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Releasing Our Inner Data Nerds with Sigma

The making of an illustration system for a data-driven company
Sigma Computing is an ambitious startup whose main goal is to simplify complex data technologies by changing the data conversation and removing barriers. In 2019, after almost five years in the market, they decided to take a slightly different approach to brand positioning and identity by releasing a new bold and colorful look that required the development of recognizable core brand elements.
Before the Sigma Computing brand got refreshed, the company lacked an existing illustration system, relying on stock images and clip arts in presentations, published materials and on the web. This approach is taken by many growing companies and is affecting their sales, demand generation goals and even reputation at times.

Sigma Computing decided that they're not like many, but are one of a kind. They reimagined brand identity with a big splash of color stepping away from traditional blue data presentation and making it bolder, more passionate and quirky-cool. The idea behind this decision was that data can be fun for users - it can be modern and playful. So instead of just saying 'trust us', the company's message transformed into 'you can trust us and have fun with us', which is a much more friendly and positive approach.

And here's where the GoFable team got involved. Sharing Sigma's values and understanding the core of the new company's path in design and content production GoFable immediately jumped into carving a new imagery system for Sigma. The difficulty with it was slightly tight timing: the relaunch was set for a specific date and the GoFable team had only 2 weeks to develop a new illustration style for Sigma's launch date.
To cope with the tight timeline, we formed a special unit of 6 people for the Sigma Computing project including a project manager, art directors, illustrators, and a graphic designer. Each team member was covering their own domain expertise, helping us obtain the best result in a short period of time.

To be great, you don't have to rebuild everything from the ground, but you must respect where you started from. This is the approach the creative team decided to take. One of the few elements that persisted from old Sigma branding was the logo structure and a unique icon. The request was not just to produce any kind of illustrations, but to specifically work in a fractured tangram and geometric style that will match the existing main element of brand design - the Sigma crane icon they started with back in 2014.
While it might seem like a simple task due to simple forms and shapes, in reality it's a bit more complicated. Being simple also makes tangram style quite limiting in terms of forms, structures and shapes. The challenge was to make human characters that look, well, human enough but also suit the style.
The process
We started with the development of characters, having their descriptions and style references in hand. It was important to approve their appearances and poses before we could move forward. On August 19th, our illustrator provided the first sketches.
Their art director made some adjustments and we moved on to colored versions of the first sketches with initial stylistic decisions. Our main goal on August 19th was to combine distinctive features of tangram and cubic styles that the client provided as references without copying them one to one.
Our next step was to present the initial results to Sigma's art director and discuss first impressions. During this discussion we decided to step away from the classic interpretation of the Queen's image and make her more modern. We also agreed to make male characters more gender neutral. On August 20th, we began to search for a new image and collect moodboards. Once the new image was found, we created sketches, detailed the most relatable ones and created a presentation demonstrating the process and the results on August 21st.

