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When 5 months are not enough to find the logo of your startup

When 5 months are not enough to find the logo of your startup

When I started designing the logo of Cubbit, I felt like a hunter who is trying to catch an idea with a butterfly net. The logo of a startup is not bells and whistles, is meaning embedded in a symbol. What was the meaning I was trying to convey?

Cubbit was a few months old. At the time, there was no web application, no network, no Cubbit Cell. But the idea of shaping a new internet was burning in our mind. We were embarking on a hazardous journey like the one of the Shackleton’s ad: no wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful, honor and recognition in case of success. And it was worth it. The internet was — and still is — a monumental machine fueled by everybody’s data, whose cogs are stadium-size, polluting server farms. It started with a dream of freedom, and became a tentacular panopticon where privacy does not exist and we pay a rent. Our goal was simple: to build a new infrastructure for the internet and make it anew. With no data center, no monthly fee, no one in control. A place where we are not bolted to the ground. Where we can fly.

The day we had the first brainstorming session — a Tuesday morning — it was the chaos. Everyone knew what Cubbit was, yet everyone’s idea was different. For some, Cubbit was a peer-to-peer file sharing network. For the others, it was the new cloud. Also, it was a stunningly energy-efficient architecture, the green revolution. Finally, it was something that could change once and for all the way we store our data. And the beauty was that everyone was right.

It was difficult to find a common ground. The founders were arguing in the living room of the flat we were renting on AirBnB to fund the company. We talked. A lot. It was like four people fighting for a small blanket in the winter while I was trying to make the blanket a little bigger. So we thought of a few keywords to establish some point of reference. We took the pens and wrote:

Why these words?

Distributed stands for the network architecture: from giant server farms to a small server in everyone’s house. Collaboration is how the network works: rather than slaves to a master-like data center, Cubbit Cells talk to each other, and by the power of collaboration enable the whole thing. The beehive was a concrete application of this concept. Why a cube? Because its sound is similar to Cubbit, which is a cubby for bits. The cubby is, in fact, the locker that children use at school — it is your private space, and even a child can use it. And finally the door — the door to access your data.

Then, we began drawing. Yes, we. In accordance to the principles of design thinking, I invited all the founders to participate. I sat them down and asked them to make their own logo in secret. The most disparate ideas came up.

After that, they were all ready to show their work, but also scared because, you know, they knew they were inadequate for the task, so they got surprised and a bit reassured when I told them they were not going to. Indeed, I had each founder give his paper with the logo to the one to his right, and add something to the logo they received from the person at their left. When each logo had been passed through every founder’s hands, we all looked at the results.

I sketched a few logos as well.

As expected, the results were disastrous. But that was not the point. The thing is, we were throwing ideas on the shaker to see what happens. In fact, we were amazed. Not by our logos: we were amazed that each one of them belonged to all of us. They were not someone’s logos — they were ours.

The picture was getting clearer: we didn’t want a cloud as the logo, Marco, our CTO, was adamant about it. Almost every cloud service is represented as a cloud. But the cloud is a lie. It’s not an ethereal place that exists solely on the internet. It’s a machine. It’s the cloud of smog spilling out of the machine. There were other cool ideas.

The rain, for instance. We loved it. The rain is a metaphor for what comes after the clouds, and we wanted to express the idea that Cubbit is not a cloud platform, but what’s beyond the cloud. Also, ripples in the water: in Cubbit, each file is safe whatever happens to the Cubbit Cell because it’s not saved on the Cell. It’s protected by a redundancy procedure, and so are ripples in the water, bringing a message to the edge of the pond. Finally, galaxies, i.e. networks of constellations.

Of all these concepts, the most powerful one was the swarm of bees.

The swarm summed up all the concepts into one. Think about it. The swarm is a distributed, collective intelligence. And all thanks to every bee, collaborating with each other. Also, the swarm flies! Sure, it has nothing to do with doors and cubes, but we soon discarded them. Doors lead to private rooms, while Cubbit is not a series of disconnected private rooms, but a network of private rooms that users can open to other users. The cube was not compelling — the phonic resemblance was not enough.

With all of this in mind I tried to find a synthesis.

But I was not satisfied. None of this logo was yelling high tech. There was no order. I made a few more attempts. There was no clarity, no purpose. And then some more. Failed again. And more. And more. I wasn’t getting anywhere. I kept making more for 5 months.

I was relentless. Working shoulder to shoulder with the founders. Empathizing with them. Designing the first prototype of the Cubbit Cell. Getting my hands dirty with the product. Day after day, feeling one with it. Many more logos after that, I was still clueless. I turned back to the keywords we wrote down. And that was when I decided to throw everything away, and start again. From scratch.

I explored the straight line, the simplicity of the square, the fascinating power of the triangle. It was intriguing: saying more with less. Less bells and whistles, less bullshits. I rapidly sketched a few logos. They were not as illustrative as the first ones, but it was clear I was onto something. And the more I drew, the closer I got. I came up with this.

It was based on a little idea I was testing: the hexagon. The hexagon is the shape of the beehive’s cells. The hexagon is a cube in perspective. The crystalline structure of graphene, the strongest material in the world, is a hexagonal grid.

With this logo, I wanted to express many concepts. If you notice, it’s made of three intersecting hexagons, two of which have a hexagon inside. The three hexagon-cubes represent three Cubbit Cells talking to each other. The intersection is there to say: these are not three separate devices, this is a network which is only enabled by the collaboration of the devices. Like the internet. What’s more, if you pay attention you will find a little Easter Egg I put in the logo: a bee.

I was happy, at the end of a long journey into meaning. 5 months and a half. Yet something else was missing: clarity. But unlike I had done before, this time I didn’t add anything. Instead, I cut something out. The one final change: removing the opacity. It was making the logo difficult to use, especially to print on paper, because then there were three different colors. What’s more, the opacity gave the idea of something complex while the story I wanted to tell was simple.

I had arrived at the end of my journey. And this: this is what I found.

Why blue? Because blue is naturally associated with trust and security. We actually considered a green logo since Cubbit is a green technology, but given that we are in the business of securing people’s data, blue felt like a natural choice.

It clicked. We were all together at a fair, and the logo hit home with everyone. I was joyful. Because when you do something with intention, you will get there.

My butterfly net was not empty anymore.

Acknowledgments

Thanks to my colleague and friend Andrea Rovai for helping me find the words to tell this story.

When 5 months are not enough to find the logo of your startup

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