S3 • E4 – Oct 12, 2022

Inside Marketing Design at Zapier

with Creative Director Michael Jeter

with Creative Directors Michael Jeter and

with Creative Director Michael Jeter and

In this episode, Michael Jeter, Creative Director at Zapier, talks with Charli about Zapier’s recent rebrand and some surprising challenges they faced throughout the process. Michael is a fantastic storyteller, and he digs into his ideas about the philosophy behind design and how to communicate its true value. From the use of data and user research to process techniques and effectively managing a team, Michael shares so many valuable insights. You don’t want to miss this one! Zapier is an automation platform that helps you connect different apps to each other without code.


  • 02:23 - Michael’s responsibilities as Creative Director
  • 03:30 - Zapier’s Brand Studio team
  • 05:59 - How to maintain consistency between Brand and Product
  • 06:49 - How a fully remote design team stays connected
  • 08:43 - Zapier’s recent rebrand
  • 16:32 - The red cord
  • 21:02 - Rebranding a rebrand
  • 32:56 - When processes need to adapt
  • 38:20 - Handling the emotional side of a rebrand
  • 42:21 - Redesigning the Zapier homepage
  • 44:57 - Getting buy-in on change and dealing with “design baggage”
  • 48:54 - Connecting the product to the homepage
  • 51:11 - Why quality and impact must be the same for design
  • 58:13 - Challenges the Zapier team is currently facing
  • 65:15 - What Michael is most proud of


Welcome back to Inside Marketing Design, the show where we nerd out about brand and marketing design processes. I'm your host, Charli Marie. I'm a creative director in tech, and I just have to say, I learned so much from my conversation with today's guest. In this episode, I'm speaking with Michael Jeter about his work as creative director at Zapier. Particularly, we talked about their recent rebrand and some very surprising challenges that they faced with it. 

If you haven't heard of Zapier before, it's an automation platform that helps you to connect different apps to each other without having to code a single thing. I use it to automate parts of my business, as well as in my work at ConvertKit, and as a Zapier user, it was really cool to hear about the way that user research and the ways people use the product factored into the design decisions made during the rebrand. 

Michael, as you will see, is a fantastic storyteller, and there were honestly times during this interview where I think I forgot I was interviewing and just genuinely was soaking up all the insights that he was sharing, so I'm sorry about that. He shared so many great takes on brand, on the business value of design, and of course the inside scoop on the rebrand project, like I mentioned before. 

But first, though, I wanna give a huge shout-out to another no-code tool that I use regularly in my process, Webflow. Webflow are once again the season sponsor of Inside Marketing Design, and their support helps me produce these episodes, just like they help designers and marketing teams all over the world to build and maintain a powerful marketing site, without having to write any code. Sites on Webflow are all built in a really visual way, including the interactions and animations that you might wanna have on your site. This is one of my favorite parts of Webflow, because although I can write basic HTML and CSS, coding interactions is not in my skillset, and Webflow makes it very easy to add these touches to my site. There's helpful presets for content like loading on the page, or you can create whatever animation you like on a timeline where you can see each step and control the timing and easing of all the things that are happening. Check it out for yourself and play around for free at insidemarketingdesign.com/webflow. 

But now, let's get into the episode and take a look inside marketing design at Zapier. Welcome to the show, Michael. Super excited to have you here, especially to dig in on the rebrand, because, you know, this is a big new launch for Zapier, and it's exciting to get the behind the scenes on it. But let's start by you telling us a little bit about what you're responsible for as creative director.

Michael:- Sure, yeah, thanks, Charli, for having me. I'm excited to talk about this. I've seen so many friends and former colleagues on this podcast kinda talking about their work, so I feel included now.

Charli:- Good.

Michael:- But it's always fun to watch them. But yeah, the responsibilities of the creative director. Generally, kind of leading the Zapier's identity and ensuring that brand is consistent, differentiated, and most importantly, memorable. That's kind of the standard answer for a creative director. I think the kind of broad answer of responsibility is if it takes a story or it takes creative to affect a perception or belief or a need from an audience or a user, I'm generally involved in running kind of how that works. Then I think on the kind of macro level, responsible for building and leading a brand team that can really thrive in a company that needs a lot of brand creative.

Charli:- I really love that summary. I feel like I'm gonna have to steal that when people ask me what I do as a creative director and tech, because I think that you said it really well.

Michael:- Cool.

Charli:- But tell me more about your team. So the team you lead is called Brand Studio, right, at Zapier?

Michael:- Yep, yep, Brand Studio. So we have a few levels of folks on there. So at the core level, we have our design program managers, our producers, who can help keep everything moving forward and making sure that work's clear. I can't do it without my producer team, so I think if you don't have one out there, please call me, let me know. I can help you sell the value of 'em. They're everything.

Charli:- I actually literally might take you up on that, 'cause I currently don't have one, and I'm playing the role of producers sometimes.

Michael:- Oh my God.

Charli:- And so I need to advocate for that.

Michael:- Oh my God, well, we can go deep in that. I was spoiled deeply by the producer team at Dropbox, and I'll never go back. Yeah, so from there, we have the creative level, which I break up into three different disciplines. So I have my brand designers, which I have three of right now, and I'm about to hire a fourth on Friday, which I'm very excited about. I have brand writing, and then we have design systems as well. So the design systems kinda owns all the components throughout the products and throughout web, and then I've broken each of those pieces out in pillars, from advertising, interactive, visual identity system, and there's one other I'm missing right now, but yeah, lines of business, if you will, for how a brand can affect company goals.

Charli:- How many people is this, then, on the team?

Michael:- So right now, we've got eight people, nine. Our brand writer just started on Monday on a new producer, and then I've just hired two managers at the ACD level to join probably in October. So that'll be 11.

Charli:- Wow, okay, that's a lot that your team is responsible for. I'm surprised to hear design systems to do with the product as part of this as well. Tell me more about the thinking behind that.

Michael:- I think either way, they're a bridge, kind of like brand strategists. In some way, there's a job to sit between marketing and brand design, also with design systems. It's something that my lead Sheryl Soo, who's the VP of design, wanted to make happen when I joined, which I thought was really smart, because I think it allows the design quality and the brand consistency to live in a central place so that that user experience from the advertising moment to the product moment can be consistent. It's something we're working really hard, probably really moving on Q1 next year to make that a really consistent experience, so the trust and that belief and the kind of value and the promise of the product is ever-present.

Charli:- I love that, yeah. Something else I was gonna ask you is how you keep consistency between brand and product, 'cause there often is a divide. So you've kind of brought some product people over to the band team to keep the folks close.

Michael:- Correct, correct.

Charli:- To make that happen.

Michael:- Yeah, I mean, I think that's one of the big advantages of brand studios or brand teams being on the design team now, as opposed to on marketing where some folks are in some companies, and they're kind of moving over. I think it's all about that kind of consistency, both in the way that design is expressed and functions in a company, but I think also as the outward expression. So yeah, I mean, I think right now it's maybe a superficial level of brand, which is just type, color, visual consistency, and I think over time, what we're trying to do is build that consistency around story and emotion throughout the product as well.

