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How to Make a Tech Company More Human Through Rebranding – With Emily Hsiao (Auth0)

Emily Hsiao podcast
32 minutes read

Technology used to just be its own industry. Now, it’s embedded in the DNA of every company. 

And yet, too many tech companies are still struggling to balance high functionality with being intuitive and approachable. Today’s technology companies shouldn’t only center on the people using it—they should feel warm and accessible, just like the people themselves.

Humanizing your brand is one of the most effective ways of differentiating your company and product from your competitors. People want to work with people who are like them and who they can trust. More honest, open, and approachable companies—which isn’t always easy to find in the technology space.

We live in a world where customers expect a B2C experience from B2B brands. Take it from today’s guest of The Drag & Drop Show, Emily Hsiao. 

Emily is the Brand Design Manager at Auth0, who spearheaded their recent rebranding, which managed to make the company more human and approachable while maintaining its authority and relevance in the tech space. 

Today, Emily shares some insightful and practical tips about creating a personal connection with potential customers, particularly by getting honest feedback from brand ambassadors who truly understand the industry and product. She also tells us what it’s like working as a brand specialist in a space focused on being very palpable and definitive in certain aspects. 

This episode is also a chance to learn how to balance experimentation with being confident in your creative choices while also celebrating a culture of innovation.

Introducing Emily Hsiao

With both agency and in-house experience in the brand evolution process, Emily Hsiao, Brand Design Manager at Auth0, is an incredibly rare and valuable specialist. She is a creative leader specializing in building and growing in-house creative teams and evolving B2B and B2C brands to their maximum potential. 

From identity and brand design to digital and web, mass media campaigns, and experiential design, Emily is as passionate about leading teams as she is about designing and fostering growth and innovative ideas.

The 2021 brand update made Auth0 a more human and approachable brand, and the process behind it is an excellent blueprint to guide and inspire your own projects. Join us as Emily takes us on an in-depth, captivating ride on how she and her colleagues made it happen.

Stuff I Was Curious to Find Out:

What You Can Learn From This Episode:

Key Takeaways:

1. Speak your audience’s language

Knowing who you are speaking to is a key component of any kind of effective communication. When addressing your audience, whether through directed key marketing messages or by addressing their pain points within your product functionalities, it’s important to know who’s on the receiving end. Take account of their core values, the big issues in their industry, trends that might affect them, or the role they play in their own companies. This will allow you to create a more flexible vocabulary to talk to customers and make sure they’re listening. 

2. Keep checks and balances for better internal alignment

Brand updates are exciting and bring fresh opportunities for any company. However, there’s one crucial factor that can make or break your rebrand: team buy-in. From stakeholders to leadership and coworkers, your team acts like brand ambassadors, one of the most crucial assets in promoting your brand. 

Sharing your work and progress during the rebranding process with other company members is a key strategy to get them on board with your brand update. By the time you’re ready to launch, they will already be aware of it, excited about it, and it will be met with positive reactions—all because you made sure to do those checks and balances along the way. In the end, a rebrand will help bring you closer together as a team and a company by giving people the sense of renewal and of recommitment to the brand and their jobs.

3. Embrace the messiness

Experimentation is a critical part of learning, growing, and improving. And it comes with a trial-and-error mentality that fully embraces the saying that “perfect is the enemy of done.”

There will be a lot of moments of doubt during a rebrand, especially at the beginning. It’s a messy stage defined by iterating, failing, and pivoting. Give yourself, as well as your team, the freedom to make that necessary exploration and discovery to figure out what the right direction is for your brand, regardless of how messy it is. Create a safe space for your team to feel like they can fail, grow, and change their minds. 

In the end, the most successful companies are the ones that manage to balance experimentation with being confident in their creative choices. The brands that can evolve and learn new things—and manage to stay true to themselves throughout this process—are the ones that make the most significant impact.

Transcript:

Andra Zaharia: As today’s guest points out, we live in a world where “customers expect a B2C experience from B2B brands.” That means there’s a lot of opportunities to meet those expectations when you architect a brand evolution. Emily Hsiao, Brand Design Manager at Auth0, takes us on an in-depth, captivating ride on how she and her colleagues made this happen. The 2021 brand update made Auth0 a more human and approachable brand and the process behind it is an excellent blueprint to guide and inspire your own projects. Emily shares how the internal team embedded their principles of being direct and honest in this revamped brand universe, while also celebrating their culture of innovation.

