's anything that new we need to create, we have to collaborate with the eng team to create that. They don't wanna create one-off components if it's never gonna be used again because that's like-
Charli: Fair enough.
Liz: against their design system. So it definitely pushes on a brand designer that doesn't have a lot of design systems thinking to think really more critically about sort of the work that they wanna show.
Charli: This is a perfect example. Everything you're saying here is something I've heard from other designers that I've spoken to as part of the series, is how much value there is in thinking about your marketing website as a product, not just in terms of like, you know, doing the research behind it, thinking of the goals behind it, but the systems behind it as well. This is just yet another example of that.
Liz: Yeah, I mean, the website is a product. And I've never been at a company before that thought about the website as a product, but at Dropbox we experiment on the website, like, constantly,
Charli: I wanna hear more about that.
Liz: I am not the pro in experimentation, but we do a lot of experimentation and optimization. All the ization words. And that really has to be thought about as a product.
Liz: That is not my wheelhouse, that is our growth partners, but I'm learning something every day about sort of new ways to approach creative.
Charli: Yeah, and so for those, I guess the growth partners would determine what tests they wanna run, and then they would work with you and the brand designers to like, you know, design what's needed for those tests to make it run.
Liz: You hit the nail on the head. Yeah. Sometimes, you know, if we're doing some experimentation or we wanna test new things, brand can own it, or we can consult on it with another growth product designer. Some things like they wanna test different visuals. Obviously that would, you know, come to our team. Other times they wanna do more experimentation around, you know, higher engagement on pages, and we'll always consult and help. I tell people I really see, you know, growth product designers, kind of acquisition designers and brand designers as different arms of the same body. You know, while we're organizationally sort of a little separate, I really see that as, you know, the one, two, punch. You know, it's like we really are solving the same problem, but we just index and we have strengths in different areas. And the homepage project was actually a perfect example of a symbiotic relationship between product design and brand design that I felt like, you know, each sort of designer understood their skill gaps and let the other designers sort of lean in. And it was a really beautiful kind of like harmonious collaboration there.
Charli: Cool. Yeah. I'm a big fan of running tests and like, you know, learning about the marketing site and finding ways to improve it. So that's why I had to ask about that one. And the use side of what you do is a great example of why it's so important to involve brand and product more, right? Just how we're talking about why it's important to think of your brand and your marketing website as a product, it's also super important to bring brand into the product too.
Liz: You know, again, with our system, the brand and the product is very different than the brand and advertising and the brand and the web. And we wanted to create a system that allowed us to turn up and down our elements at different degrees based off of sort of that channel. You know, within the product, obviously like content is king. The utility of the product. Like we've already wooed you. We've already brought you in with like bold colors and like, you know, all of this kind of like more brand-forward work. And now like, "Hey, we got ya." You know, like you understand our brand, you understand where we're coming from. And we wanna make sure that those moments of magic and those moments where the brand voice might be a little louder is done appropriately within the product.
Charli: And I think it's about turning it up and down, right, the volume, like you said, rather than having everything look the same because there's still ways that things can feel consistent without actually looking the same.
Liz: Which is why, you know, a company's visual identity system needs to be flexible, but also recognizable, which is an interesting tension.
Charli: And that's one that I know that, yeah, you've thought a lot about with implementing the new Dropbox brand system and identity.
Liz: It kind of comes in conflict. It's like, okay, you want a like really flexible brand that can work across all these touchpoints, but hey, you have to, like, what is that connective tissue? Like, how do you still create enough connective tissue that it's recognizable? That's like kind of a constant little bit of a tension that, as a brand team, we have to make sure we strike the right balance with.
Charli: And what are some of the ways that you've done this for the Dropbox brand? If you can call out like an example or two of that.
Liz: Of things that are sort of that connective tissue? Oh, I'd be happy to chat with you about that. We call that our global layer. Obviously global. So those are things like typography, color tokens, illustration, photography, voice and tone, overarching design strategy. So those we find at Dropbox are global elements. So no matter the surface or the team or even the audience, those things we hold to be true and consistent, no matter what. So obviously our illustration system, no matter if you see an illustration in our advertising, our web on our product, it's the same illustration style. That was not the case previously.