We shifted the Queen's image towards a modern yet fashionable nerdy girl by adding glasses and a different outfit. At the same time, it was important to show her royal descent but in a less stereotypical way. We kept the basic royal elements of a crown and scepter to achieve this. Fractured effects and elements were added to connect the illustration with logo elements and we tried different levels of geometrization.
Nerd needed to become more stylish. We wanted to reflect that he's a cool character and a very interesting person, as each and every one of us has our own nerd inside. We changed his physique and hairstyle, removed facial hair and added logo elements in the form of a backpack.
The new image of a Data Rockstar was inspired by famous glam rockers of the current era. It's more androgynous and allowed us to embed Sigma's logo into the character's makeup and outfit elements. We changed his outfit, added a shirt with suspenders, and made him even nerdier. We also detailed the first rocker sketch since we liked it so much and presented it as well.
We discussed the results with Sigma and choose the images to work on further, then prepared the finalized versions and presented them on August 26th.
Also on August 26th, we began to prepare sketches for scenes and included them in the presentation as well.
After discussions, we moved to the next stage of our production process. Sigma chose the scenes that their team liked the most and even a few new ideas came up in the discussion process. By August 28th, we tweaked the futuristic scene and chose soccer for the 'Data is a team sport' illustration as it reflects the idea much better.
We also refined the characters and created design elements to surround them with.
On August 30th, we finalized all the scenes and approved them with Sigma with only minor suggestions regarding color changes from the art director.
We fixed the colors in accordance with Sigma's brand guidelines, finalized all the scenes and moved on to preparing illustration guidelines on September 2nd.
The illustrations were fully approved by Sigma and on September 3rd, we started to create the last scene and guidelines.
On September 7th, we finalized and approved the last DJ scene with Sigma.
Descriptions of the structure of each illustration were laid out into component parts with details about the number and types of different design elements. These elements can be utilized as illustration backgrounds as well as used separately to create patterns and/or decorate website and corporate products.
The task GoFable initially had was to create an illustration system: 3 main brand characters to tell a bigger story in 4 unique scene illustrations along with design elements that the client's team would be using in their marketing materials and webpages. The main slogan of the new illustration system was 'Express the data nerd in all of us' and so the Data Queen, the Data Nerd and the Data Rockstar were born. Each character has a unique personality and purpose in the customer's journey through the magical kingdom of data elements.
1. Characters
Sigma is a progressive and modern company. That's why one of the requirements was to create a set of diverse and powerful characters, without making any of them the center of attention. So each of the characters has a neutral appearance and clothing style. The diverse range of skin tones are strongly based on Sigma's brand colors and guidelines.

Sidenote. While a unicorn was initially required to be a supporting character for the Queen, both GoFable and Sigma loved it so much that it was presented in every other illustration and website design. The power of the rainbow in motion!
2. Textures and elements
Each illustration has multiple abstractions of charts that work as separate design textures. All elements were based on key data elements and comprised of simple geometric forms to support the tangram style. They can be used in a variety of promo materials and web page designs to bring the whole illustration system together.
3. Scenes
Each scene was developed to illustrate a specific website section and key product points.
Essential Tips
1. Communication is key

No doubt about it… Being professional is helpful, however, no expert could provide great results without a full understanding of the brand, the idea behind it and a personalized approach. We were fortunate to have a healthy and constructive collaboration with Sigma. Their Art Director, Anne Marie Jasinowski and Head of Demand Generation Marketing, Blanka Supe provided all the required information and feedback- from brand guidelines to a useful and informative brief. While working on this project, we had up to 5 calls per week and because they had a representative with a background in design who actually created the new branding for Sigma, it made the feedback constructive and the communication easy and fun.

The point is: always work (or at least try to) with a company's representative who is familiar with the subject of your work or trusts you enough to accept and approve your professional choices. Otherwise, the process might be long and unnecessarily stressful for both sides.

2. Form a team that matches the project

You should have a team of professionals with specific tasks and responsibilities assigned to projects. One or two people can hardly handle deadlines or pressure. It takes teamwork! At GoFable we always form a specific team for each new project in accordance with our client's needs and requirements. Each client has a personal project manager who controls production stages, deadlines and communication. Illustrators with specific skills and styles are assigned in order to match visual requirements. The team may include designers, editors, copywriters and consultants when needed. A strong team where everyone knows what they're doing is essential to a project's success.

3. Don't be a drag, just be a queen or simply be creative!

Always follow your heart and mind when creating beautiful content. If you have something more to offer than stated in the brief - do that, that's what the client hired you for. With this project, the last scene illustration could have been completely different: the initial idea was to have a Data Nerd bringing something data-related to the Data Queen as a gift in a futuristic environment. Nice idea, however after a couple of discussions, we turned this illustration into a collaborative story about building the future together. And it turned out to be one of our favorite pics. Don't set limits for yourself - create as much as you can… that's all we're saying!

Essential Tips
In less than 2 weeks, GoFable produced an entire illustration system to eliminate the use of stock images and clip art in content production for Sigma Computing. With healthy support and valuable feedback from, we were not only able to produce a working and presentable company image, but also one that meets all the requirements of Sigma's team.

Long live the Queen, the Nerd, and the Rockstar!
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