Andra Zaharia: In this episode, we get to learn from how Auth0 engaged ambassadors in their dedicated program to get honest feedback from people who truly understand the space the company operates in. We also explore how Emily and her colleagues took stakeholders along for the ride. This episode is a chance to learn how a rebrand can get the members of the organization to recommit to the values that drive their work and sense of achievement. Bringing both agency and in-house experience to the brand evolution process, Emily shares incredibly practical insights, delivered with empathy and generosity. It’s Andra Zaharia here, bringing you the latest episode of the Drag & Drop Show from Creatopy! 

Andra Zaharia: Hello, Emily. It’s so wonderful to have you on the Drag & Drop podcast. We’re really excited to talk to you today about the Auth0 rebrand. 

Emily Hsiao: Yes, super excited to be here. Thank you so much for having me.

Andra Zaharia: So it’s been so exciting to watch what’s going on in this space of cybersecurity, information security, and just the entire kind of communication style around these products because they bring on such an interesting, and quite a big challenge as well. So I’m very, very curious to get your perspective and your experience of what it means to do a rebrand on this space, what it means to bring energy and a more human layer to a brand that may seem very abstract and very, maybe sometimes unrelatable. But I know from my passion around this field that that is not true, so I’m very keen to explore your experience today and what has happened throughout this process.

Emily Hsiao: Yes, fully agree. I think that no matter what company or industry you’re in, there’s always such a great opportunity to embrace your brand and make it more approachable and attainable.

Andra Zaharia: Exactly. Especially because you’re the kind of person that brings a lot of warmth and a lot of personal touch to their work. I’ve kind of seen this through your online presence. So, tell me, what were the first considerations that you took into account when you started thinking about evolving the Auth0 brand?

Emily Hsiao: Yeah, so Auth0 was founded about eight years ago and since then, we hadn’t actually done anything to our brand. So it had been the same since the beginning and a lot of things have changed for us as a company since then. Right? So, our product offering has expanded, we’re developing new experiences to enable a wider audience base, and our brand identity needed to change alongside that. And, at the same time, our brand marketing team was also launching a new tagline and brand foundation, so it was a great opportunity to kind of think of everything holistically. So, from the very beginning, we just wanted to see how we could evolve our brand to be more in line with where our company is headed.

Andra Zaharia: And could you tell me just a little bit about that strategic direction? Where were you heading to as a company? And maybe what triggered this change? You know, what kind of questions did you start to work with? And who was involved in, first, kind of spearheading this effort and then bringing it to life?

Emily Hsiao: Yeah. So the way our design team is structured at Auth0 is that we have our design director, Michael, and ultimately our team reports up in the product organization. So this was an initiative that he kicked off. But something I love at Auth0 is that our team is really empowered to make a difference and people understand the value of design and brand, which I think is so important at any company. So that was what started all of this but we made sure to keep everyone in the loop along the way so that we had that support and we weren’t just doing this in a silo and it also helped us build up those internal champions. Part of your question is, who was involved in that? It’s such a large question, because so many people were involved and we can get into this a little bit too, but from sending out a company-wide survey so we could hear everyone’s feedback, to reaching out to our ambassadors and talking to our clients. This was definitely a huge team effort and not just something that we worked on internally in our design team. But it was company-wide for us.

Andra Zaharia: It definitely sounds like it. And I love that you mentioned that everyone is on board with the value of branding and design. Why do you think that is? So what kind of, let’s say, emotional connection is there between everyone in the company and the brand itself? Because you would expect sometimes things get siloed in certain companies, sometimes it’s really a challenge, and sometimes even kind of a small battle to win to get people to understand why this is important. And having that kind of buy-in from everyone, I found that that’s very exciting and that’s a great place for yourself, you know, as someone who advocates the brand so strongly and builds it to have this kind of support that’s team-wide. So, what is that emotional connection to the brand? And where does this understanding come from?

Emily Hsiao: Yeah, that’s a great point. I think every company is different, but for Auth0 we index really highly on the culture of innovation. And I think that’s a huge part of it because no matter what team you’re on, no matter what role you have, innovation is just a part of our DNA. And so, we always encourage people to push boundaries and move things forward and share their ideas. So, I think it’s always met with open arms because everyone in the company – and maybe it’s a startup culture thing, although we are a large startup at this point – you know, they just feel really passionately about the place they work. And it’s very, very true for Auth0. So I think that’s one of the things I love most about our company culture is just how passionate everyone is.

Andra Zaharia: I kind of empathize with that a lot because I think it has a little bit to do with the mission that an information security company has in general, which is to really truly help people in a very meaningful and significant way. Is that something that you feel applies to your team as well?