Liz: Similar to colors, you know, that's obvious. Like we should all align on the same colors we're using and the same type we're using. So there are definitely some global elements that are fixed, but then there are elements outside of that that definitely are more specific to the individual channels and touchpoints.
Charli: Like components themselves, for example. Like maybe a card on the website might look a little different to a card in the app 'cause they've got different needs there. But if they're the same color, it still works.
Liz: And, you know, an interesting little transition is that's also been an interesting approach for our agencies and vendors too. So we'll onboard all of our agencies to our guidelines and sort of, you know, go through, you know, the spiel on the importance of consistency, but Dropbox will often leverage agencies because they're domain experts. So we're actually currently trying to figure out, like, what do we want to remain fixed and flexible for agencies? This is kind of like a new challenge that we're trying to solve for right now as a team, is that like, hey, we're not gonna even do everything in house all the time, so how do we actually take all of our institutional knowledge about the nuances of the system and really translate it effectively to our agencies, while at the same time allowing our agencies who we trust to actually expand our system, right? Like I like to think that we never break our system, we just expand and evolve on it. And our agencies are actually really key partners in doing that for us 'cause they're gonna see a lot of blind spots. So we're currently trying to figure out a better way of sort of formalizing our approach with agencies, creating that sandbox with a constraint, but also allowing them to do their best work within sort of those constraints.
Charli: And what are some of the sort of things that you would decide to work with an agency on?
Liz: Yeah. So while within the Brand Studio, we're like 20 plus people, we're still a pretty lean-ish team.
Charli: Compared to the overall size of Dropbox, yeah.
Liz: Yes. Which means we can't always do all of the work in-house. So we frequently rely on agencies for a lot of video production. A lot of video or sort of, you know, informational videos, narrative videos, hero videos, just 'cause we don't have the production arm in-house. We always have sort of an ACD or myself reviewing that work and also uncovering new opportunities for our brand that we hadn't thought of. Obviously, a lot of our campaign work. So we just shipped an amazing new brand campaign, oh man, a couple of months or so. We had a really unique relationship with the agency in that we were embedded. So I had about three or four designers actually embedded with the agency doing that work, which was fantastic, a great experience for everybody, and just made really high-caliber work. But again, when it comes to, you know, campaign work, all the production involved, all the concepts, you know, we couldn't do that alone.
Charli: Something else you mentioned earlier on in talking about the, like, the website and what the goal of it was was to do no harm. And that got me thinking about metrics, metrics for success. I'd love to know maybe first off, how is your success measured as a brand team? Or maybe you as the ECD, what metrics are you held accountable to? What are you looking at and trying to drive? Let's start there.
Liz: My role as sort of the ECD is really to maintain the integrity and the evolution of our visual identity system. Brand is a tough one to define a specific metric to, right?
Charli: It is.
Liz: A lot of our work has a longer tail impact. But very high level, I would say, you know, we're more so held accountable towards metrics around brand awareness, CSAT, conversion, and also just like brand attribute lift. Again, those are all a little squishy too. And we've actually worked recently to hire a lot of new people on the research and insights team that can get us a better signal of some of this stuff. And then when it comes to sort of our website, a lot of those metrics are determined by other teams that we are really consulting and supporting. So obvious things like, you know, increase in GNARR or like click-through rate or like, you know, clicks to conversion. But as far as like what metric are we as a team held accountable to, it's a little bit more high level.
Charli: Yeah, that makes sense. When talking about the web stuff, it's like that is the goal for the project, but it's not necessarily the metric that you are held accountable to as a team.
Liz: Right. I mean, and then I would say just within sort of the Brand Studio team, again, sort of being that, you know, umbrella across everything, we created the visual identity system and developed it last year, and this year we've been focused on implementing it. So a really easy metric is roll out the identity across all surfaces. Get ideally 100%. We're probably not at 100% right now because there's still some like lower or some more deprioritized pages that don't like have the system yet, but we're pretty close. So that's like another more specific brand one. Like that was our sort of SMT or OKR for the year, was to roll out this new system end to end.
