SXSW is the premier destination for discovery. First celebrated in 1987, The South By South West – SXSW , is a conference and festival held in Texas’ Austin all about the convergence of the interactive, film and music industries, fostering creative and professional growth. Over the past eight years, Foxtrot has revamped yearly the SXSW brand identity. The best word that could describe the 2017’s identity is “transformation”. Foxtrot has cleverly reimagined the brand’s visual expression, design ecosystem and interfaces.The Berries interviewed Ryan Thompson and Jann Baskett, Director of Visual Design and Creative Director of Foxtrot, to delve into the backstage of the project.

BB: SXSW​ ​reinvents​ ​its​ ​brand​ ​identity​ ​each​ ​year​ ​with​ ​Foxtrot.​ ​In​ ​a​ ​nutshell, what​ ​inspired​ ​the​ ​2017​ ​brand​ ​identity​ ​?​ ​What​ ​are​ ​the​ ​main​ ​attributes​ ​of the​ ​new​ ​identity?

Ryan Thompson

RT: The​ ​impetus​ ​for​ ​the​ ​2017​ ​rebranding​ ​effort​ ​was​ ​to​ ​develop​ ​a​ ​unified identity​ ​system​ ​for​ ​SXSW’s​ ​diverse​ ​programming.

As​ ​SXSW​ ​has​ ​grown​ ​year​ ​after​ ​year,​ ​the​ ​number​ ​of​ ​events,​ ​competitions, exhibitions,​ ​topics,​ ​and​ ​festivals​ ​all​ ​competing​ ​for​ ​attention​ ​grew​ ​as well.​ ​Without​ ​a​ ​unified​ ​system​ ​for​ ​these​ ​properties​ ​the​ ​experience​ ​for attendees​ ​was​ ​becoming​ ​disjointed​ ​and​ ​confusing​ ​at​ ​times.

Our​ ​task​ ​was​ ​to​ ​look​ ​beyond​ ​a​ ​simple​ ​logo​ ​redesign​ ​to​ ​a​ ​larger​ ​system that​ ​would​ ​encompass​ ​all​ ​of​ ​SXSW.​ ​To​ ​eliminate​ ​the​ ​burden​ ​of reinventing​ ​the​ ​entire​ ​system​ ​annually​ ​or​ ​redesigning​ ​complex​ ​logo lockups​ ​each​ ​year,​ ​we​ ​employed​ ​a​ ​dynamic​ ​typographic-led​ ​framework for​ ​the​ ​identity.

Central​ ​to​ ​this​ ​new​ ​framework​ ​was​ ​re-imagining​ ​how​ ​the​ ​primary​ ​logo would​ ​influence​ ​the​ ​overall​ ​system​ ​to​ ​create​ ​an​ ​ownable,​ ​lasting identity.

An​ ​element​ ​that​ ​features​ ​prominently​ ​in​ ​the​ ​new​ ​design​ ​system​ ​is​ ​a southwest-pointing​ ​arrow.​ ​The​ ​arrow​ ​design​ ​had​ ​been​ ​around​ ​in​ ​one form​ ​or​ ​another​ ​since​ ​1987,​ ​the​ ​very​ ​first​ ​year​ ​of​ ​SXSW.​ ​It​ ​survived​ ​30 years​ ​of​ ​redesigns​ ​and​ ​trends,​ ​showing​ ​up​ ​in​ ​various​ ​places​ ​with​ ​each year’s​ ​look-and-feel.

Our​ ​team​ ​felt​ ​that​ ​the​ ​SXSW​ ​arrow​ ​would​ ​be​ ​a​ ​piece​ ​of​ ​meaningful history​ ​that​ ​could​ ​find​ ​new​ ​life​ ​in​ ​the​ ​larger​ ​system​ ​and​ ​become​ ​a recognizable​ ​mark​ ​for​ ​years​ ​to​ ​come.

BB: In​ ​the​ ​new​ ​brand​ ​identity,​ ​Foxtrot​ ​has​ ​opted​ ​for​ ​a​ ​more​ ​clean​ ​and​ ​sharp look​ ​and​ ​feel.​ ​Going​ ​with​ ​a​ ​solid​ ​wordmark,​ ​typeface,​ ​new​ ​icon,​ ​and ditching​ ​the​ ​diverse​ ​color​ ​palette​ ​used​ ​since​ ​2009.​ ​Does​ ​this​ ​reflect​ ​a change​ ​in​ ​the​ ​brand​ ​strategy?