Emily Hsiao: Yes, absolutely. Essentially, our company was founded for developers, so we are very passionate about making sure our product works for our end users and we can secure the world’s identities. So, everything is kind of rooted in that foundation and we just want to help everyone who uses our product and may not use our product yet and just make our product and brand better with everything we do. 

Andra Zaharia: And speaking of your target audience, which is quite broad, so, when we’re talking about developers, there are so many segments, there are so many types of specialties that are included in this and just an incredible, almost overwhelming amount of use cases that you can think of. So, what steps did you take to actually gain a deeper understanding of your audience and their particular context, and how they relate to the brand to kind of build the foundation of this rebrand?

Emily Hsiao: Yeah, I think something that’s great about Auth0 is that because our audience is so heavily developers and developers, by nature, are more skeptical or cynical than your more general population, it’s really important for us to speak their language and not bullshit them and just be direct and honest – and that’s something that we wanted to keep throughout this brand evolution. I myself am not at a developer background. So I come from design and marketing, and that type of skill set. So coming to Auth0, it definitely was a shift to try to learn more about this new audience and I love that about Auth0. I think with this brand evolution, one of the things that was really exciting too, is that we wanted to be able to appeal to even more than just developers because authentication and authorization is not just something that only developers should worry about; we want everyone to understand the importance of it from the C suite to developers. So a big part of this was making our brand more human, more approachable, from our copy on our website to our visual so that people don’t get scared to learn about this topic. Because I think the more we can educate people on the importance of something like this, the more buy-in we’ll have and then less of a struggle it’ll be for developers to need to advocate to their managers or their higher-ups that this is something that they should think about.

Andra Zaharia: I’m nodding vigorously here simply because I believe so, so much in these things and I believe so much in the power of brand to create that emotional bridge and that emotional connection with things that might seem abstract, but they’re such a big part of our lives, and they actually shape our future the way that we protect our identities, the way that we understand this space, and kind of our level of digital literacy or cybersecurity literacy is such an important topic for everything that’s going on around us. So, I absolutely love your mission and I love the way that you’re walking the talk. I think that that is a very fresh and energetic approach that’s based on positive emotions and positive triggers, instead of fear, uncertainty, and doubt which has been for such a long time kind of the only way that companies in this space have communicated. So, changing that perception is so important, and every company plays a crucial role in making this change and changing the paradigm around it. So, I love that you mentioned that you sent a questionnaire to all of your customers to better understand how they perceive the brand. What did you discover in terms of things that you carried from, let’s say, the old brand universe to this evolved brand universe, the things that you wanted to keep because they were valuable and part of your core identity as a company?

Emily Hsiao: Yeah. So something that was very helpful for our team when we started this initiative – because a brand evolution can take so long – for us, it took about eight or nine months, and even then we did more of a slow release, instead of like a whole big bang, with everything changed over. So these types of things can take a really long time. But starting with the research really enabled us to learn what pain points other people outside our team might have that we hadn’t considered. So, for research, our research plan was threefold. Like I mentioned, our first prong was to send out a company-wide survey to everyone in the company to have the opportunity for them to give us their feedback. And this was also really great because, you know, talking about making sure everyone is brought along for the ride; the survey was also a great way for us to let people know, “Hey, this is something our team is doing.” And if they had any thoughts, they had the forum to let us know. And then the second avenue was that we interviewed a handful of our ambassadors who are some of our brand champions who use our product. And that was also really nice because it gave us a chance to see if maybe, internally, our perception was different than our actual clients were externally. And then the third was, we also spoke with a handful of analysts to see just how our brand was perceived within the market. So we wanted to make sure we had as holistic of a picture as possible with how our brand was being perceived, what people liked about it, what people didn’t like about it, and use that to inform the decisions we made because I think, ultimately, as a design team, we have really strong opinions about things, but they might not be shared with everyone. And we’re not doing this just for ourselves. We’re doing this for the entire company, the entire brand. 