Charli:- Ooh, I love that. So how often do you get together as a wider design org, I guess, at Zapier?

Michael:- Well, actually, in a couple weeks, we're all about to meet in D.C. as a design org. As a fully-remote company, as we're growing, I think before I joined and before COVID specifically, the company met as a whole twice a year, and now as we're getting bigger, it's harder to meet twice a year as an entire company, so we meet once a year as a company and then once a year as a team function. So we'll be having our first team function ever in a month. So that'll be a great time for us to get in a room and do things that require a room, require vibes and kind of connection. Other than that, we have quarterly wide team meetings, all hands. But Sheryl, the VP of design and insight, she also runs the insights and research and data teams as well, so we meet kind of as an entire org, both from the insights and the design perspective, which as we know, design without insights is really nothing.

Charli:- It's really just pretty pictures.

Michael:- So it's great to have that connection. Yeah, exactly.

Charli:- Do you have a shared prep session or anything like that? Is there a time when you're getting product designers are giving feedback on brand stuff and vice versa?

Michael:- Not yet. That's something we're kind of building out, the working relationship between the two. I think, as we'll get into as we move on on the rebrand and all of the fun stories and drama with that, the brand studio has really been what I call kind of a wartime studio since I've joined. We've just been wholly focused on the rebrand. So building out that kind of cultural and work connections between the two has been something we haven't been able to dedicate time to yet, and it's next on the list.

Charli:- Yeah, I mean, and you can't do everything at once, right? Rebrands are a pretty big thing to work on. 

Michael:- Unfortunately. I would love to. If you have any time on doing everything at once, I just would love to.

Charli:- Oof, yeah. I'm still trying to figure out that one out as well. Well, let's dive into the rebrand. Let's talk about it, because I was already interested in this story just from seeing it from the outside, seeing the visual change and the strategy change of Zapier with it. Then when you told me there was even more to it, it was like, yeah, a little bit mind-blowing. So let's start at the beginning, I guess, with what Zapier was trying to achieve with the rebrand. Why was it time for a new brand?

Michael:- That's the question. I think any company who wants to rebrand generally needs to have a perception gap between where they want to go and where they need to be as a business and where their customers currently kind of sit or allow them to be. So that's kind of wheat I look for when I'm a part of a rebrand or joining a company who's asking for that, because if it's just rebranding to rebrand's sake, it can get really rudderless. So I think Zapier has been around for a little over a decade. It takes a long time to build a horizontal platform that connects 5,000 apps and automates them in all the ways, and they've been mostly focused on product for that time. So they really haven't had a brand team either on marketing, brand marketing, or as a brand studio. So brand was just not a thing that the company really thought about, which is typical for a lot of tech companies, right? They believe in the product, the produced sells itself. The product-market fit is everything you need, and then as you mature, everyone else wants to copy your genius, and then brand becomes really important, because it's a competitive landscape. So I think that that's kind of, as the company is looking to build its next steps and really uplevel at every way it can show up for its users and show up for how we work and how automation changes the way we work, that story was lost I think, or nonexistent. So there's kind of time to be able to build that story both for the company internally, how we talk about it ourselves so we can align on what we're building and why, but also make it really easy. I think it was really hard for our users to say what we do. If you got it, you got it, but then you try to share that with a friend, they're like, "What? "Why do I need this?" You're like, "Well, it connects the gaps."

Charli:- "It feels really techy."

Michael:- And so, making that a lot more approachable and easy for everyone to kind of share, because it really is life-changing. If you get into and learn how to automate a lot of the stuff of your work, it can be, you're just like, why haven't I done this? Like, where has this been all my life? And so, that share of joy was a really interesting part of how we wanted to build the brand.

Charli:- Wow, I love that. So there definitely sounds like was, maybe not a change in brand strategy behind this, but like, a confirmation of one, or putting one in place and being really thoughtful about it and being purposeful. It wasn't just that you needed a new logo.

Michael:- Yeah, it's kinda the classic thing we say about brand, right, where your brand is really what is in the mind of your users. It's what they say behind your back when you're not there, that whole idea. And it's been a great experience for me to see that be true for a company who didn't invest in telling its own brand story and is just truly only being owned by the users. So you go onto Twitter and you search Zapier, and you see what people are saying. They have created and are explaining the brand in a lot of ways. So they say, "It makes me feel like a wizard "because of this or a superhero," these big, emotive moments that people are just shouting out on the internet about how Zapier makes them feel. That's unusual, I think, for a product a lot of times. People are like, oh, it helps with this, or it connects this, or it solves this problem, but people are like, emoting in these crazy ways. And so, it was really interesting to, say, when I joined the company, to look at that brand existing on its own out in culture, and then the company just kinda letting that happen in the way that was organic was really special.

Charli:- So do you feel like when you came into kick off this rebrand project, you were really like, "Okay, how do we enhance what people are already saying, "because they're saying all these cool things, "feeling like a wizard, feeling like a superhero. "Let's lean into this"?

Michael:- Yeah, I think a couple things. I wasn't even fully aware of kind of the no-code revolution, as people are kind of talking about it in a lot of ways, a little bit here and there. But as I started talking to Zapier about this role and the rebrand and the needs there, and I started kind of diving in, I started realizing that there was a whole cultural movement around this, where it was just completely going to change the way we work and build things. It was really transformative. And so yeah, when coming in, it was kind of just connecting those dots of just like, okay, what is the company? What is our story, and how does that connect to how people are experiencing us, and how do I unify those?

Charli:- So how did this project kick off then when you joined and when you got into it? Tell us about getting it going.

Michael:- Oh, man, rebrands. It's super fun. I think, maybe taking a step back, working on the rebrand and a big refresh at Dropbox, which was my role before Zapier, I learned, I kind of joked that was my PhD in branding, and I learned a lot from that process, like, both big successes and big mistakes, working with some of the best brand strategists in the business, some of the best writers, voice and tone creators, designers. So what I learned through all of that is that there's a lot of junk information that a company carries around, just these beliefs. There's this story I tell a lot that I love. There's this research story when people come into a dentist office, a waiting room, and it first starts out with an actor, and then just a person. And they click the ding, and then the actor stands up when the ding happens, doesn't say anything. The other person generally tends to stand up as well, and the ding happens again, and they sit down. Long story short, 'cause I'll save all our listeners the whole story, but basically, at the end of the study, there's 15 people in the room. None of them are actors, none of them have been told to stand up or sit down when it dings, and they're all doing it together, because of this kind of cultural impression that you just wanna go along to get along or be a part of the herd or whatever. And I think that that's basically every company. And you hear some piece of information somewhere, and you carry it on, and you tell someone else like it's the God's honest truth, and you think it is, and then we have all these weird beliefs that aren't really connected to deeper insights. So, that was kind of in that process of really understanding what the truth is and what the information is. I learned that to be kind of everything from a strategic side in my prior work, and that was the first thing I did when I hit Zapier. I hit the ground as a journalist, as an interviewer, as a documentarian, right? I had this epic coda doc that just has every interview with every exec, every piece of information and research I could pull together, and I just put together the Encyclopedia Britannica of Zapier. And then the next step, that's really important for me, because that's, again, really hard to use, right? You can't create clarity with that information. So for each main pillar, I created an insight or just a single sentence from each thing. So it could be what the users hope we are, what they think we are, or what our background is, what our origin story is, or whatever those big topics are. I would put a single line, and then I would give that to the execs and to people in research and have them react. So instead of reading the whole doc and being like, "yep, that's all the information," I condensed it into a single thing that might be a little tricky to say yes to, to condense this down to one, and then from there, have people really push and put feedback on that. So I think by the time we hit the ground on the strategy and design, I had already created a lot of clarity for folks around what it and what isn't, if that makes sense.