Charli: Of course. And that is quite a feature in and of itself.
Liz: It is. I mean, as an aside, it's like, you know, in my career, you know, I've done many rebrands, as probably a lot of people in tech have. Like, I've done a rebrand, like, I've created the guidelines doc, I've been at agencies and you create guidelines, but I will tell you implementing a guidelines doc or whatever that deliverable is has been honestly one of the highlights of my career because I've never, I mean, I'm working with like engineers and getting things implemented and finding owners of things and like, you know, we'll see like that button's the wrong color. Like what team owns that?
Charli: Let's fix it. Yeah.
Liz: Like, because it's not just like, "Hey, you know, here are the guidelines. Do it." There needs to be a lot of evangelism, advocacy, and excitement around doing it. Like, I'm not gonna do something that my non-manager tells me to do. So it's really about getting people excited, having them understand, again, back to the brief, understand why. We were solving a real user problem with this identity. We were eroding user trust, we were limiting product adoption, and we were eliminating awareness of our products. That's a real business problem.
Charli: Yeah. No one can deny that.
Liz: So engineers being like, "Why are we changing the color?" Like, you know, if they're like, "We're changing the colors, like-"
Charli: That doesn't seem important. It's a coat of paint, right?
Liz: Yeah. Or like you wanna update an icon? Like, come on. Like I have like a whole. And I get it. I totally understand. I think I was a little naive too, originally, is like you need to spend a lot of time educating people on the why and also, a new learning the why now? Why is this important now? Like I get it. Okay, cool. I get that, but like why does this need to be done this year? Why does it need to be done this quarter? So it's just, it's the why, but it's the why, it's the why now, and it's also helping them understand how we're gonna do this together. One of the important parts of this sort of rebrand or refresh is that it was not brand-led. It was design-organization-led across design systems, product, growth. You know, if brand was just like, "Hey, let's do this," that's just not the right approach for something this cross-functional. So I've been doing a lot of road shows, a lot of meeting with people, explaining sort of the why, the how. And that's been really enlightening, insightful, and humbling as somebody coming from brand.
Charli: And what are some like, just so I can get some tips from you and I'm sure people listening are like, "Please tell me this too," what did you say to people in response to the why now? How did you convince them that now is the right time and that we do need to do this?
Liz: Well, definitely leaned on some of that user research, right, about a fragmented brand and how it's really affecting our business. But also, you know, Dropbox is a grown-up company now. We have some really ambitious and exciting evolution of our brand and our company going into future years. In order to set ourselves up for this much more complex world for Dropbox, it was essential that we really do some foundational work to really stabilize the identity system. Really the whole goal being around the unification of our brand, our identity system, and how these things show up in product in order to set us up for a much more complex world that we're gonna be entering into in the future. So that's a really, I mean, it's high level, but it's a really easy thing for our product teams and our organization in general to grab on to because the next chapter for Dropbox is exciting and amazing, but a little more complicated. So if we all think a North Star is in a whole bunch of different directions, then our users are gonna be really confused.
Charli: Well, you've convinced me, so great.
Liz: Again, it's really about like evangelizing it 'cause I've done many rebrands where, you know, it looks amazing in advertising and maybe you have like, what, all landing page that reflects that identity and then every, like, because of your org structure, because of silos, you're like, "Okay, cool. That was a great like ad I saw. And then where did it go?"
Charli: Yeah. And then it becomes harder to do that brand recognition with the ad if you see it, but then it doesn't get reflected in the product or on the rest of the site.
Liz: In user research for the identity system, we put a whole bunch of Dropbox in our brand at the time. surfaces in front of our user, and they're like, "I don't know what this is." So.
Liz: Yeah, we have recordings of it. It's crazy.
Charli: Wow, that's amazing. There's a lot of work happening, obviously, at Dropbox. I'm like stating the obvious here. Can you tell me a little bit about how projects get managed? How do designers know what they're working on? When? Is there some sort of tool you'll use to keep on top of this as the team?
Liz: Well, Dropbox we love frameworks. We love everything waterfalling. So we'll definitely, you know, leadership will share with us a company strategy, which is pretty robust, pretty specific. We anchor all of our sort of projects and roadmaps in SMTs, which is strategy metrics tactics, kind of like, okay, just a way to like everybody use the same framework.
