A LINE and Pelago discuss the logistics, challenges and insights behind their brand collaboration
Formerly known as Quit Genius, Pelago is the leading digital clinic for substance-use management and support. They partner with employers, delivering personalised care and supporting workplace wellness. To help create their new approachable and empathy-led brand identity – one that eliminates stigma – they approached San Francisco-based studio A LINE. Here, we chat to both sides of the collaboration – Pelago’s Design Director Selim Cherif and A LINE’s Co-founder & Creative Director James Trump – to learn more about the project and how it unfolded.
PT Hi James and Selim, how’s everything going?
SC Very well, thanks! Hope you’re doing fine, too!
JT Brilliant, thank you. Great to be speaking with you again, we’re big fans of TBI.
PT Thank you both! Selim, the rebrand looks excellent. Why did Quit Genius (Pelago) need it?
SC Thank you so much! Firstly, The name Quit Genius presented a few issues. Secondly, it’s too focused on quitting addiction, which might not match the goals of people with alcohol substance use disorder. This can discourage them from enrolling in the programme. Also, the name limits our options for expanding into other areas of treatment, like eating disorders or broader mental health categories. Lastly, it was not easy to pronounce it correctly, and people often ended up saying ‘quick genius’ instead. So, overall, the name created some hurdles for us.
From an aesthetic perspective, we wanted our brand to have a welcoming and optimistic look. However, our previous branding had a clinical and medical vibe that turned off a large number of people we wanted to help. We conducted some research to understand how our brand was perceived, and many individuals felt that the name and overall appearance of Quit Genius didn’t align with their needs. As a result, they didn’t believe it was the right programme for them.
PT Why did you ask A LINE to work with you? What stood out to them as an agency?
SC Back in 2013, I had the chance to work with Nick and James at Moving Brands in San Francisco. Seeing them in action, I was amazed by how well they grasped clients’ needs and their abilities to come up with creative solutions. It felt like the perfect partnership, especially considering the great brand identities they had already created in the past. Knowing them personally and witnessing their talent firsthand, it was a no-brainer for me to want to collaborate with them.
The naming phase was quite tough since we had to get all the stakeholders on board.
PT How long did the project take in total? And were there any hurdles along the way?
SC The project began in late February 2022, and if I recall correctly, it spanned over a period of seven months. As we decided to change our name and visual identity, we went through different phases. The naming phase was quite tough since we had to get all the stakeholders on board with the chosen name. It wasn’t easy finding a name that wasn’t already trademarked, but with the help of A LINE, we navigated through the trademark world. They also provided us with a framework that helped us convince and get everyone on the same page. From the visual perspective, we were pretty well aligned and managed to move quite fast with the brand we thought was the right for us!
JT The project went really smoothly on the whole. Everyone on Pelago’s team was really committed to a positive leap forward and was very respectful to how A LINE could help with this change. Having this as the foundation to the partnership makes everything so much more enjoyable and you can often see this in the work. As Selim said the name was one of the main challenges, we had found several names that the team liked but on the first pass of trademarking were unavailable. The name Pelago (a shortened version of archipelago) was born from the brand idea we had worked on together ‘you are not an island.’ This is a little unconventional as a brand idea with it being a metaphor but the Pelago team saw the merit in the opportunities it created for talking about support but also a rich area for creativity, using islands as inspiration across the brand. Having the brand idea and strategy in place always gave us a great place to go back to whenever names came back as a no-go from the trademark attorney.
PT How did you work around your time zone differences? What schedules suited you? Likewise, what forms of communication did you opt for?
SC In all honesty, we established an efficient workflow for our collaboration. Our main catch-up meetings were scheduled at 6pm (GMT), which conveniently aligned with 9am (PT) for our Zoom calls. For less critical requests or design reviews, we relied heavily on asynchronous communication through email exchanges. This allowed us to effectively address and discuss matters without requiring immediate real-time interaction.
JT We’ve worked across many time zones in the last few years. We’ve found being flexible outside the 9-5 is key to keeping things moving, as well as when we might need group meetings or 1-on-1 meetings. For example, at the start of the project, we needed several group meetings to create the strategy, toward the end of the project working through design details Selim and I would collaborate via email, quick calls and comments in Figma.
PT How did you decide on the concept behind the identity? Were there other routes that you considered?
JT We arrived at the brand idea ‘you are not an island’ along with the brand personality, this is what we use when we start designing the identity and always come back to it if we don’t feel like the design is quite hitting the mark.
We presented three identity routes, the first route had a dynamic logotype that was arranged like a cluster of islands (an archipelago). It rearranged in different formations and liked the idea that with motion it could also take on a water-like movement that could be subtle and calming. This was balanced with a structured layout system that felt almost like folders to organise content.