Charli:- Yeah, I love that. That's the thing when you join a company, I always encourage everyone who joins ConvertKit to look out for these things when they're new and you spot the red cords, that story of the office, and there's this red cord running across the corridor that everyone just steps over, and then someone new joins, and it's like, "Why is this here? "What's this doing?" And everyone who's always been there is like, "Well, we just, I don't know, it's always been there! "We just step over it!"

Michael:- 100%.

Charli:- So when you're new, you can spot those red cords and call them out. I love that that was a part of this rebrand process, that honestly probably made it stronger, the fact that you came in with that journalistic view on it.

Michael:- Yeah, you don't wanna waste the gift of the beginner's mind for sure, right. When you get to join a new company, that is your gift I think as a new employee, is having that beginner's mind, 'cause so many people are just attached to those stories and things and those beliefs. So yeah, I think a lot of people try to integrate quickly to be a part of the company, I think as a designer, at least.

Charli:- Stand up when it dings.

Michael:- Yeah, as a designer, it's the worst thing you can do. Question everything. Be a little annoying; it's okay. I think it's part of the process.

Charli:- That's good advice, that's good advice. So what happened next then, once you'd distilled and figured out the strategy and there was clarity over that? How did the design process go for figuring out the visuals?

Michael:- So we initially worked with Instrument to kick off the brand process. So they worked both on kind of distilling all of that content into the brand strategy and brand story and then worked on the visual identity system as well. One of the things I love about working with Instrument, I actually worked with them for all five years at Dropbox, is that together, we kind of pioneered this way of working as one team, and a lot of agencies have a real hard time coming in, taking the brief, going away, coming back. There's too much knowledge that's inside the company that they just don't know of, and they're always getting it kind of off and a little wrong. So Instrument's really good about this ego-less approach to design, where we all just sit in a room together, virtually, of course, at this point, in Figma and whatnot, but like, it's one: one team, one dream. So I co-work with their executive creative director Jack De Caluwe, and so him and I lead together, and then my team is his team and his team is my team in that way that we kind of work. I let him generally kind of disseminate information and feedback and direction so there's not a weird kind of imbalance and lack of clarity, but ultimately, we're one team. So we get that kind of lovely part of the information of being in-house and knowing the politics and the people and the live wires and the third rails, all that kind of stuff, and then that kind of, again, that beginner's mind and that kind of expertise of one that creates brands for lots of people as well. So I feel like that contrast and that duality is a really beautiful marriage.

Charli:- Yeah, and that was something that obviously it sounds like you knew going into it, that this can happen with agencies, that if things are too separate, things don't go so well.

Michael:- Oh, yeah.

Charli:- And that you could use the tools we have available to us to get past that.

Michael:- So many stories of wasted work and missed opportunities when you don't collaborate.

Charli:- Okay, so you were working with Instrument on the initial process of generating ideas and initial designs for this new visual brand.

Michael:- So yes, we built out a really strong foundation with their strategist Avi, getting that really, really solid: what are we, what aren't we? What are we doing for our customers? Really pulling in that concept I said before about what people are saying out in the world, like really pulling in the cultural element as the core piece of our strategy, and then from there, starting to build the story and the visual identity system possibilities at the same time, right? So standard stuff of, if you were a person, who would you be, what's your voice, the kind of general ways to approach rebrands, and then coming up with five to six, seven even directions and kind of whittling 'em down and getting feedback. So pretty standard there. We settled on a really interesting visual identity system that was completely surrounded around this big, bold, we call it a chonky Z.

Charli:- Chonky.

Michael:- This really big, chonky Z that kind of had some electric bolt kind of stuff in it, a beautiful piece that could really turn the eye and use color and also embody inside of it images of users or whatever to tell the story as kind of a framework. Yeah, and then things changed. So I don't know, are we ready to go to the big reveal?

Charli:- Let's go there, let's tell us. What happened next? So you had this brand that everyone loved, and you felt like it fit the strategy well.

Michael:- Yeah, we got the VIS done with Instrument, and then for the next I think maybe three or four months, internally, Instrument went away and worked on some other cool shit on their own, and our team worked on just kind of executing the VIS. So got a guideline from Instrument, and then from there, it's like, what do you do? What does that look like on social? What does it look like on web, all these different things.

Charli:- Yeah, let's apply it all the places.

Michael:- So we applied it all the places for many, many months, we worked so, so hard. My team just did amazing work and really showed up, and then we were done. Code was done on all the web, all the pieces and templates. Everyone was ready to click launch on March 26th, which was two days after my birthday. So it was gonna be perfect. It was a big birthday gift to me. I was gonna go on vacation. I was very, very, excited. About two weeks before launch, again, completely done, code ships, everything, we start to see that the pro-Putin military started using the Z as their symbol for the Ukrainian war.

Charli:- Oh, man.

Michael:- It was crazy. And at first, it was just kind of the first news story. Sheryl sends it to me, and she's like, "Should we be worried about this?" And your first reaction's always like, "Nah, it's just assholes being assholes, using a Z."

Charli:- Yeah, no one's gonna think that we're anything to do with it, yeah.

Michael:- And then the news just kept coming out. Then influencers in Russia started wearing the Z on shirts to show their support for the Ukrainian war. There was an Olympic swimmer or runner, I forget exactly who he was, who wore a big Z after winning, so it just kept going. So we started to ask the hard questions: can we really, really do this? So it was great. I was able to reach out to my network, and through that network actually reached out to Debbie Millman, the great, the one and the only, and she was just like, "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." I felt that. I felt that deeply. So from our side, from the brand side, we were really, really confident that the change needed to happen, but the real change moment for our CEO and for leadership was we were about to have our first company all-hands or company get-together from COVID in a couple years, and he goes, "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, and it was hard. I think I really respect leadership for taking the hard decision based on values and based in really showing up for people and understanding the value of that. That's kind of the silver lining, is how often do you as a designer get to work with your leadership and them have to feel what it takes to make a decision based on design? Like, they now know the cultural significance of a symbol and a visual thing that was made and designed. That's just not something that leaders get to feel and own very often. So it's a weird silver lining gift in this process. So they don't understand design quite well, so they're just like, "Kill the Z. "We'll get the rest, come up with a new symbol." I was like, "Not quite how it works." Luckily, they had been a part of the whole process before, so they understood that we knew what we were doing and trusted us in that and said, "Okay, what do you need? "So you can keep the typeface, right?" Well, we picked the typeface to counterbalance with the Z. It all works together, right? So you're either gonna make me have to make a mark that works with that typeface, which, I don't know what mark I'm gonna come up with in the first place, right, so that limits me to my possibilities. So I really was able to talk to them and say, "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." So I asked them for three weeks to come up with a new VIS. I said, "I can't guarantee it, "but I think we can nail it in three weeks," and they said, "Cool, let's see what we can do." So we hit the ground running from there.

