Two months ago I thought virtual assistants were clever little robots that lived in the cloud and did virtual work in their virtual laptops in their own virtual realities. Something about the word “virtual” just conjured up vast imagined scenes in the cloud. So imagine my excitement when one night (on the eve of my birthday no less) my team received an email asking us to design a brand for a VA. I was stoked. And guess what? turns out they’re even cooler in real life. Here’s how the Stoko team went about branding the Marti Virtual Assistant.

Official Launch Image of Marti by Makisu

When we received the first email, my team and I jumped right ahead to analyze the competition. I scoured the net for other sites offering similar services and found two major trends: VA landing pages were either bedazzled with charming hand-drawn illustrations to appear sincere and approachable, or decorated with large images of smartly dressed young professionals to appear reliable and competent. These worked—but only to a certain extent.

Let me clarify—interacting with a virtual assistant mainly consists of sending instructions over email to another individual working remotely, so these visual strategies did a pretty commendable job at humanizing these companies and shedding light on the people behind every task. However, to someone who knew nothing about virtual assistants, both visual strategies were equally vague. They didn’t do much to visually describe the process of working with a VA. That had to be Marti’s edge.

The Play-Doh Epiphany

I loved Play-Doh. When I was a child I had an obsession with shaping perfect spheres and cylinders with my stubby little fingers with different hues of clay, watching vibrant colors mix and marble until they kneaded into faceless blobs of boring gray. Sometimes Play-Doh clay sets came with tools.

One of my favorite Play-Doh toys looked like a kindergarten-level trash compactor. I’d feed raw blobs of clay into an opening until it was full, then I’d press that clay down with a lever. A star-shaped rainbow noodle would unravel itself gracefully out the other end. It was magic.

And it was the same type of magic that Marti was made of.

Makisu and Stoko Online Meeting: Stoko Presents Branding Concept of Marti

Modular Machines

The Stoko team took the general concept of this clay-molding toy and worked backwards to extract a few unifying themes to tie the brand together moving forward. We came up with three guiding pillars that let us translate this toy into a visual system for the Marti virtual assistant.

  1. Optimized and optimistic
  • If the Marti brand was going to be communicated through animated machine assets, these devices needed to look as effective and efficient as the company itself, and carry the same eager energy. Disney’s Meet the Robinsons in all its retro-futuristic glory was a key inspiration.
  1. Complex, but not complicated
  • A pitfall of using a toy as the main springboard for visual ideation is the possibility that the brand may develop into something simplistic and naive. The machines thus had to appear robust and capable of complex tasks, without appearing over complicated and difficult.
  1. Fun and understandable
  • Finally, the function of each machine had to communicate itself at a glance. This was accomplished by modeling each machine based on different home appliances that people use on the daily—washing machines, toasters, pots, bowls, printers—with a few whimsical outliers. Each machine also had to strike joy into the viewer. The brand had to be fun and understandable.

Each machine is modular and crafted to fit on an isometric grid, with most taking just one square. Materials are kept consistent as well, composed primarily of combinations of simulated rubber, glass, metal, or paper. Each machine has designated slots for either an input, an output, our both. Every action loop elapses within 2.5 seconds. These consistencies permit unique combinations among machines, granting each model a near boundless potential for reuse. This modularity is an apt visual metaphor for the flexibility of the Virtual Assistant service itself.

The rest of the brand is constructed to complement these assets while standing alone. Marti’s dominantly orange and warm-white color palette treads the line between clear–cut professionalism and simple fun. The analogous hues keep the brand grounded without too much ornamentation, balancing an eager and vibrant color scheme with just enough restraint. The Marti logomark retains the rounded edges from the modular machines while primarily depicting two individuals shaking hands. The logotype retains the brand’s overall respect for structure, as Mier’s thick geometric forms pair well against the machinery.

Printer: One of Marti's 3D Collateral

Parting Thoughts

In less than a month of revamping their overall identity to become visually fun and approachable, organic engagement and personal messages received by Marti on social media grew by 67%.

I never really considered the power of personal memories and nostalgia in the ideation of a brand. A lot of my work consists of strict processes and systems (building personas, competitor analysis, A/B testing) which are reliable albeit a little formulaic. A little spontaneous introspection added something different and wonderful to this project. Being able to build a brand around a cherished childhood memory is a tangible testament to the unique flavor that any creative can bring into every project they take on, on top of established systems and guidelines. That excites me.

I think everyone has a unique take on tackling problems no matter how homogeneous the established processes may seem, that we’ve all been unwittingly nurturing by simply living life. Maybe the moral of this story’s that the real brand identity is inside you all along.

The Marti brand was developed by Stoko, a design collective made up of JJ Agcaoili, Macy Escay, Charles Yu, Nikka Diaz, and Trisha Uy