Emily Hsiao: But to get back to your original question, some of the three learnings that either we found out about during this research portion, or reinforced during this research portion: the first one was just the topic of inclusivity. This came up a lot in different ways and when you think about inclusivity when it comes to design, a lot of times you think about accessibility, which is a huge part of it and that’s something that’s really important to us with our product and our website and something we always strive for. The second thing was just becoming a brand that was more human and approachable. I think in the past, because we were so heavily focused on developers and we still are, some of our copy on our website or our branding was just really technical, and kind of scary for anyone who didn’t understand it. And if we’re trying to say, “Hey, you don’t need to understand this completely, that’s why we’re here to help”, we need to bridge that gap a little bit better for that audience. So, with the color palette we chose to, you know, our new voice and tone, we just wanted to be more of an approachable brand. And we did hear that from other people as well. And then the third thing that was actually very influenced by what we learned was our logo evolution. So, I’m sure you can guess, but a lot of people think our company is called Auth0, instead of Auth0, because they’re not sure if the ‘o’ at the end of our logo is zero, or an ‘o’. So, when we first started exploring, our team came up with a lot of different logo options, but we weren’t sure how far to take it. We had ideas from spelling it out in all letters to adding the crossbar in the zero to not touching the zero. And so, it was hard for us to know where to go with that direction until we got all the feedback and the research back and learned that it was such a huge pain point for everyone, both internally and externally, that we will be missing a huge opportunity by not addressing that zero. So, our new logo was heavily informed by the research that we did there.

Andra Zaharia: Thank you so much for walking me through all of these steps. I think they’re so valuable to understand how to go about this in a very kind of methodical manner because there are so many details you have to take into account and that’s what makes a brand evolution process so challenging. And I felt like the timeline that you did it in was quite effective, it was quite accelerated, so to speak. And I love that you mentioned this part about the logo because I feel like pronunciation has gotten a lot more difficult in our day and age, especially with brands that take a more creative approach – and now, if you want a good domain name, you really have to go there. Plus, just giving people clarity; I feel like clarity is a very important factor in this security space in general or in the development space, or just in the tech world generally, simply to give people that anchor. So, the fact that you mentioned the ambassador program really stood out for me because it’s not just a relationship that sticks around the product and that’s, let’s say, dominated by the technical aspect. But you get to talk to them and get their perspective as someone who operates both in their jobs and in their communities and then as a link to the company itself. So, how did you have these conversations? Were people involved from the design team, the content team – kind of how did you arrange these conversations? And I’m very curious because I think that our listeners would definitely benefit from using the power of cultivating these relationships with ambassadors.

Emily Hsiao: Yeah. So we definitely didn’t do this by ourselves. For those who don’t know, our Ambassadors Program is a program designed to help empower developers within their communities across the world, by providing support and a platform for them to grow their careers. It’s a really, really cool program run by our head of dev, Sam Julian, and it gives us the opportunity to access a group of really passionate customers and developers that happen to use our product. So when I started this portion of the initiative – also another thing that I feel really lucky for is that we have research as a part of our design team. So I engaged with Brad – who’s the head of our research department – he helped us put together a plan and then we reached out to Sam, who helped us connect with our developer audience. And from there, we sent out emails to that cohort, people got to sign up for interview slots, we offered just a small Amazon gift card reward for their time and we did 30-minute interviews with each ambassador. And so, what’s really great is that when you have a community like that they’re already really passionate about the industry and the product, and they’re also not afraid to give you their honest feedback. So, you’re talking to people who have really strong opinions but also understand the space a lot better than I know I could ever so they’re, I think, good proxies in that way, but that’s how we actually set up the interviews.

Andra Zaharia: That is super, super helpful. And thanks for sharing those details. There’s a recurring theme here around making a brand more human in a very abstract space, but also making it very no-fluff because the kind of audience does not tolerate anything, they want straight-to-the-point things, but they also want a delightful experience. So, how do you balance those two aspects? Because when people think about a brand in the, let’s say, technical space, or in the information security space, they might think about something that should look very formal or imposing or things like that. So how did you end up creating such a playful, such an energetic, and vibrant brand? Did you have to break down any misconceptions? Did you have to persuade any stakeholders to take this bold approach?

Emily Hsiao: Yeah. I think that, you know, what’s great about where we are today is that, you know, studies show that no matter what industry you’re in, nowadays, customers want the same kind of B2C experience from their B2B brands. So, they want brand personality, they want to know what you stand for as a company. A recent Forrester study showed that companies who build their brands with customers in mind are actually twice as likely to meet or exceed their financial goals. So, there’s also a really positive financial implication here as well. And I think, for me, because Auth0 has such a great culture of innovation, it wasn’t as big of a barrier to convince people as it might be in other companies. By just sharing that information and sharing that train of thought along the way so people understand why you’re making the changes you’re making was really helpful in this process. But I think, you know, as long as you stay true to your mission as a company, and true to your values, then anything you do will feel genuine, right? So I think it’s important when you’re building your brand, to not try to be something you’re not, to appeal to what your actual core values are and people will be able to see that in what you’re doing. So for us, we are a very human, a very approachable, and compassionate brand, and we want to help people. So, anywhere from, you know, just a lighter color palette to more dynamic colors, to just making our copy more approachable for the general audience, was how we did that. But that doesn’t mean that we need to stop speaking to developers, right? We can still have that technical aspect of our brand and share that knowledge and share that information. But yeah, just finding the right balance between those two for whatever your company might be.