Charli:- Wow, okay, so tell me if this is how it felt for you. I can imagine that if I was in your shoes, having the conversation with Debbie Millman and just hearing her say, like, "Look, there is no choice here. "You know what you need to do," was that some sort of relief in hearing from a peer, okay, yes, I can and should make the decision that in my heart, I want to make, but I'm worried about it for all the business reasons and all that? I know, was that some nice reassurance?

Michael:- Yeah, to be clear, I didn't get to talk to Debbie directly about it. A friend of mine, DeeDee Gordon, who is a brand strategist extraordinaire, worked with her in the past and reached out as like, "Hey, a friend of mine is dealing with this," and she wrote back the answer. But I think through that same answer and question, I had that same conversation with a bunch of brand strategists that I knew and creative directors, like, what would you do, and what was really reassuring was not only the answer, but the process. So each person goes, it was the same thing every time, and it's exactly what I did. "It's probably fine," right? "Like, it's probably not gonna be a thing. "Your Z's so different from their Z. "I wouldn't worry about it," right? And then you start asking questions. Well, what about this, or what about this, or this thing.

Charli:- Like the airport with all the people in Z shirts.

Michael:- Exactly. And you watch each person go, "Shit, yeah, you gotta change it." And it was fun to watch that be kind of, no matter who it was, go through that process of, "Eh, it's fine," to "No, this matters." I think that was the most reassuring, both for me, but also to communicate to the company about the process to make the change, and even for my team, who I think it was probably the most devastating for, to understand how much we put into thinking and how much the world of design supported the thinking behind this and the why behind this. So I think that really mattered. It gave the why for us, which if you don't have the why, then what are you really doing? So, that was super helpful.

Charli:- How long had the process been on the chonky Z, which is just what I'm gonna call the initial brand? 'Cause you said three weeks, right, to design the VIS that ended up going live with.

Michael:- Yeah, three weeks.

Charli:- How long had you spent before that?

Michael:- Yeah, it was about, I can't remember exactly on creating the VIS. I think it was three or four months.

Charli:- Yep, so a long longer.

Michael:- To create the VIS. Yep, yeah, yep. And then I think it was about three or four months. It was like, eight or nine months total for the actual execution and defining the system beyond the guidelines.

Charli:- Yeah, and you've ended up with something that looks amazing.

Michael:- Thank you.

Charli:- In that three weeks, right? It's a great brand. I wrote about it in my newsletter, The Marketing Design Dispatch, did a little overview of it. How would you describe it, though, the brand that you ended up with, what Zapier is now?

Michael:- I think I would describe it as distilled, which is for me as a creative been always the Holy Grail for me. I'm terrible at distilling. I'm the maximalist. I wanna just wow you with creative and interesting things.

Charli:- Yes, like, check out my gallery wall. I'm the same thing. 

Michael:- Exactly, yeah. Look how I'm dressed. And so, it was really one of those moments where when you boil it down to nothing, basically, that pure nothing. I was almost like, is this the dumbest thing I've ever made, or the best? And that kind of question was so interesting to me. So I would describe the VIS itself as a platform for storytelling, which in general, as a philosophy for brand, I think that's what a brand needs to be, is a platform for storytelling, both for your users and for your company, but that word "platform" kept coming up over and over again. Our tool is a platform. Our company is a platform. The way that people use our tool, they use it as a platform to make things and create new things, or platforms for other things to happen. So this word kept coming up over and over and over again, and it was weird that we had never really discussed the concept of platform as a graphic element. It was always about kind of connecting or automation or these really hard to kind of talk about concepts graphically and visually. And so, yeah, we got that aha moment where I was like, building out this system where I have images or storytelling and kind of putting this orange bar below. It could be this platform and showcasing. I was like, is the bar, is that the logo, right? And how much are gonna people hate me for making a bar, an underscore for a logo? It's terrifying. It's terrifying to simplify something at that level, but I think its expression is what really people are getting excited about, that anything can live above it. So as a brand, we can always be fresh, we can always be interesting, we can always be pivoting with the company and the culture. We can compete with cat videos on TikTok. You can always make something that's gonna be engaging and interesting and informative and always be on brand and recognizable because the platform is the support kind of concept. So that's not the simplest way to describe it, but that's kind of the process of how we kinda got there to that answer.

Charli:- And was there any parts of the previous VIS that did end up being used? Did the typeface stay in the end, or did it go to a new one?

Michael:- Typeface did not stay. We were originally using Geograph, which is a beautiful face, which was originally created for National Geographic, and as we were kinda pushing, we needed to find some contrast to the absolute simplicity that was a platform, a rectangle that was orange. So we explored everything and started creating these, I'm losing the word, but it's like from simple to complex, and everything in between.

Charli:- Ah, scale, is it a scale?

Michael:- There you go. And just kind of put every option of type on there, from expressive, the most expressive, to the most simple and most kind of Swiss, right? So the Swiss worked so perfectly with the rectangle, but lost all personality and all interest. It kind of just would wash back in the work. And the things that were super expressive created too much contrast and too much kind of vibrancy with the platform. So that's when I landed on James Edmonson's typeface Degular, and he literally created that typeface to kind of be the counterbalance to tech typefaces. It doesn't have to be so geometric and so bland. It could be a workhorse, but still be quite expressive and beautiful. So even in his intention of that typeface, it landed so perfectly as that balance of both having interesting character, but also being able to be a kind of Helvetica-esque workhorse that's kind of needed to scale over systems for companies. And then he did kind of a custom cut of it for us for the actual logo type.

Charli:- Oh, sweet, yeah, 'cause you're right, you need something that isn't gonna compete with whatever you're gonna put of the platform, 'cause by itself, when there's nothing else sitting on it, the orange rectangle, yeah, that can handle an expressive typeface next to it, but you start putting in your wizard imagery in there, then you need something cleaner. 

Michael:And it's the Wild West, and brands don't really succeed well in the Wild West. So putting parameters around that was helpful.

Charli:- Yes, that makes sense. Was the process for the VIS you ended up with, was it kind of similar to what you worked on with Instrument, but just obviously much sped up in a much more compressed timeframe? Or was there any differences in the approach you took?