Charli: A different acronym. Yeah, yeah. Yeah.
Liz: So then what we'll do is we will create specific SMTs for the design org and then those waterfall down into, you know, brand specific.
Charli: Yeah. And is this an annual basis we're talking about here?
Liz: Yep. So ideally, all of the work for the year should sort of ladder, we wanna make sure that it's laddering up towards obviously company strategy. It's also a great way of how we prioritize work or maybe say no to work. And then on the Brand Studio level, we do a call out for work every quarter. So every quarter we'll be like, well, we literally, our executive producer sends an email out to all of our main stakeholder teams that need, you know, work from us, they put it in, we call it forecasting just to make sure we're resourced properly, and then we'll sort of execute on that work. Really making sure like, "Hey, this project ladders up to a larger strategy for the company, right." And they're like, "Yes." And they're like, "Great, we'll do it." Obviously there's work that is bespoke or, you know, a little more ad hoc, and we also have a percentage of time dedicated to take on that work too.
Charli: So it sounds like everything is planned very far in advance, basically.
Liz: Sort of. Yeah. I mean, you know, there's always instances where things aren't-
Charli: Come up.
Liz: on the plan of record. And then also there are self-initiated projects from our team. You know, while the majority of our work comes from more like clients or requesters, we also have a handful of work as a brand team strategically that we also want to contribute to that will solve sort of a business problem.
Charli: And how do you decide which designer is working on which thing and who sets the deadlines, and where does everyone go to see all of this? What tool do you use?
Liz: We use multiple tools. So we'll use Paper docs.
Charli: Of course.
Liz: We use Jira for tickets. And we also use Ally for much high-level sort of strategy, accountability. I would love there to be a more consolidated tool, to be completely honest, but all teams need to work at sort of different attitudes, and those tools kind of work for them. You know, our executive producer and our production team, they're our main sort of producers for the creative. So most projects always have a producer on them, you know, that sets the project plan, that sets the timeline, that sets the deliverables, and also can sort of manage stakeholder feedback and any friction there to make sure that we're all aligned on the same goal. So they're really helpful in making sure that our team is on track and holding everybody accountable.
Charli: Coming from a very small team, you know, I'm like, I wish that I had a producer who would do all that stuff for us. It sounds really nice.
Liz: I have been at companies that haven't had producers and companies that have had producers, and producers get the work done. Like, I love you producers.
Charli: This is an ode to produces. Yeah. You've been through a lot, obviously a lot of change and a lot of, you know, the team structure, the brand identity, and all of that. What is next for Brand Studio at Dropbox? Maybe like it's a challenge that you face coming up or an area of growth for you. What's next?
Liz: Yeah. I mean, this past year was, you know, really the theme was about stabilization, right? You know, the company changed a lot. We were all obviously virtual first, still sort of in the pandemic. We restructured our team, we implemented a new identity system, still implementing a new design system. So I really see the challenge for next year to start to just stabilize a little bit. It's about a little like, you know, building the plane as we fly it, you know, with a lot of the org changes, you know, company changes and shifts. Like we didn't really have our SMTs until like the second quarter. Like, whereas now we have them now and it's, you know, only November. So I think the biggest challenges for the team are just settling into sort of the new structure of things, collecting feedback on what is and isn't working to try to like, you know, think about it as like a product. Like I wanna iterate on it. Like I had a hypothesis, I executed on it, now let's see how we can change it.
Charli: I love it.
Liz: For the team. And also just making sure team health is a priority for me. You know, we've had two years of a really traumatic, you know, pandemic. I wanna make sure the team still feels like they're growing, that they have a place on the team, and that management is really on top of all of their reports, including myself. And then as a company, I've mentioned it before, but like Dropbox is moving into a complicated new future. So I think that's gonna be one of the bigger challenges for the Brand Studio, is being able to expand and evolve to the changes of Dropbox as a company, which is really ambiguous right now. And I think that's always challenging for anyone when they're not quite sure where things are going, but they know things are gonna be changing. And Dropbox is growing up. You know, we're not a teenager anymore. We're not like, you know, in a garage somewhere in Silicon Valley. Like we're, you know, we're like adults, we're a public company. We have a really great market opportunity. So I'm excited for the changes that are gonna come.