Andra Zaharia: I love the blend between those dimensions simply because it’s just like looking at a human being. When you go to work, you’re not just your work self, and then you go home and completely disconnect. We’re so over that paradigm. That has changed for so many decades. And I think that it’s kind of happening in the same way in the brand space. And it’s happening a lot faster, a lot more frequently because we want to see brands as people, we’re humanizing them simply because we need these emotional anchors in a world that moves very fast and we want to be able to rely on and trust these entities in our lives, whether they’re private or public organizations or whatever they are. So we’re asking them to have those human qualities. And to me, a brand specialist such as yourself plays such an important role in that because you bring a wealth of information, you help educate your colleagues, you help educate the stakeholders, and you help them truly understand the nuances of this brand evolution and rebrand process, which takes so much emotional labor as well, not just intellectual one and all kinds of creative effort to actually achieve. So, when you were talking about stakeholders, what was the kind of involvement that they had in communicating this to the entire team? Because I feel like a rebrand – and this is something that I discussed with other guests as well – has to be communicated from the top. And let’s say the second part of my question would be, do you feel you’re more aligned as a company after going through this entire process?

Emily Hsiao: Oh, absolutely, for the second part there. But going back to your stakeholder question, yeah, like I said, this was a fairly long process, you know, eight to nine months. And so, when we first started this initiative, it was really important for us to not just be doing this in a silo because it does affect everyone. So, a big part of my role in this was to communicate the progress and updates and what we’re doing to various teams, various leadership groups. And we did this a lot by just sharing presentations and updates for marketing leadership, product leadership, and eventually senior leadership, so everyone was aware of what we were doing and the decisions we were considering. So that was a really important part for us. And by informing leadership, they can also help disseminate that information to their team so that they know these types of changes are coming and they can plan for them. So, we did a lot of presentations throughout these eight months. They don’t need to be super formal; a lot of them were just, you know, status updates, or work shares, and things like that. But then in the end, when we did present officially to SLT, they were already aware of it, they were already excited about it and it was met with such positive reactions, because we made sure to do those checks and balances along the way. So, that was really, really important. And like I said, the survey was helpful because everyone knew it was coming, and by the time we launched this in our company, all hands, everyone was excited about it, they were waiting for it, and it was met with such positive reactions. So, I definitely can’t emphasize the importance of just sharing the work and sharing the progress whether it’s asynchronously or in meetings with anyone that will be affected. 

Emily Hsiao: The second part of your question is that, yes, I definitely feel like this rebrand helped bring us closer together as a company because it gave everyone something to be really excited about. And the way a rebrand affects everyone in the company is different, depending on what your role is and depending on what you do there, but it gives everyone something, like from just the logo from not needing to explain to customers you talk to anymore that it’s Auth0 versus Auth0 or having more colors to use when you’re making an internal presentation. Things like that I think are really exciting for everyone. And of course, things like new swag and some background.

Andra Zaharia: Definitely, and I love the momentum that builds. I feel like it kind of breathes new life into the company. It just gives people the sense of renewal, the sense of recommitment, I guess, to the brand and their jobs – and the way that you talk about it, it gets me excited as well. And I bet that that’s how your colleagues felt as well when you presented all of this – and just keeping people aligned and keeping people informed I feel makes them not just feel part but be part of this entire process. It’s like a self-reinforcing virtuous cycle that keeps building on and on. And I feel that relates very much to what building a company as a startup looks like throughout its various stages of growth and development. I’ve applied this concept so many times and I feel like it’s one of the most powerful principles that we can use in our work as creators and even in our personal projects and our personal life as well, just building layers and layers of, let’s say, evolution on top of each other until we feel like we’ve made significant progress. So, to highlight the level of work and dedication that a brand evolution process requires, I’d like to talk a bit about the unexpected challenges that come up throughout this process. What were those for you and how did you tackle them?