Michael:- I would say the answer is both. So the parts that were the same and similar were the great VIS and story that we created with them. We kept that, right? That was strong, so we didn't have to kind of reinvent that at all. We knew what we needed to say and why, and then we just needed to define the expression of that visually, which was great. The brand guidelines that they had supplied to us, the actual Figma file with all the designs and the voice, all of that was already done; it just needed to be replaced with new words or new images or new colors. So we had that kind of structure. We didn't have to spend the time to build that out, which was really helpful. And so, we knew, cool, if we refill this brand guideline with new information, that's what we'll deliver. So it's really clear for the team to just be like, "well, this slide needs to be updates and this and this," kind of as we came up with the process. But the part that was different was my team was completely burned out, just dead, right? Like, we were running a marathon at sprints pace for months and months and months. We were just done. So it was really hard for me as a leader to be like, "okay, we're gonna do this in three weeks," which is insane. No one should do this in three weeks. Like, why did I say yes to this? This is on me, right? Truly as a leader, this is on me, that I said yes to this, that I said we can succeed. And so, I had to kinda figure out, how do I let the designers or invite the designers to participate in a way that was super helpful and generative, but without causing harm, like, emotionally or for health and balance, because we truly were so burnt. So to just give a bunch of work and say, "This is due in three weeks and we'll process it," I was afraid that they were gonna be working nights and weekends, and that wasn't okay at that point. But that was okay for me. That was a choice that I got to make for myself. So the way that we ended up running the process was just, I kind of liken it to animation, where there's two different ways to animate. There's like, you're at frame one and frame 24, and then you make everything in between, or they shoot ahead where you go frame one, and then frame two, and then frame three, and each frame leads to the next frame. It's how Aladdin was created. So we wanna frame ahead for the process. So each day was kind of like, we're just gonna design what we can design, we're gonna iterate and push, and at the end of each day, I took everything that we did, I moved forward the stuff that was most interesting, and I kinda wrote about it, and so in that writing, I both understood what was and wasn't working. I presented that in Slack every day for the leadership to also see, 'cause I was like, "I'm not gonna be able to come to you "three times with directions. "We're moving so quickly, I need to know "what is and isn't working kind of immediately." So that's kind of the way we worked. So we worked completely transparently in Figma, wrote those write-ups transparently in Slack each day, and then where designers and time or energy where they weren't working on other things or in meetings, they were able to come in and kind of push. And so, they were able to see my writeup, see what was kinda working, if I had a great idea, if they hated all of it, which happened a lot, because it was insane.

Charli:- Especially in the early phases.

Michael:- Exactly, exactly. Then they go, "Oh, I can beat this." And so I think that kind of expression of being able to come in, drop a few genius ideas and then leave and not have to follow it through was a really interesting way to work. I wouldn't say it works all the time, but that was kinda the only way that we were able to generate as many ideas as possible, because we had an impossible task, to re-figure this out, and it needed that much iteration, but also not burning you out. So it works. It was a fascinating experiment that me and our head of design programs Meghan Yip kind of were like, "I think this is the only way we can move forward," so we kind of built out that process moving forward.

Charli:- Yeah, you were inviting who wanted to to collaborate, but not obliging them to so that they'd feel like, "Okay, well, now I've gotta put in the nights "and weekends too, 'cause that's what Michael's doing."

Michael:- 100%, 100%, yeah, there was no expectation. And also another thing that was really interesting, again, generosity I think is a theme throughout this whole process, and even in the brand itself. But Instrument, we worked with them for months. I've, it's devastating for them too to lose that work, and they're good friends of mine. So it was really interesting to approach them like, "All right, this is happening, this is wild. "What do we do? "I would obviously love to work with you again, "but I've got three weeks, "and you're booked out for who knows how long?" So, "Yes, we're booked out, we can't help, "but we're between projects "in a few places in a few different teams. "What I can do is maybe make a two-day sprint "where these designers that are between projects "could come in and just make stuff for you, "and we can make a brief." So that was really nice and really generous of them that they did that with generosity, and were just like, "Here's a Figma file. We don't know if any of it's right or good or whatever, but here are six designers who just really wanted "to come up and kind of give the middle finger to Putin "by helping out with this rebrand." So yeah, it was a really good galvanizing kind of community moment for designers, both internally and externally.

Charli:- Yeah, and obviously you were building on the relationships that you'd set up through the collaboration initially, right, of treating as all one team, working together.

Michael:- 100%, yeah.

Charli:- How did you handle the emotional impact of it, I guess? 'Cause I know that as you've been working through this rebrand process, your team and the rest of the company as well must have been getting really attached to the brand and feeling really proud of it, really excited of this new VIS that was gonna come out. How did you handle getting them to love the new VIS, the one that is Zapier's brand now?

Michael:- Yeah, the re-rebrand, as we're calling it?

Charli:- The re-rebrand, okay. I like it.

Michael:- That's a great question. I think it's funny, because we spent so much time and effort to bring the company along with the first VIS. Like, that's another thing I learned in the past, is if you go off on your own and you do it and you just say, "Here it is," it's tough for people. So we did a lot of work presenting the work as it was being built. I presented even the brief that we launched the project with with Instrument to the whole company. I walked them through the whole brief. So I kind of led them along the entire creative process. So we did a lot to make sure they loved the work, or at least understood and respected it. So we didn't have time to do that with the new one, so I think it's a really interesting question. So I think the company, everyone's just so nice here and the culture is really understanding, and so, I think the empathy that was required from the company for a team, that they imagined themselves going through this project, and it all gets scrapped, and having to come up with something new out of the blue, I think we got a lot of empathy from the company. And so, they understood the challenge, which was great. I think secondly, and this is an interesting kind of thing. I was actually talking to Instrument about this, but the process of rebrand, a lot of people talk about, they learned what the rebrand should have been after they got done with the rebrand, 'cause you learn so much in the process. It's hard to both learn and be great at the same time. So this company had never gone through that process. Everyone's learning what that was. So it's hard to both be a teacher and an educator and also kill it as a designer, right? And so, I think the fact that the company had gone through the process and everything meant that they trusted us and that they knew that we had gone through it, we'd done it before; we'll do it again, so when we presented the work, I kind of did the same thing. I was completely transparent, like I said before. So I put together decks to present what was possible and what I was pushing for, and that was just public. So they kind of watched me do it and the team do it while we were doing it. But again, I was scared, because the Z was this rockstar thing. It was like, this thing that you could look at and be like, "That's our symbol" and that stands out. So to go the exact opposite was terrifying. But I think people really loved the story behind it, right? It was all about, everyone's so humble at Zapier, and I think as a product, we're so humble, that we're nothing without what people do on the product and what people do on the platform. We're just literally a thing that connects things and automates them in really cool ways. The tool's cool, but it's nothing without the creativity of how people use it. So I think once they saw that story, and that's what we were doing; we were giving voice to their creativity and the things that they were able to do on top of the platform, and the platform was just supporting, it was just a piece that was about the possibilities, that story resonated with them, but that story also came from the research and kind of talking to them. I knew that that's the story that the company needed to hear, 'cause that's what they already believed the brand was. So making sure that the VIS connected that story directly; it wasn't like a stretch, it wasn't a hand-wavy thing; it was just a one-to-one moment of like, this is what it means, and this is what you told me the brand means, so this is ours. So people really saw that and saw the work that was put in to be honest and I think authentic to what they feel like the company was.

Charli:- Yeah, I love it, and I think honestly, anyone listening to this episode is gonna learn a lot about storytelling from you in general, 'cause I feel like you're a really good storyteller. 

Michael:- Thank you, thank you.

Charli:- And that comes in handy in our jobs, in internal communications, in everything. Something that I noticed, because you know me. As soon as a rebrand launches, there's now visualizations, I'm like, "Wait, I wanna compare it to the old one." And I went back in our good old internet archive and looked at the Zapier homepage like, two weeks before the new rebrand came out, and I was like, wait, this homepage looks pretty similar. So the homepage was ready before the new branding visualization was, right, because of the process that you'd been going through. Tell me more about the redesign of the homepage and that decision.