Charli: I was just gonna ask that as my next question to end off, is what are you excited for? And it sounds like it's actually to tackle all these challenges that you just talked about.
Liz: Yeah. I mean, one of the big things I'm excited for is applying, I mean, continuing to apply this identity system in a, like, you know, at 100% in a real way, and also evolving it. We're already hitting limitations of our system with, you know, applying to certain use cases or certain like constraints. I'm really excited to expand and evolve that system because if it doesn't work really for everybody that uses it, then it's not successful.
Charli: Yeah. And then that's when people go off and do their own thing or things start to get less consistent. Yeah. I hear that completely. And from your time at Dropbox, what are you most proud of?
Liz: I'm gonna say two things.
Charli: Okay. Will allow.
Liz: The first one is the development of our visual identity system, which, again, like I mentioned before, was not brand-led. It was highly cross-functional and collaborative across brand, product, eng, design systems. So again, we were creating the system that really could work for everyone, not just from a brand perspective. And that's the whole end-to-end approach worked on the development of the identity, getting influence and reach with leadership. And obviously I've now sort of pulled that down into how we structure our team. We also work with an agency on the development of the system, but we were also embedded. See a theme here that works really well when you embed with agencies and was critical in that evangelism that I mentioned. Like it wasn't like, hey, an agency did a thing and had no context on Dropbox whatsoever, and then chucked it over the fence. We were involved. There was a really healthy tension and friction with the agency to be like, "Okay, well, you know, at Dropbox this is how we think about things. Like how can we mind-meld with your expert outside opinion to make really what feels the most authentic to Dropbox." And then the second thing I'm proud of is, and I mentioned this earlier, we launched a really big brand awareness campaign a couple months ago. We had a pretty large out-of-home buy across LA, Austin, New York, and San Francisco that really showcased that new system and the power of it. Focused on real customers. We had a big lineup of real customers from Chaz Bear, from Toro y Moi to real-life customers that use Dropbox to like remember their past, you know, family. So it was amazing to put customers as the hero to our stories that felt much more authentic, directly related to the value of the product, and kind of tweaked the narrative around Dropbox being, you know, more than just store. Like, you know, we want you to see Dropbox as a place for things of worth and value. Implementing that narrative out into the world just gave us much richer storytelling, really, really indexed on the beautiful design language from the identity system. Obviously, when you get to do campaigns and billboards, like you just have like the beautiful palette for it.
Charli: Yeah, it's super fun. Yeah.
Liz: So I was just really excited about the stories we were telling from real customers and how we really leveraged our design system to bring those to life.
Charli: I love that. Well, thank you so much, Liz, for everything you've shared. This was a super detailed and deep insights, which is exactly what I like to do on the show.
Liz: Yeah, it was my pleasure. This is so much fun.
Charli: Now, I don't know about you, but I learned so much in this episode from Liz and her end-to-end brand approach. This is definitely something I wanna bring into my work at ConvertKit. I would love to hear your takeaways from this episode in the comments. What stood out to you? What did it make you think of? What are you gonna try to do differently in your process as a result? Leave it in the comments or feel free to tag me on Twitter and Instagram with your thoughts. I am @charliprangley on both. And by the way, did you know the episodes of the show are available in both video and audio form? I heard from someone the other day who had been listening to the show in their podcast feed and they were like, "What? There's a video too?" So yeah. Now you know. You can get both the video and the audio, as well as the transcript actually if you do feel like reading the episode. Get them all at InsideMarketingDesign.co. We have quite the library now of episodes featuring awesome companies. Thanks for listening or watching this episode. Thanks to Webflow for sponsoring the season, helping me pay for my editing and my append costs for the show. Coming up next, we'll be digging into HelloSign, which is a company Dropbox acquired a few years ago. So you'll get to learn more about that and how they fit into the wider Dropbox brand team next week. I'll see you then. Bye.
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