Jann Baskett

JB: Leading​ ​up​ ​to​ ​the​ ​visual​ ​redesign,​ ​Foxtrot​ ​led​ ​a​ ​brand​ ​assessment​ ​and strategy​ ​with​ ​SXSW.​ ​The​ ​company​ ​had​ ​grown​ ​into​ ​a​ ​global​ ​brand organically,​ ​so​ ​the​ ​strategy​ ​was​ ​less​ ​a​ ​change​ ​than​ ​a​ ​crisp​ ​articulation of​ ​what​ ​it​ ​had​ ​already​ ​become—an​ ​essential​ ​destination​ ​for​ ​unexpected discovery.

Until​ ​the​ ​2017​ ​rebrand,​ ​the​ ​design​ ​efforts​ ​around​ ​the​ ​identity​ ​primarily addressed​ ​the​ ​needs​ ​of​ ​promoting​ ​the​ ​Music,​ ​Film,​ ​and​ ​Interactive conference​ ​and​ ​festivals​ ​as​ ​three​ ​distinct​ ​offerings.​ ​The​ ​new​ ​system reflects​ ​the​ ​evolution​ ​to​ ​more​ ​converged​ ​programming.

BB: In​ ​2017’s​ ​new​ ​brand​ ​identity,​ ​Foxtrot​ ​came​ ​up​ ​with​ ​a​ ​design​ ​ecosystem that​ ​highlights​ ​the​ ​digital​ ​experience​ ​of​ ​the​ ​festival.​ ​Does​ ​the​ ​new identity​ ​make​ ​SXSW​ ​“a​ ​more​ ​digital-friendly”​ ​brand​ ​?​ ​Please​ ​elaborate

RT: For​ ​the​ ​2017​ ​artwork,​ ​we​ ​looked​ ​at​ ​representing​ ​the​ ​diversity​ ​of experiences​ ​at​ ​SXSW​ ​through​ ​the​ ​use​ ​of​ ​photo-collage​ ​and​ ​lively​ ​color. Our​ ​primary​ ​inspiration​ ​was​ ​the​ ​lighting​ ​found​ ​on​ ​conference​ ​and​ ​event stages​ ​at​ ​SXSW.​ ​We​ ​then​ ​layered​ ​in​ ​elements​ ​like​ ​graphic​ ​patterns​ ​and pixel​ ​glitches​ ​to​ ​signal​ ​the​ ​energetic​ ​atmosphere​ ​at​ ​the​ ​event.​ ​The concept​ ​overall​ ​celebrated​ ​the​ ​anticipation​ ​and​ ​excitement​ ​of​ ​the​ ​SXSW event.

SXSW​ ​has​ ​always​ ​been​ ​a​ ​digital-friendly​ ​platform,​ ​and​ ​we​ ​knew​ ​that​ ​the branding​ ​would​ ​have​ ​to​ ​hold​ ​up​ ​across​ ​various​ ​media—from​ ​giant​ ​street banners​ ​to​ ​mobile​ ​devices​ ​used​ ​in​ ​darkly-lit​ ​spaces.

BB: SXSW​ ​is​ ​known​ ​as​ ​a​ ​go-to​ ​place​ ​for​ ​innovation​ ​in​ ​diverse​ ​disciplines.​ ​In your​ ​opinion,​ ​does​ ​the​ ​new​ ​identity​ ​strengthen​ ​its​ ​brand​ ​position?

RT: Absolutely.​ ​The​ ​purpose​ ​of​ ​SXSW​ ​is​ ​to​ ​help​ ​creative​ ​people​ ​achieve their​ ​goals.​ ​One​ ​way​ ​SXSW​ ​achieves​ ​this​ ​is​ ​by​ ​being​ ​the​ ​platform​ ​for diverse​ ​topics​ ​and​ ​people​ ​to​ ​come​ ​together.