Emily Hsiao: Yeah. I don’t think this one is necessarily unexpected for anyone, but I will say that, obviously, with something like a brand evolution it’s a really large and broad thing to consider. So, I think in the beginning, it can be hard to kind of narrow your scope and understand exactly what needs to be done. And so, like I mentioned, research played a huge part in this for us because it helped us kind of set the course of the things we needed to address and the things that were important to our customers, our internal audience. But I would also say that, as a creative team, or as a leader, or just someone involved in this process, that it’s important to embrace that messiness because essentially, you need to give the team and your creatives time, in the beginning, to do exploration and discovery and figure out what is the right direction for your brand. And that’s not easy. It starts off very, very messy. You need to try things and iterate and fail and pivot. And that’s totally okay. So, I think just knowing that, and being prepared for that is something that will be really helpful for anyone. But yeah, I would say that was probably the biggest thing because you want to stay on track, but you also want to be creative and do your best work. And I think that you can do both.

Andra Zaharia: I absolutely love that observation. Just giving yourself room to change your mind I feel that’s such an underrated way to set expectations and it’s probably rooted in the company culture. I don’t think I’m kind of overstating this, right? Because it probably applies to many areas as well. I think that companies, at least from my perspective, and personal experience, companies that embrace this “it’s okay to change our mind” principle along the way, as we evolve and learn new things are the ones who make the most significant impact and who manage to stay true to their selves as well throughout this process.

Emily Hsiao: Yeah, it’s very, very true. I can’t agree with that more. Experimentation, I think, is such an important part of learning and growing and improving – and it’s something we very much embrace at Auth0. Even if you take a look at the way we launched our rebrand, we tied it to our new homepage design. But when we first rolled it out, we didn’t just roll it out completely, we ran it as an A/B test to make sure that what we were proposing didn’t negatively impact anything, because who’s to say what’s going to happen, right? So yes, embracing experimentation, and just, you know, if something fails, that’s new learning and being okay with that, and just having the safe space for your team to feel like they can fail and grow and change is so important to anything like this. 

Andra Zaharia: Those specific details are so valuable, simply because I wanted to ask, how did you tackle the risk of rolling out this brand evolution. So, you already kind of just went straight into that with bringing up A/B testing. Were there any other ways or tactics that you used to slowly kind of release the evolved brand into the wild, so to speak?

Emily Hsiao: Yeah. I think, like I said, different companies do this differently and there’s no right or wrong way to do anything when it comes to this space, but we’re taking a very iterative approach so that we can make sure that we don’t do anything that might create a lot of harm down the road. So, with the logo change, you know, that was something we knew would be embraced just from the research we did. But yeah, our homepage, we ran as an A/B test, making sure we did no harm there and we’re planning on doing that for different parts of our site for updating our navigation to different priority pages. And also within the product. I think leveraging research in any way you can on the areas that you think might have a really big impact is just something that will be helpful for everyone. But, of course, you know, not being scared to roll things out either. So it has to be a good balance because there are some things that you are going to do no matter what, and that’s okay too, as long as you’re confident and in line with your larger mission, that’s totally fine.

Andra Zaharia: It is. And I feel like you have a very healthy approach to this, balancing experimentation with also being confident in your creative choices. And I think that that takes a lot of work maybe, sometimes, to achieve especially because working as a brand specialist in a space that’s very focused on very palpable, very kind of definitive things can sometimes be challenging. When you came to work into this space, let’s say, the General Security space, personally what were your anchors? What helped you make that connection and infuse that creative perspective into a space that can sometimes be rigid, honestly speaking?

Emily Hsiao: Yeah. I think it all comes back to the fact that I and our whole team fully believe in what we’re doing. So we’re not trying to be something we’re not. But to make sure that our team was aligned from the very beginning, one of the first things that we sat down and created was a group of design principles to make sure that we’re working towards the same goal as a team. And these principles align, you know, with our larger brand foundation and what we believe in as a company, but they’re just a little bit more specific to our design org. And what those five principles are, are taming complexity, building trust, embracing adaptability, striving for inclusivity, and innovating for impact. So, every decision we make will align to one of these principles and that’s how we make sure that we stay in sync with our audience and with our brand, and with our larger team. Because even within our design org, we have four different functions: we have visual design, product design, research, and design operations. So this was also a great way for us to make sure our designers from various teams were working towards the same goal at the end of the day.

Andra Zaharia: That is absolutely beautiful. I find that framework, I guess, extremely helpful. And thank you for breaking down the types of roles that you have in your team as well because it might be very, very interesting or helpful for people who are looking to just maybe specialize in some things to know that there are opportunities to shape their professional path in a way that maybe they didn’t initially set out to do. I think that sometimes we may feel that our choices are restricted by the traditional roles that we’re accustomed to, in one, let’s say specialization or another. But there are so many more opportunities. The role of research I feel is getting more recognition, and so, it’s this role of being kind of a translator between several groups of specialists and getting them to work together and to communicate based on the principles that they share but they sometimes might express that very different from what they might realize. So, talking about this team dynamic, I know that you started working at Auth0 just before this brand evolution started to happen, is that correct?