The second route had a dynamic ‘P’ symbol that acted like a flag. The flag loosely connected to the island idea and we like that it also felt like it was leading the way in changing the stigma around substance abuse in the workplace. The was paired with a strong illustration style that felt like a modern interpretation of mythological illustrations with the idea that we were capturing moments along a positive journey of transformation.
The third concept was the winner!
The third route was the chosen direction although we had presented it with a different colour palette that featured a Kelly Green and more earthtones, along with colourful illustrations by Dominic Kesterton. The client’s feedback was to look at tweaks to the colour palette, explore a supporting typeface and look at another option for illustration.
SC The third concept was the winner! Everything from the wordmark, layouts, and the concept with the ovals was just right. We only had to make a few small changes to the colours, illustrations and some fine-tuning on the wordmark.
PT When creating the colour palette, what inspired you?
JT We chose yellow as the hero colour as it felt so optimistic and inviting, also a colour that is really different in the industry. We balanced this with natural tones inspired by the island brand idea, they add a more grounded feel that represents Pelago’s wealth of knowledge and expertise.
PT What was your thinking behind the wordmark? Is it custom or modified?
JT It started off as Nimbus by Tan Type and we modified it. We liked the idea of using the ovals in the system (that represent islands) as a way to modify the wordmark. We had rounds and rounds of refinement between the design teams. Making sure it worked at smaller sizes for the app was a practical consideration but we were also conscious of creating something that had a nice mix of familiar and unfamiliar forms.
PT James, how did A LINE ensure that the new visual and verbal identity remained sensitive to the target demographic? What input did you receive from Pelago?
JT There were certain words we needed to avoid when addressing the stigma around substance abuse in the workplace. It was a great partnership in that the Pelago team were educating us on the sensitivities of both their clients and patients, and we were able to bring new thinking and ideas. Combined I feel like we found a new space that is ownable and unique. We created a tone of voice that captured the nuances of this new way of talking in the industry so that Pelago’s team could use them in their copy going forward.
For the visual identity, the main area was photography, making sure we were properly representing the audience. We explored lots of options and created a set of principles – warm, optimistic, journalistic and honest to guide the art direction. With this, we were able to find a few that were working well and then used these to build out an initial photography library.
PT Selim, what did A LINE do to ensure they understood Quit Genius / Pelago from the inside out?
SC A LINE organised several workshops with key stakeholders at Quit Genius / Pelago to ensure we had input from different departments. A LINE then identified common themes that emerged from these discussions. It wasn’t easy, though, because Quit Genius / Pelago operates in the B2B to B2C realm, and we had to consider both our clients and our users. These two groups have different preferences and priorities, so finding the right balance was quite a challenge. In addition, they conducted individual interviews with various C-level stakeholders to gain deeper insights into their perceptions of Quit Genius / Pelago and to understand the vision of success for the company. These one-on-one interviews provided valuable information on where Quit Genius / Pelago needed to position itself in order to achieve success according to the perspectives of these key decision-makers.
PT And following on from that, were there any instances where you disagreed or needed persuading with an idea?
SC Probably not a disagreement, but we needed some persuading about the messaging. We had to find a common ground on how to talk about Pelago in general, how to sound when communicating with clients, and how to sound when addressing our users. It wasn’t a big issue, but we definitely needed A LINE’s influence to bring everything together and reach an agreement on how we sound.
Jay’s unique style illustration resonated perfectly with our brand.
PT Why was Jay Cover’s illustration style right for the project?
SC We were aiming for an illustration style that didn’t come across as too polished or flawless. Jay’s unique style illustration, featuring textured lines, half-tone patterns, and friendly characters, resonated perfectly with our brand. It particularly shone when we had to convey abstract concepts.
JT Three of the brand personality traits are empathy, optimism and warmth and we saw this in some of Jay’s work. The way he took the metaphor of the brand idea while covering more of the practical things we needed to communicate was something that really helped the identity work, especially in the app.
PT What is your favourite thing about the rebrand?
SC Personally, I’m really digging the positive and approachable vibe of this brand. The messaging and visual identity are consistent, which gives it a sense of wholeness. I guess what I love most about this rebrand is how consistent it is!
JT The optimistic feel of the identity. Compared to the competition this really helps it stand out in a nice way in my opinion.
JT We designed the identity to be really flexible and created principles and guidance for each element should it need to be extended. Selim’s team is doing such a great job applying the identity!
PT What can we expect from A LINE and Pelago in the future? Might you be working together again?
SC We absolutely love working with A LINE! They have played a crucial role in putting our brand in the right place. Having their support would be incredibly valuable to us, we will see what the future holds!
JT We would love to! It’s been such a great partnership in that we both push each other to do the best work.