The​ ​idea​ ​of​ ​SXSW​ ​being​ ​a​ ​cultural​ ​platform​ ​or​ ​stage​ ​was​ ​very​ ​much​ ​at the​ ​forefront​ ​of​ ​our​ ​thinking.​ ​The​ ​identity​ ​system​ ​supports​ ​this​ ​idea​ ​by providing​ ​a​ ​clear,​ ​consistent​ ​framework​ ​around​ ​which​ ​ideas​ ​and opinions​ ​can​ ​be​ ​expressed​ ​without​ ​the​ ​brand​ ​getting​ ​in​ ​the​ ​way.
This​ ​systematic​ ​approach​ ​naturally​ ​acts​ ​as​ ​wayfinding​ ​both​ ​digitally​ ​and in​ ​signage​ ​year-to-year.

BB: In​ ​its​ ​new​ ​design,​ ​Foxtrot​ ​tossed​ ​away​ ​the​ ​famous​ ​quirky​ ​font​ ​for​ ​a functional​ ​and​ ​agile​ ​one,​ ​pushing​ ​the​ ​brand​ ​more​ ​and​ ​more​ ​away​ ​from the​ ​fun​ ​and​ ​festive​ ​feel.​ ​What​ ​inspired​ ​such​ ​a​ ​decision​ ​?​ ​Has​ ​this affected​ ​brand​ ​recognition?

RT: The​ ​new​ ​unified​ ​identity​ ​system​ ​was​ ​designed​ ​to​ ​allow​ ​for​ ​a​ ​dramatic reimagining​ ​of​ ​the​ ​overall​ ​look​ ​and​ ​feel​ ​each​ ​year​ ​through​ ​unique, exciting​ ​artwork.​ ​The​ ​logo​ ​or​ ​new​ ​font​ ​choices​ ​no​ ​longer​ ​have​ ​to​ ​carry all​ ​the​ ​personality​ ​for​ ​the​ ​event.

Establishing​ ​a​ ​consistent,​ ​recognizable​ ​identity,​ ​instead​ ​of​ ​having​ ​a visual​ ​moving​ ​target,​ ​has​ ​improved​ ​brand​ ​recognition​ ​and​ ​equity dramatically.

The​ ​new​ ​system​ ​uses​ ​Founders​ ​Grotesk​ ​from​ ​Kris​ ​Sowersby​ ​(Klim),​ ​a distinctive​ ​type​ ​family​ ​celebrated​ ​for​ ​its​ ​versatility.​ ​The​ ​bold​ ​condensed weight​ ​gives​ ​the​ ​identity​ ​system​ ​a​ ​careful​ ​authority​ ​while​ ​the​ ​text weights​ ​add​ ​a​ ​dash​ ​of​ ​quirkiness​ ​without​ ​compromising​ ​legibility.


BB: This​ ​year​ ​a​ ​complete​ ​identity​ ​design​ ​system​ ​was​ ​crafted​ ​by​ ​Foxtrot, giving​ ​the​ ​SXSW​ ​brand​ ​a​ ​solid​ ​yet​ ​agile​ ​foundation​ ​to​ ​capitalize​ ​on​ ​every year.​ ​Does​ ​this​ ​make​ ​the​ ​2017​ ​identity​ ​of​ ​SXSW​ ​the​ ​most​ ​consistent, guided​ ​and​ ​strongest​ ​identity​ ​of​ ​all​ ​times?

RT: The​ ​team​ ​at​ ​SXSW​ ​enthusiastically​ ​welcomed​ ​the​ ​new​ ​system​ ​and guidelines​ ​from​ ​the​ ​beginning.​ ​The​ ​rebranding​ ​efforts​ ​have​ ​resulted​ ​in the​ ​most​ ​disciplined,​ ​yet​ ​flexible​ ​system​ ​for​ ​SXSW​ ​in​ ​recent​ ​history. The​ ​identity​ ​itself​ ​is​ ​intentionally​ ​timeless.​ ​By​ ​focusing​ ​on​ ​functionality and​ ​consistency​ ​for​ ​the​ ​logo​ ​we​ ​were​ ​able​ ​to​ ​maximize​ ​the​ ​creative potential​ ​of​ ​the​ ​annual​ ​event​ ​look-and-feel,​ ​which​ ​is​ ​the​ ​heart​ ​of​ ​the SXSW​ ​experience.