Michael:- Well, A, I love it. I love that curiosity. I think it's what makes this podcast so fantastic. Yeah, that's a story I skipped over. So, one of the things that we decided to do, the only way that we were able to relaunch a new visual identity system and the speed that we needed to do it, right, three weeks to even come up with it, and then I think it was like, 2.5 months to launch, the company had been held back for so long to advance on some of its things that it needed to do, because it was waiting for the rebrand. So there was just so many things being like, once the rebrand happens, once the rebrand happens, right, from marketing, from whatever it was. So one of the more creative I think organizational or political decisions we made to move forward is just, launch it as a design refresh. The code was already done. It's already there.

Charli:- Just remove the chonky Z, yep.

Michael:- Remove the chonky Z, remove the typeface, and just keep everything else the way it is and just launch with it. Now, the chonky Z was so arresting visually that a lot of the site falls apart without it. I think right now, there's a lot of work we need to do to really make that homepage what it needs to be, and that's coming up, but it was clear, the story and the work that Candace our brand writer had done and worked on there to make sure that it was clear about what their story is and what the product is, we just couldn't not ship that, because it was so much clearer of a story than what we had before. The site before had a full sign-up form above the fold, the classic, it was like, 10 years ago website or whatever for growth, and so, really working on getting a site that doesn't have that form, has more storytelling or whatever, was kind of better. So that's the site we designed for the old brand. The homepage is now, thankfully it's performing swimmingly, and that's wonderful. But yeah, it doesn't embody the real possibility and potential of the VIS as we currently have it, and something we'll need to go back. But as anyone knows who works on websites, you don't wanna just change all the time, especially the homepage. So how we approach that, we're gonna be really careful on how we're changing and moving a site that's already performing quite well for the company and doing it in a way that it helps perform even better, but also gaining that kind of possibility of the VIS that it truly can.

Charli:- That's really interesting to hear as well, and fantastic that the new homepage is performing so well, because when you talk about, okay, we're gonna remove this really obvious visual call to action, there's a form right there on the page, you can just click right there and sign up, was that a hard sell, or how did you go about making that decision and getting buy-in on it to pull the form off the homepage?

Michael:- It was an incredibly hard, hard sell. But I have to give credit to leadership in the company, again. Like, most companies have a little bit of PTSD for trying things. You go to your new job, and you bring your baggage, right? You're trying to solve things that you couldn't solve at your other jobs. We all bring that.

Charli:- Oh, yeah, we do that.

Michael:- So one of the pieces of baggage that they had is they tried to remove it before, and it didn't perform. They brought it back. But once I started again, like talking before, there's a lot of these pieces of information that kind of get sent around that aren't actually true. Like, they're not lies; they're not fake, but there's not the real truth in there. So I started talking to that team that worked on it on the growth side and realizing that signups might have decreased, but activations, the things that really mattered, didn't, and in fact, they increased a little bit. And so, you started to kind of get some insight on how, the behavior of folks were acting on a site when there's a signup form like that and how if it's so easy to get in the product and try it, they might not actually be people who are there to be Zapier users. And so, we started to kind of understand that in working with product, working with Moody, the CMO, and marketing, and kind of just, you know, they bore with me for a while as I just kept saying, "Can we do this in another way, "or can we do this in a different way?" Like, I guess maybe I'm vain. I just couldn't have a website that just had this big form on it. It felt so old and not like the future, you know? No websites really have that anymore on their homepage, so it feels like the past, and the brand for me was all about the future, right? It was all about what we can do and the possibilities that happen when you can use no-code automation. And so, I just was really stuck on that, right? I just can't have a site, we can't launch a brand in this certain moment and just immediately, right when people go to the website, they go, "oh, old thinking," right?

Charli:- Ooh, form!

Michael:- Yeah, so they really heard me out, and we really worked together to figure out what we can do, and ultimately, we changed what we cared about, what we measured, and what really made an impact on the business, so ultimately, the number of signups was less important, because that was noise, and was really important was the activations. So we kind of adjusted how we measured that and then built that page to be more akin to that measurement, and then of course we excitedly launched it and watched and were terrified to say, you know, as designers, I fought so hard to have this thing, this way, and then you just hope it performs. So far, so good.

Charli:- That's awesome, and yeah, I mean, the new homepage just fits so much better with what I've heard from you about the brand strategy. Like, you're leading with a picture of a Zapier user, and if the point is to be a platform for people and their ideas, then yeah, a picture of a user fits much better than form.

Michael:- Yeah, yeah, and what I'm excited about, it's what's funny, 'cause those photos were shot for the old VIS, too. They were shot by a photographer Aubrey Treman, who's an old friend, and she's a fantastic person and photographer. And so, she did these kind of heroic portraits of folks, and then also these in situ, in office pieces. So what I loved about not throwing that away with the new VIS is that so lovely sat upon the platform as well. So again, it could be this platform for telling user stories, and also what they can do. So in the same breath, you can have a picture of a user and this cool animation about how they feel like a wizard, and it feels similar and the same and all part of the same story, as opposed to this weird, disjointed, why is there a wizard over here and a picture of a person over here? It all kind of put together in a very dynamic story. So I feel really proud of that, that that photography and that approach to users now feels collectively additive as opposed to a secondary piece that it could have been.

Charli:- Yeah, so you launched with this new homepage, you just launched it, straight away it was the new version? You didn't do an A/B test with the old version to test the waters first?

Michael:- We, let's see, so long ago, 'cause we launched that in first of April; like, we launched it when we were gonna launch the last rebrand. We didn't A/B test. I think what we did was that the folks who were in charge of testing and building that out built out a plan. So we didn't have time actually, now that I remember correctly, we didn't have time or engineering resources to build out a good A/B test. Really, it just wasn't available to us in that way. And so, what we did then was build more of a like, instead of a fallback plan, a fall-forward plan, they were calling it, which I loved. Again, great story, great branding, and it was all about, let's set the base of where we think we wanna be as a company as a site, measure it and see what's happening, and then iterate quickly to a place that kind of fixes any issues that we might see. And so, I think our director of product design Zach Walsh and a product person Kate kinda came up with that approach and pitched it and it got approved. So it was a new way for me of thinking about how to kind of test and get to success, but it worked. It was fantastic.

Charli:- And so, how much iteration did happen after launch? How much has the homepage been iterated on since April?

Michael:- Zero, zero, yeah.

Charli:- Zero, 'cause it hill the goal straight away, amazing.

Michael:- I think I think as a lot of juice to squeeze out of it to optimize for sure, and any site does. So it's not that we nailed it. I think there's a lot more we can do. It's just that we were focusing on a re-rebrand, you know?

Charli:- And like we said before, you can't do everything at once.

Michael:- You can't do everything at once. So there's only so many engineers in any company. So because it was doing well, it wasn't bleeding, so we were able to de-prioritize that, 'cause it was doing what it needed to for the company and the business, and then we'll be able to get there again when we can kind of move with intention again, as opposed to just iterating towards clicks.

