From a Super Bowl ad to a rebrand: The Collected Works on the evolution of Expensify’s new look
With the help of The Collected Works, Expensify has succeeded in building a brand world that makes the tedium of expense management into something truly weirdly wonderful and joyous. The financial management super app themselves describe it as “a colourful and surreal universe, where scanning receipts is as fun as popping a bottle of champagne.” Aiming to separate themselves from traditional financial softwares, Expensify collaborated with the New York City and New Orleans-based design studio on the brand overhaul, resulting in a robust identity system featuring a new logo, an expanded colour palette, typography, layouts, app and website refreshes, physical space build-outs, and motion graphics. We spoke to The Collected Works Co-founders Justin Colt and Jose Fresneda to delve deeper into the project and learn more about the process involved.
What really sets Expensify apart is the vibrant and expressive world brimming with illustrations and motion. Following the success of Expensify’s 2019 Super Bowl commercial – featuring a brief animated interlude created by Augenblick Studios – an illustrated universe was irresistible to return to. The team at Expensify reached out once again to Augenblick Studios, who were just as keen to grow the small cast of characters they’d developed, alongside new environments, animations, and iconography. “What we wanted from them was to expand on the universe created for the Super Bowl spot,” Fresneda explains. “The only big stylistic change for them was to make sure that they only used the expanded colour palette that we had developed. That way all of the brand elements would be consistent with one another.”
Expensify’s brand and marketing teams had identified an opportunity to bridge the gap that existed between the big personality of their advertising and marketing efforts, and the pared-down aspects of their brand. “This was actually one of the most exciting aspects when we first saw their initial brief,” Fresneda reveals. “We saw the potential of using these illustrations as a way to make the brand feel unique and different from any other brand in the expense management world. We explored a lot of different approaches – both stylistic and conceptual – as to how the illustrations should be used. Some approaches used them only as outlines to call less attention to them. Others collaged them on top of photography as if they were stickers.” From pared-back minimalism to a bombastic maximalist approach, the studio grew to better understand the pivotal role that illustration could play within the system.
“By the end of this exploration,” Fresneda tells us, “we came to the conclusion that we needed two different ‘tiers’ of illustrations. Some of them are more functional, to be used as icons within the UI, and some expressive ones that should be based on certain specific actions or keywords, but would ultimately serve as a toolkit for their marketing needs.”
Rejecting the black and blues of typical dark modes, The Collected Works instead opt for a deep green as the hero colour. After all, as Colt and Fresneda point out, green is not only “the colour of money,” but also the main action colour within the Expensify app. “Working closely with the product team,” Fresneda notes, “we identified this as an opportunity to really own this particular shade of green, and to commit to different shades of green to form the product’s light and dark mode.”
The Collected Works expanded the colour palette from the original four brand colours (two shades of blue, plus green and yellow). “This in itself was a bit of a challenge since there was so much shading and detail in the work,” Fresneda reflects. “Adding the different shades allowed us to maintain the spirit of the illustrations, and making sure that they were all consistent between them, and with the other brand elements. Strict colour usage guidelines were also created to make sure that the colour palette wouldn’t be overwhelming to the internal team, assigning specific pairings to be used when they had the task of creating new materials.”
While the enticing visual elements are a treat for the eyes, a new unifying typographic direction – made up of modified typefaces Expensify New Kansas, Expensify Neue, and Expensify Mono – solidifies the brand’s new direction. Expensify New Kansas serves as a new expressive headline typeface, which Fresneda describes as “the perfect way to link the relaxed energy of the illustration system with the more straightforward needs of the product’s design.” CoType’s RM Neue was their preferred type option for body copy, but it couldn’t be used off the shelf. The team collaborated with type foundries Newlyn and CoType to ensure that these typefaces share the same DNA. For New Kansas, the goal was to make the typeface feel slightly less stylised by straightening some of the angular characters and adding a custom suite of ligatures. As for RM Neue, the objective was to soften some of the typeface’s features by rounding all punctuation and matching some of New Kansas’ unique letterforms.
“CoType and Newlyn were incredible collaborators. Not only did they fully understand what we were looking for, but they also made sure to always let us know if there were any additional suggestions for how to make these two typographic families work better with one another. They also helped us bring even more dimension to the work by developing a monospaced version of Expensify Neue, dubbed Expensify Mono, which is featured in all code snippets and reference documents, as well as a Swash version of Expensify New Kansas, which allows for even more expressivity on certain headlines.”