Emily Hsiao: Yeah, very, very much at the same time. And I found that really exciting to kind of help evolve a brand that, you know, I just came into, but it was, honestly, I have to give so many kudos to my team. Something I’m really proud of, actually, is that this brand evolution was done with our internal design team, which I find just so incredible. Sassy, she’s our staff designer on the brand team, is the one responsible for the creative vision and just execution of so many of the things you guys see today. It’s so incredible. And the rest of our brand team and digital team, and even our product team, everyone was involved from either conceptualization or, you know, making sure our guidelines work to pressure testing elements. We definitely made sure to keep everyone in the loop there, because one of the things that’s really important to us is just that cross-collaboration between different functions, because like you said, it’s not so siloed anymore. Visual design can have a huge impact on product, product design can have a huge impact on digital, and you know, the cycle continues. So, that is something that’s also very important to our culture.

Andra Zaharia: Thanks so much for sharing that, especially because you mentioned a couple of times product design, and obviously, that’s always impacted by redesign or brand evolution. But I feel this is just exponentially more important in the case of Auth0, simply because the product plugs into such a crucial experience for millions of users across the world. And I feel like design and UX and everything that goes into that plays a fundamental role in making security products easier to use, more seamless, more frictionless in a world where security is always seen as a hindrance it’s seen as something that adds friction that kind of fragments your experience and takes away from the pleasure of using so many products. So, that, I feel, brings on a level of responsibility that is quite high. So, I was curious, which parts of the rebrand maybe helped make this experience of the end-user a lot more enjoyable and hassle-free and with less friction on their part?

Emily Hsiao: Yeah. So we are actually working in the next couple of quarters on bringing this new experience within our product. And what’s really exciting about that is that we have the opportunity to not just increase brand delight for people, but also help reduce friction in any areas there might be. So, we’re doing a lot of that discovery work now from things like, you know, maybe revamping our onboarding flow so that we can help reduce that friction, to finding ways to add a little brand delight through things like empty seats or banners. I think there’s a lot of opportunities when it comes to a product experience that can be kind of carried over from the larger brand, and help create a just more seamless user experience from the time they enter our marketing site to the time they finish onboarding throughout the product. So, I think there are a lot of exciting things that we haven’t quite explored yet, but will be coming in the next couple of quarters, which will be really exciting. 

Andra Zaharia: That is awesome. Thanks for sharing that. It makes me very curious to keep my eyes on Auth0 and see what happens next and obviously learn from that and take that as much as I can into conversations that I have with people around security, around what a great experience with a security-focused product looks like, and set those expectations or set a higher standard for companies operating in this space as well. I feel like every step forward in that direction opens up a new world of possibilities and kind of challenges the status quo, which I think we need a lot more of in this space – in the security space. So, obviously, this brand evolution triggered a much more vast timeline, which extends to so many other stages that help the entire company throughout its next stages, I guess. So how do you balance kind of capturing the current ethos, the current spirit of the brand, the current necessities of your audience, your customers, your partners, and so on, with just trying to build a durable brand? I feel like, in the past years at least – and probably many creatives have seen that – there are so many visual trends and there are so many companies trying to capitalize on that and capture that so fast. But you also want to make sure that it helps you navigate the next decade, let’s say. So what did this kind of challenge look like for you throughout this brand update?

Emily Hsiao: This was definitely one of the things we wanted to make sure we had in mind throughout this process because our old brand was very rigid, and it didn’t give us a lot of room to grow and evolve along with our company and along the times. So setting out to create this new brand evolution, we wanted to make sure we were creating guidelines and not rules. So, guidelines that can have flexibility for not just our internal team, but also for people using it, flexibility for our brand to evolve along with changing trends or changing times was really important. So, I think having that flexibility in the guidelines that you do create to enable that change is something to consider whether it’s allowing your illustration style to evolve, or having a broader color palette to account for different things that you might need to address down the road. Those things are things that were important to us in this rebrand. So, if you remember our old brand, it was pretty much black and orange. That’s what it was. And so, that’s what I mean when I say it was very, very rigid and that’s okay too. But for us, we just wanted to have more dynamic elements from gradients to an extended color palette, to different illustration styles. So yeah, that’s the direction that we chose to go in.