Charli:- It makes a lot of sense. What I'm hearing from you, especially in this story of advocating for taking the form off the homepage, is a strong connection to data and understanding of the business strategy an impact of design, too. I'd really love to her your thoughts on how you instill that type of thinking in your team, because I think it's honestly something that can hold designers back sometimes, is being afraid of the data and of business strategy. They just wanna focus on the pixels. But we know that that side of things is important too.

Michael:- Yeah, it's a good question. I think as far as the team is concerned, quality bar on design and impact are said in the same breath for me. I feel like as designers, we have proved that, proven out and continue to prove out, that great design actually is great business. So you don't have to separate those two as concepts. I think a lot of designers feel like they're making bad design decisions based on data, and so really understanding what the data is telling and kind of working that into strategy to build insights is really, really important. So you don't give data to a designer and say, "Adjust to this"; you build the story. The data is telling us this insight, and we work with our brand strategist here, or if they can't work on a specific brief, that's kind of what I'll focus on, is painting the picture of what's possible creatively. So it's all about giving people what they need in their language and making sure it's mathematically correct throughout the whole piece so the story we're telling creatively maps to everyone's understanding of the data, and then also kinda setting that too with the brief itself. What are we going measure? We always attach it to, we're trying to solve a problem. If we solve a problem correctly, the data will just follow. And if we fail, we'll learn from that data and learn that we didn't solve the problem correctly. But I feel like people don't intertwine them in a helpful way. They're kind of separate things, where it's just like, "I'm an artist. "I don't like math." It's this kind of weird thing. But really, we're problem-solvers. So I think first and foremost for what I tell teams is like, I think that your joy as a creative, especially in-house, has to come from the act and the process of problem solving. So often, your work will get killed or changed. The actual design part, that's not where you can find your joy, at least for me. I've had to find it in just like, design is problem solving. Even if it's a political thing or an organizational thing or a creative thing, that's the process. So starting there and understanding the problem is really how I help them kind of connect, and I'm always reminded of this Buckminster Fuller quote. He says, "When I'm working on a problem, "I never think about beauty, "but when I finish, if the solution's not beautiful, "then I know it's not right." I think that that kind of approach to me, like, I have that quote on my computer every day. So often, designers are thought of as frivolous or about beauty or design or just being cool for cool's sake, and I really love that process of, we're not thinking of making something beautiful. We're thinking about making something that works, but if it's not beautiful, clearly we didn't do our job. And I think that that's a really more inspiring way to think about data and kind of measurement.

Charli:- It's definitely, I mean, like you said, you put things in the language that designers can connect with and understand, and that is a much more inspiring way to think about data than thinking about it as like, well, it's just like, yes or no, is it working, is it not?

Michael:- Yeah, yeah, and look, I'm a geek. Like, in college, I was premed and graphic design major, double majored for a while.

Charli:- Wow, that is a really interesting combination.

Michael:- It was weird, and I'm actually pretty decent at math, so I don't know what happened to my brain. But I think that's the two, of the storytelling and the understanding the math that I think kinda helps make those connections.

Charli:- Could you share an example of what one of the, I guess the problems rooted in a business metric, data, or whatever it is that your team might work on solving? Like, say a page for the marketing website, and you're looking at, okay, we wanna improve the activation rate from this page, for example. Is that the sort of thing that you work through?

Michael:- I always try to bring it down to the core of what brand is. And for me, it's about shifting perception, always. Whatever you're doing, it's always about a human, that is an animal, that is making an emotional decision. Science has proven over and over and over again that we do not make rational decisions based on facts. You can shout facts all day at someone, and they're gonna be like, "Oh, that's right!" That's just not how people work. So I think starting with that understanding of a designer, that you're taking an irrational being who's going to make emotional decisions, and you want to connect them with an emotional moment that helps solve an emotional problem, right? So whether that tool is, ultimately, whatever issue they're trying to solve creates an emotion out of them, and they would like to fix that. So whatever we're doing, I want the team to always start from there. So whenever we build briefs, we build kind of a cultural landscape in first and have an insight from that. So we as people are tired and exhausted and burned out from working at home and the pandemic and oh no, now we're looking at this thing, we might have a recession. What does that mean? What is the work landscape? What is a human approaching the work for, and how does that affect the way that they're going to emote and make a decision? I think that that's really, really core to everything. I try to talk to the company a lot about that, right? We're doing these initiatives. We're gonna do an email campaign or this campaign or whatever, and I'm like, "No, what you're doing "is a campaign to affect a human to do a thing "that you think is helpful and generous to them." So that's kind of where I start, and then from there, we start to layer on the perception shift. So if we're seeing there's a gap, maybe folks think one thing about the products, and it's wrong or incorrect or not helpful to where we need to go, then we start to build out a path and a story that says, okay, how do we adjust that? So an example would be, for many, many years, people described Zapier as kind of the duct tape of the internet. You can start duct taping all these pieces together and make it work, which, in early days where people were DIY and scrappy putting things together and it was a new product, that was a lovely metaphor and idea to talk about it. But now automation is core to the way that companies build everything, right? It's a really sophisticated problem. Like, Zapier can solve really sophisticated business operations problems. Like, it's insane. So when you're talking to a company or a company's trying to figure out these issues, and they go, "Oh, that company is just the duct tape of the internet. "I need something that's a high-end solution," it becomes a problem, right? So really kind of bending and changing that perception that folks had many years ago that no longer fits the product or the brand or even just the way we work anymore becomes really important. And so, I always lead that into when people are like, hey, we need more activations, like, okay, what does an activation mean? It means someone now believes in the value of your company and your products, right? It doesn't mean a click, and how do you get there? So I always approach it, again, from storytelling and from what brand actually means, which is emotion.

Charli:- Wow, that's fantastic. Let's end by talking about the future a little bit, I guess, maybe starting with the present. But what are some of the main challenges you're facing right now as a brand studio team at Zapier, and what are some of the things you have lined up that you're gonna work on to overcome them?

Michael:- I think our challenges in the kind of future feels like an echo for any brand team for most any company, but we're a little at the beginning of what a lot of folks will probably resonate with. We're really in a zero to one phase on brand in general. So like I mentioned before, there was no brand function at the company. There was no brand marketing director leading kind of brand. There was no brand studio. There was a few designers working to brand things, but mostly create kind of self-serve templates for marketing to kind of unblock them for the things they were doing. And the leaders hadn't used the principles and the ideas of brand to kind of lead in certain ways. I mean, obviously, it fed into a lot of their decisions, but it wasn't kind of core to the culture of the company. And so, as they start to realize that that's something that's really important, like, they've really turned a 180 and invested in it in amazing ways, and I really give kudos for them to learn from that. But that means that the culture is not set up for success for brand and for brand creative, and change is really hard. So we have to really build up from the ground up. I'm working tirelessly day in and day out with my producers and with cross-functional partners just to help them understand what we need and why. So I'm obsessed with this idea of the clarification curve. It's a bell curve, and you start with kind of, on the left side of the X axis, of ignorance. So the bottom is time, the Y is complexity. So as you go up the bell curve, you go up in complexity; as you go down the bell curve, you go to simplicity. So when you start at the beginning of the project you start with ignorance; you don't know anything. And as you start to learn and bring in information and figure out what this project is or whatever, you go up the bell curve in complexity. Now you know everything, it's super complex, but the real work happens when you continue to go down the bell curve and go from complex to simplicity, and at that time, you reach clarity, right, which is core to being able to communicate to people. So I think everywhere, every company has this problem, but a lot of folks work, get up to the top of the bell curve, they're like, "My work is done," they kick off a project, they hand off a brief or whatever they do, and then they hand it to the designers and we go, "Cool. "There's a lot more work to be done to get to clarity," and that's tricky for folks, because they thought they already did all their work, because on their side, what's their role, they have done their work.

