New Look, Same Great App
You may have noticed that Expensify got a little makeover recently:
Brands getting a refresh is nothing new, but eschewing fancy design agencies and instead inviting all employees across all teams to collaborate on that refresh is. So we wanted to take you behind the scenes of a very Expensify process: this is the story of how and why we made each of the design choices that we made, collaborated with employees across all timezones, and landed on some key changes to our visual system that we can’t wait to share with you.
Before we dive in, here's a closer look at the before and after:
The Why: Outlining the Problem
No matter who is proposing an idea or what domain that idea falls under, all projects at Expensify follow the same process, which starts with documenting a problem and proposing a solution, and sharing that with the entire company via Slack. In this case, a handful of people with backgrounds in design and marketing got together and outlined the problems with our existing branding.
Problems with our logos:
- The primary version of the logo includes expense/travel imagery that is not found in the icon version of the logo, which makes the two logos feel disconnected from each other.
- The one-color variant of the icon has gaps in between outer borders, which aren’t found in the full color version.
- The primary version of the logo is very wide, so the logo doesn’t scale well to smaller sizes without losing legibility.
- Both the icon and primary versions of the logo have 5 colors, which makes it difficult to use these logos on top of any kind of colored background.
- The expense imagery is derived from AIGA’s universal icon set so they’re never going to be unique to Expensify, which makes our logo feel less personal.
- The current set of logos were created at a time when Expensify’s product was focused solely on expenses, so it includes imagery relevant to business expenses: a car, a fork and knife, and a plane. We’ve already expanded beyond expense: we process bills and invoices, we launched an open-source financial group chat, and we’re funding justice projects around the country through our non-profit, Expensify.org. All of these things are just as much a part of Expensify as our expense management app, so we need a logo that’s inclusive of our ambitious vision, not limited to expense.
Problems with our colors:
- Our current color palette consists of colors with very similar tones, making them difficult to layer and combine. We don’t have good complementary pairings, so the colors aren’t very usable together. Because of this, we’re often limited to using only one color at a time, which feels less ownable, and frankly, less interesting.
- The darkest color we use is actually not that dark, so we end up with text and dark shades that feel washed out or low-contrast.
We explored options to improve our logo, icon, and colors, with the goal of making the least amount of changes that will have the greatest impact.
Hold on, let’s zoom in on that last sentence -- why limit ourselves to minimal changes? Why not seek out a radical refresh, a whole new look that represents a whole new era of Expensify?
Well, the simple answer is that it just felt unnecessary. With our small team, we’re very disciplined about how we spend our time, and change for the sake of change is hard to justify. We’ll do a big design overhaul if and when we identify a problem that would be solved by a big design overhaul, but the problems we outlined didn’t need enormous changes in order to be solved.
The How: In-House Collaboration
While there are some brilliant design agencies out there, we like to challenge ourselves to do as much as we can in-house, so we’re constantly building our team’s skillset. Over the years, we’ve found that the way to make a product feel the most reflective of our culture is to build it ourselves, so that’s exactly what we did.
We have very open borders at Expensify – there’s no such thing as “that’s not your problem” or “don’t worry your pretty little head about it”. All discussions are open to all employees, to the greatest extent that is legally possible. If two brains are better than one, then 134 brains are undoubtedly better than four, so the small team spearheading this project devised a plan to share iterations with the rest of the company in Slack, incorporate feedback, and then do it again – and again, and again – until we landed on a logo and color combination that we loved.
The What: Updated Branding
For logos, we decided to say goodbye to the three travel icons that have preceded the primary Expensify logo for the past thirteen years, and keep the Expensify wordmark. For the icon, we introduced spacing into the full-color version to better match the one-color variant, and decreased the border width of the circle, to better emphasize the big E.
Here’s how those changes solve the problems we set out to solve:
- The icon now uses the same exact shape for both full-color and one-color applications
- The iconmark is more balanced so that the outer borders feel less heavy compared to the “E” in the middle, which allows the “E” to appear larger at smaller scales.
- The wordmark feels less horizontal given that we removed the icons, which allows the word “Expensify” to be more legible at small applications.
- We no longer have expense-specific imagery in our logo system, removing the incongruence of our ambitions as a company versus the logo we used to represent ourselves.
For colors, we explored a variety of palettes, and applied each potential palette to all of the places where it would be used: our app, our website, advertisements, and even swag.
Our new colors are a natural evolution of our historic palette, and solve the problems while maintaining the least amount of changes that create the greatest impact. This palette is familiar but bolder, more ownable and most importantly, more usable.
Here’s how the updated colors solve the problems we were experiencing with our previous color palette:
- Most of the palette is either a revision or expansion from our previous brand colors. We enhanced the brightness and saturation of our existing colors and added darker corresponding shades to our blue and green.
- With improved range in tone, our new palette is more usable. The addition of both darker and lighter colors allows for more layering than before.
- Our palette has historically felt very masculine and cold. Adding secondary colors like pink and orange help make our palette feel more balanced and inclusive, and caters to a broader audience.
- Skin tones, like colors, also run the gamut from cool to neutral to warm. Adding secondary colors that complement and amplify a diverse range of skin tones allows us to be more inclusive.
- We sought to create a palette that’s inviting, friendly, and approachable. This new palette helps us create more contemporary expressions of our brand without losing the ability for serious or sophisticated tones, so our brand can flex from fun podcast interviews to more serious discussions about how we can solve global injustices.
While logos and colors are the foundation of our design system, we’re excited to keep iterating as other problems come into focus. That might mean finessing our fonts, updating our design themes and compositions, or simply continuing to refine how the entire system works together. Stay tuned!