Andra Zaharia: And expanding this range of options I feel creates a more flexible vocabulary to talk to customers because in security in general or just in the tech space, some colors have a very deep association, they have high symbolism, they’re associated with good things or bad things. In educating people to see other options and to associate not just brand colors, but everything that ties into a brand, with different kinds of use cases or just scenarios in their lives. I feel like that is an important necessity but it also allows to bring this playful element and it allows the brand to adapt so well to whatever may come next because we obviously don’t know this as well as we thought we did. 

Emily Hsiao: Absolutely. That’s why one of our design principles was embracing adaptability and that’s exactly what that means, in that, allowing your brand to have that flexibility, so you can adapt to different customers you might be talking to or different instances you’re using the brand. So, we have from 2D patterns that are a little bit more technical to 3D renderings, that can be more playful. So just having different spectrums for things – you know, your brand is not just one thing; I think it should live on a spectrum so that if you need to communicate in a serious manner, like a pricing update, or whatever that might be, you have an opportunity to do that; but if you’re sending out a really fun marketing communication, you also have elements to play with there. So thinking of it on more of a spectrum, instead of just like one point in space.

Andra Zaharia: You’ve shared so many incredibly valuable things that act as guidance for people building their careers, people who have never maybe done a brand update or a rebrand. So, this is an incredible opportunity to learn about so many things in such a condensed manner. And I would love to add your personal experience to this. So, which parts of your background do you think helped you the most throughout this process, especially because you came on when the volume was just being turned up on this particular process. So, which parts of your experience came into play here and you feel helped you the most?

Emily Hsiao: Oh, gosh, I mean, I think that you learn the most from your past experiences, but every single company and every single experience you have in the future will be different and you’ll always learn from that – and that’s one of the things I love most about just this journey that we’re all on. I would say, just bring people along for the ride was something I learned because, you know, you can have experiences where rebrands aren’t met with such positivity and that can be really hard for everyone involved. So I think just the importance of communication is something I’ve learned with my experience, making sure everyone’s brought in the loop, but also having a really strong point of view as a design team. Because if you try to go the other way, and try to please everyone all the time, then that will burn you out and not get you a very good outcome because you’re designing by committee. So, I think being able to properly present your point of view and your team’s point of view, but also be flexible and learning and changing and growing is something that I’ve learned with my experience, and I would hope has helped contribute to this positive initiative that we just launched.

Andra Zaharia: I love the way you presented your work, not just in this conversation, but also in the dedicated landing page that you did for the rebrand and the way that you chose the language around this, and simply in the very honest way that you talk about this. And it’s clear that these principles are very rooted in maybe who you are as a person simply because I’m a strong believer that we do our best work when we get to just act on our principles, when we do things that align with us as specialists, whatever our role may be, whatever company that we work in, it’s those organizations that allow us to be ourselves and bring out the best in us. I think that really helps us make a difference and make an impact and do work that lasts – and a rebrand and a brand evolution is just one of those things that you contribute to that impacts millions, which I think is such an incredible opportunity.

Emily Hsiao: Yeah, and I think the great thing is those principles we came up with, we didn’t just come up with them by ourselves. We held workshops with the larger team and select people so it’s really nice to know that you’re working with people who share the same values as you and to agree and align on a set of principles like that is just a really positive experience because as an individual, you want to support the company you work for, and believe in the same things and have the same core values, and that’s really important. So that was a big part of it too.

Andra Zaharia: And I feel that is also kind of a beautiful way to wrap up our conversation, which I wish could go on for, you know, much longer. I absolutely loved your perspective. The energy that you brought to the conversation and the level of commitment and enthusiasm are just so inspiring. And all of these helpful, very specific details, add a lot to the community – and I love how you so honestly and sincerely shared them with our listeners, who I am sure will put them to good use in their respective jobs and projects, and get them excited about the big things that they can build with the skills and the passion that they have. So, thank you so much, Emily, for being on the podcast. You’ve been an incredible guest and I’m very, very happy that we had the opportunity to do this.

Emily Hsiao: Thank you so much for having me. This was super fun. And one of the things that’s really important to us is to be able to share our knowledge and share our work with the larger design community. So, we’ll continue to do things like this and be as helpful as possible with our other design partners. So yeah, thank you so much. This was a really fun experience.

Andra Zaharia: Thanks for exploring another fascinating rebranding process with us. If you found it helpful, subscribe to the show in your favorite podcast app, and leave us a review. Until next time, this is Andra Zaharia. Thanks for listening to the Drag & Drop show, by Creatopy.

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