How Twitch reimagined itself for a larger future

Twitch logo.

Image courtesy of Twitch and COLLINS

by Kari Norder

Posted on 10-16-2020

When you sit down to talk about reimagining a global digital platform with Byron Phillipson, global executive creative director at Twitch, and Brian Collins, chief creative officer of COLLINS, you might not think the first topic of discussion would be Disneyland. But to hear Collins tell it, there’s no better place to start.

“If you’ve ever been to Disneyland, you’ll notice that some people are there just to sit on a bench all day long and … watch,” says Collins. “They sit there, on Main Street, in the middle of all that beautiful pandemonium, just to take everything all in. Many of them go there once a week. Some, every day. It’s an experience unlike anything else for these people because no one else does what Disney does — at the scale, the ambition, the consistency, the uniqueness.”

If there’s any lesson in brand building, you’ll learn on a visit to the “Happiest Place on Earth” it’s this: “You never want to be the best at something — you want to be the only. Twitch is the only.”

Collins frames his definition: “A brand is a promise performed consistently over time.”

Great brands, like Disney, do this by standing for a larger ideal, a bigger idea — not only for a product or service. It’s these larger, higher-order brand values that allow a company like Disney to credibly evolve and expand into new territories, new relationships, even to new categories. “A strong brand…” says Collins, “is not only a force multiplier for more effective communications and experiences, but also a bridge to real, future-building opportunities.”

In their Adobe MAX talk, Collins and Phillipson take us behind the scenes to show us the process that went into crafting a new brand strategy and rebrand for Twitch — and how to grow an “only.”

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Image courtesy of Twitch and COLLINS

Finding the larger story inside Twitch

A good brand delivers a product or service consistently. A great brand is about meeting — and then exceeding — the expectations of the present, while building equity for the future. Twitch rose to success as a live streaming platform for gamers, but there was clearly a larger audience for Twitch in addition to gaming. Just ask anyone who uses Twitch to watch Bob Ross paint, who sharpens their Photoshop skills with video tutorials, or who can’t get enough NFL football — or music. As live streaming efforts from outside gaming found a home on Twitch, the challenge became clear: To welcome new people into the Twitch ecosystem — and keep them — without alienating the gamers who made the platform so successful in the first place.

“Twitch needed to tell a much larger story,” says Phillipson. “Gaming was our first proof point, yes. But Twitch is actually a platform for everyone who wants to create new conversations about the stuff they love — anything and everything. They want to share their interests, curiosities, and creativity.”

Creators.

Image courtesy of Twitch and COLLINS

“We call our people ‘creators’ — anyone who deeply loves what they love and want to create new communities around it. We wanted to grow Twitch to do just that, not by sanitizing or reducing what had made us so compelling, but by doubling down on what made us so unique.”

Collins agrees. “Our goal with the Twitch team from the start was to develop a pretty deep and broad design operating system that would say, effectively, if you want to join the party, come on in. We’ve been waiting for you.”

“Or as we now express it at Twitch: ‘You’re already one of us,’” adds Phillipson.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic — when digital, real-time communication became our social lifeline — Twitch emerged as a user-friendly and popular platform for live streaming entertainment and music. Although the rebrand preceded the pandemic, it made Twitch uniquely positioned to rise to the occasion and thrive in the moment. The Twitch team and COLLINS created a platform that was welcoming for all types of creators, while at the same time staying true to the gamers for whom it was originally built.

What’s in a purple logo? Turns out, everything

According to Phillipson and Collins, introducing change to a platform such as Twitch without alienating its core user base is like climbing a mountain. As you go up, you have to make sure your first pins are secure — to keep yourself grounded in what people most love about you. Once you’re sure of that, you can move to other places more securely.

“We all began by looking at Twitch’s origins, its stories, its first interfaces, and its unique, complex, ‘messy’ interactivity,” says Collins. “Then we asked, ‘What made people first fall in love with Twitch?’ It turns out, users loved the intense, visual cacophony of the interface. The very first video games were designed for carnivals and pinball palaces, and Twitch’s logo and visual language were evocative of that eye-grabbing era. Oh — and their audience really, really loves purple.”

Twitch.

Image courtesy of Twitch and COLLINS

A stronger brand identity, created with Adobe Creative Cloud

In order to move the brand into the future, Twitch and COLLINS looked back at that original identity to see what should advance, what should be left behind, and what should be amplified and added.

COLLINS believed the existing, old logotype carried valuable equity, but there was an opportunity to design a stronger version of it. COLLINS focused on rebuilding the typography — including evening line weights and letter shapes — to create a more clear expression. They also made sure the revised logotype would work in the smallest of applications and, when it went big, that it would have stronger dimension, weight, and movement. Meanwhile, they pushed the use of a new, brighter Twitch purple, designing a new integrated color palette made specifically to complement it.