Charli:- They give you all the information, all of it.

Michael:- All the information.

Charli:- Even some you didn't ask for.

Michael:- Exactly, a 50-page document of all the things, right? And so anyway, that's maybe a more philosophical way to kind of express what the challenges are I think for any brand studio, but for us specifically right now, it's helping to create partnership around the process of going down that bell curve towards clarity, and then what that means for process, like having a brief. What is a business brief? What is a creative brief? Why do we need those? Does it seem like busy work? Why does it seem like it? Really educating around what those bring to the project, and then rounds. Like, how come someone can't come in and give feedback on round three? That's going to completely derail the project, things that people just haven't quite figured out that we're kinda helping build out in the processes there. So that's the biggest thing for me, is just setting up the roads and the infrastructure for the team to be able to do their best work. So that's like, the low level. I always like to go high-low, from fashion to everything. You always gotta go high-low. You can't just go all high or all low. So that's the low level. I think the high level is brand for this company can truly be effective. Like, it can truly, because of the landscape of where automation's going, and it's a future that's being written right now, it's not a thing that we're used to that everyone knows and is comfortable with. It's not like our everyday, the story can be written by a company who takes the helm as a leader and has a vision for what it could be, and Zapier I think is that company in so many ways, not only 'cause they kind of invented it and started the whole thing, but I think the vision that they have is true to where the vision of how people work needs to go, really making automation work for everyone. So I think the high level there is just helping show up as a brand leader, both with my partner as a director of brand marketing who we just hired and will start soon, I hope, but together helping the company understand that idea, like, why is it important to lead with brand, lead with story, lead with vision, and then how does that disseminate the type of features we make, the type of products that we work on, the type of stories we tell, the way we show up at events, you know, every single thing it kind of works through. So, we have the kind of strategy and the core of the story and our pillars around the foundations of the brand, and I think showing how those can execute as a futuristic determining one's future as a company, as a brand, but also as, again, showing up generously for culture and for folks to make the world a better place, however that is, that's where my passion is. That's where I get excited and kind of wake up every day as a function of brand, to say, we are part of the way that we humans exist together, and we have a say in making that a little bit better, assuming, of course, you have a product that does do that. Some people, you don't need another razor, or whatever. But some products really can offer something new, and I think that that's really compelling.

Charli:- Wow, yeah, I love that you're doing a lot of internal advocacy work for brand and like, building the brand muscle for Zapier and helping people see the power in it and the potential to push it even further, 'cause it's really interesting for me to hear you say that this is a challenge, to get people on board with brand-led, and I'm like, wow, your new homepage compared to the old one, it feels very brand-led.

Michael:- That's awesome, great to hear.

Charli:- So it's exciting that there is still more to come.

Michael:- Yeah, definitely, and for sure, I don't know, I just think the new visuals feel very approachable, was the main takeaway I got from it, is that like, this feels like anyone can automate, anyone can have this impact their life in this way, in comparison to a very techy cog where you're like, ooh, I don't know, this feels like maybe it's gonna be too complex for me to put the pieces together.

ccc- Totally, yeah.

Charli:- I think that it's coming through loud and clear.

Michael:- Thank you, thank you. What's the Seth Godin quite that I love, he said, "People always ask, do people like me buy this?" I use that line a lot, where it's, that was the brand. That's where the push of the brand is, is to help people understand that yes, people like you, not just techy people or just whatever, can use this to effectively improve their lives, and I think that's pretty fun.

Charli:- Well, let's end by you telling us from your time at Zapier so far, what is a project, a moment, an impact, an insight, I don't know, what are you most proud of from your time there so far?

Michael:- Oh, man, I think when I look at work, and so, when we talk together about work, we talk about impact and effect, when you're at a company and you're at a place, you really want your work to matter, to mean something to the company, right? But when you leave, you don't really remember that stuff. You remember the people that you did the work with. When I look back on my favorite projects, the ones that are the most beautiful, the most interesting, the most impactful, really, the core of that story always goes back to the people. I always wanna tell the story of how all the other people on the project really showed up in interesting ways, right? The writer did this, this designer could this. I couldn't believe the producer made this magical thing. That's what I remember. And so, I think what I'm the most proud of now and what I really want to keep building is that team, is that team that I'm gonna leave one day, not soon, everyone.

Charli:- Yeah, don't worry.

Michael:- But one day, we all go somewhere else at some point, right, and you look back, and that's what you remember, is the people and the time. So we're building a team, again, from the ground up, and it's a really, really fantastic team. I think that that's what I'm the most proud of right now, because without the people, without those brains, none of this is possible: not the rebrand, not the re-rebrand, and not the execution moving forward. So, I think the work has been great. I'm really proud of the actual design work and the creative work, but even before the rebrand, people saw the potential of this company that had joined the team, and now with the rebrand, people are really seeing the potential, and that's great as well. So I think a year out, the team at Zapier that's building the brand is gonna be something that people talk about, and I'm really excited about that.

Charli:- And I'm excited to watch that happen, to watch new iterations you make to the homepage, watch new things you launch. Thanks for sharing all this background on the wild process that you had to go through for the rebrand as well. So much useful stuff in this episode, and thanks for being here!

Michael:- It was such a pleasure, thank you.

Charli:c- I really hope that this conversation that I had with Michael was even halfway as inspiring for you as it was for me. I got a lot out of this about how I can better communicate the value of design and advocate for the time that's needed to do really great work. It's clear that Michael is playing a really important part in driving up the value of brand at Zapier and setting his team up to do that really high-quality work that you need to build a great brand, and that's what I wanna do as well in my work at ConvertKit. It is always interesting to hear about a rebrand process, but especially interesting when it involves such a quick change as the Zapier team had to make. So I wanna say a huge thanks to Michael for sharing about the process and telling all these great stories. If you enjoyed this episode, it'd mean a lot to me if you'd head over to Apple Podcasts and leave a rating and review, or you could screenshot the podcast player, put it on your Instagram stories, share it with your friends. I don't know, this non-product side of design and tech is just not talked about as much, and through this podcast, I'm really trying to help make it more a part of the conversation, try and get marketing design out there more. So I'd love your help in telling more people about the show. Thanks again to Webflow for supporting this season. You can check out Webflow at insidemarketingdesign.com/webflow, and you'll find links to follow Michael and see his work, as well as check out Zapier, at insidemarketingdesign.com. Thanks for listening, and I'll see you next time.

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