Roobert typeface.

Image courtesy of Twitch and COLLINS

“All of this was possible, thanks to those insane Adobe tools,” says Collins. “My teams leverage InDesign and Photoshop for static images, Illustrator for new color systems and to build the logotype, itself. Even After Effects for motion graphics — we used these tools heavily to create the brand’s new assets. This was especially useful to my crew. And for Byron and his Twitch team, we were able to keep connected pretty seamlessly with each other the whole way — even as we were spread around the planet.”

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“Because the entire campaign had so many pieces, it was important to keep our team aligned and in sync from beginning to end,” says Phillipson. “In addition to helping us create amazing design elements, Creative Cloud also formed a real sense of collaboration that is needed for a brand the size and scale of Twitch. Between our team and everyone at COLLINS, we were able to jump back and forth across assets, make updates quickly, and work in parallel paths, which greatly increased the team’s productivity.”

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Image courtesy of Twitch and COLLINS

Maximalism: UI that “supports”

Traditionally, when a company wants to expand into new markets, they tend to simplify and dumb down, believing that “simplification” and “reductivity” is the best way to make their brand easier to understand and apply in more and multiple contexts. However, COLLINS and Twitch went in the opposite direction, opting for a “maximalist” approach.

With such a creative group of people using the platform, Phillipson and Collins knew Twitch needed a richer, more creative design language that gave both its in-house teams and external partners many varied elements to build from — not a grim, constrictive design dogma to conform to.

“Twitch is an intense experience. And always should be,” Collins says. “There are lots of things going simultaneously, with multiple feeds and interactions happening on-screen. In a world where most people have the attention span of a ferret on a double espresso, this keeps Twitch streamers and viewers deeply engaged. One look at the history of Twitch told us that to reduce this winning formula it to a bland, minimalist design language would be ridiculous. For Twitch, less is not more. Mess is more.”

Twitch on a cell phone.

Image courtesy of Twitch and COLLINS

If you go on Twitch today, it continues to be a feast for your eyes. There’s a lot to look at and interact with, but all of the UI works together now to better support both the Twitch creators and their viewers.

“Great brands really support the people and communities they serve,” says Collins. “As Twitch builds new relationships with new creators and more communities, we wanted to make sure the brand system will evolve and expand with them, giving everyone what they need to grow, credibly.”

No pressure, just launching at TwitchCon

It is common for companies to roll out new branding initiatives slowly, but Twitch is anything but common. The rebrand was unveiled in all its glory at TwitchCon, an annual convention and massive celebration of all things Twitch. The new design system was embedded in everything from interfaces to t-shirts and massive stage sets.

“I have worked on a lot of brand relaunches over my career,” says Phillipson, “and I’ve never seen one where the community didn’t blink at all and completely loved it and went nuts. What really shocked us was the amount of merchandise we sold — more than ever before — and we couldn’t restock fast enough. The new design work really came to life on all of our gear. People were super positive, and we couldn’t be happier with the reaction.”

Speaker on stage at TwitchCon.
Image courtesy of Twitch and COLLINS

“It was instant validation of everything we all did together,” adds Collins. “We had to jump out of the way of the stampede to the merchandise tables. Their whole community loved it. Obviously, Twitch knows their communities and their creators insanely well. And everything they produced for the launch – and ALL that they produced – was breathtaking. They over-delivered for their audience. From the start, we understood what we needed to create with the Twitch crew so they could create, produce, adapt and evolve along with their established fans, while welcoming lots of new ones, like this. Few brands know how to do this so well. At this scale. And so thoroughly. It was mind boggling.”

Many brands feel they have to completely change their brand story in an effort to grow. Sometimes, that’s true. Twitch is a perfect example of why that’s not always the right strategy. By amplifying what people — creators and viewers — already loved about the experience, Twitch became a bolder, better, stronger version of itself to scale and expand its reach.

Strong voices travel far. By using brand strategy to lean into its “only-ness,” together the Twitch and COLLINS teams not only strengthened the company’s position and expanded its business, but also positioned itself for long term growth. That’s brand building at its best.

“And as far as the future goes?” asks Phillipson. “At Twitch it is not going to be boring. Watch.”

Project Credits

Twitch:
Byron Phillipson, Sam Johnson, Alexis Gallisá and the Twitch Creative Team

COLLINS:
Dashiell Alison, Topher Burns, Brian Collins, Scott Fogel, Jump Jirakaweekul, Tomas Markevicius, Emily Morris, Alison Pincus, Leo Porto, Pedro Veneziano and Thomas Wilder

Topics: Adobe MAX, Illustration, Creativity, Design, Customer Stories, Insights & Inspiration,

Products: Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign, After Effects, Creative Cloud,