27 April, 2023
Hamish Smyth, Co-Founder
Welcome to the first post in our new series, Between the Guidelines, where we look closer at our favorite projects made with Standards, and chat with the creators about the work, the guidelines, and everything in-between.
Today we’re looking at the innovative logistics company, Zipline, and speaking with their creative team lead, Micah Panama.
Zipline—the largest instant logistics and delivery company in the world—has spent years pioneering rapid drone delivery of critical medical supplies to remote villages in Africa.
What started with life-saving medical deliveries like blood and medicine, is soon set to expand to everyday consumer goods deliveries with their innovative new Platform 2 system.
This month, Zipline launched a new identity and published brand guidelines made with Standards.
Zipline partnered with Manual to refresh the identity, and the comprehensive guidelines were built online with Standards.
Rather than relying on PDFs as they had in the past, now thousands of employees and partners across the world have instant access to Zipline’s latest brand assets in real-time, even as the team continues to evolve the brand and deliver updates.
Manual and Zipline teams collaborated to build the guidelines on Standards and publish it to the web—all without code, in less time it would have taken to create a static PDF.
It is also a highly practical document, filled with rich content like photo assets, motion, illustration, videos, and templates—downloadable directly from the guidelines.
The ability to update any of these elements on Standards, and have them instantly available across the globe “solves a huge challenge” for the company.
The guidelines cover dozens of different aspects of the new brand, from logos to language. But as Micah Panama, lead of the Zipline Brand Lab promises, “this is just the first big step in a long journey for us as a company and brand”.
We can’t wait to watch Zipline fly even higher.
What’s your name and role at the company?
I’m Micah Panama and I lead the creative team at Zipline. We’re known as the Brand Lab.
How big is the Zipline team in total? And the Brand Lab team?
The Zipline team is about 1,000 people globally. But the Brand Lab is a lean team of just four creatives. In addition to myself; Ellen Ennes leads copywriting, Ojai Mitchell leads design, and Julie Henson is our Creative Producer. We’re in charge of building the brand and telling the world about Zipline.
We work within Zipline’s Marketing Team that’s relatively new and also includes product marketing, growth marketing, comms, and editorial. They’re some of the most passionate strategists and storytellers I’ve ever worked with.
What does Zipline do?
Zipline is the largest instant logistics and delivery company in the world. Though we’ve built a whole suite of technologies, people know us for our electric, autonomous drones. We’ve made more than half a million commercial deliveries and flown more than 40 million autonomous miles, to date. We started by delivering blood to hospitals in Rwanda, and we now deliver medical supplies, food, prescriptions, and more across seven different countries, including three states here in the U.S. Our mission is to build the first logistics system that serves all humans equally.
You’ve just gone through a rebranding process. What drove the company’s decision to make a change?
Our first generation platform, Platform 1, is great for long range deliveries, but in order to achieve our mission of serving everyone on earth we built a second technology system, Platform 2 which is ultra precise and can deliver to areas as small as a patio table or the front steps of a home. This new technology opens up a much larger market for Zipline. With so many new eyes on our company, we knew it was finally time to focus on telling our story, and building a brand that would withstand the test of time.
How has your expanded audience played into the new brand identity?
For a long time, we were mainly delivering blood to clinics and hospitals and our audience was governments and nonprofits. With such a strong focus on that specific audience and those critical tasks, our brand was really simple and that made sense for us.
Today, however, we do so much more. Vaccines and medical supplies are still a big part of our business, but we’re also delivering regular prescriptions and medicine, diapers and phone chargers, burritos and salads. We’ve expanded to new countries and continents, and the types of customers we serve span the gamut.
We wanted to build a brand that could not only scale, but be flexible enough to adapt to these new sectors in intentional, recognizable ways—a brand that would resonate with everyone from the president of Rwanda to a busy mom in Utah.
Tell us a bit about the process. What was the brief? Did you work with a studio to create the new identity?
The brief was to create a brand that portrayed the richness of our story in a scalable way. And it had to be easy to extend and adapt—for both designers and non-designers. The integrity of our brand couldn’t rely on precious details and design gatekeeping.
Plus, there was the timing. Because the Zipline team is nothing if not audacious, this brand launch was scheduled alongside the unveiling of a new platform and product offering, a global live event, and a totally new website. We had a lot to do in less than six months. We couldn’t be indecisive.
If we were going to accomplish our goals in time, we needed the help of smart agencies. We collaborated with Manual on brand development, Hello Monday on website design, and Avocados and Coconuts on a new brand video.
There’s so much history at Zipline and such a compelling, impactful story. We were a new team still learning everything we could about the company and we knew we had to take our agency partners on that journey too. Information gathering was critical. We sat side-by-side with Manual interviewing leaders across the organization to understand what makes Zipline special.
From there, we quickly started developing the brand strategy and visual foundation—nerding out about the details and perfecting pixels along the way.
Up to now, how had Zipline approached guidelines and design consistency?
We’re a very practical company so our previous approach to brand consistency was to build the most simple identity we could. Before we built our marketing team, our identity consisted of one font, two colors, a small library of images, and a 5 page PDF of how to use them.
It was a smart approach to create consistency at scale, but the tools fell short when it came to building and scaling the dynamic brand we deserve.
What drove the decision to make online guidelines on Standards?
We’ve all done this in different hacky ways before, like exporting images from Design files into a Google slide deck, or constantly updating a PDF file. We knew that wasn’t going to cut it this time. We needed guidelines that could scale, and more importantly, evolve—a living source of truth that could be easily updated without having to chase down old versions.
So we asked our design agency, Manual, if they had suggestions. Thankfully, they were able to get us on the Standards beta. We were excited from the jump.
Why do you consider clear guidelines important, especially at Zipline?
Our company wasn’t used to having an established brand, let alone clear brand guidelines. By building our brand system and articulating the story behind it, we can extend brand knowledge and ownership to the entire organization—not just our marketing team.
Because consistency is important, especially at a company that moves as fast as Zipline. And we simply can’t do it all ourselves.
The distributed nature of our business also means that local offices are able to be nimble, but that comes with a risk of a loss of consistency and quality. Teams in different countries often work with vendors that our creative team will never have contact with. For instance, if an employee in Ghana needs to print signage for their offices, they’ll send a WhatsApp message to a local vendor to get it done.
We can’t have oversight into everything. But we can have clear, easy-to-use guidelines and trust. To be able to send a single link to employees across the globe solves a huge challenge for us.
What was it like building your first guidelines on Standards?
We were lucky to have Manual’s help in setting up a really strong, dynamic template for us within Standards. From there, it was easy to change and add different sections and content.
As creatives, it’s been great to build on a platform designed by designers. Standards has a bunch of smart default settings and patterns, but the ability to customize every aspect means the guidelines themselves look and feel like our brand. They reinforce how we want to show up in the world. There are a lot of web platforms that promise WYSIWYG, but Standards actually delivers on that promise.
How will Zipline’s brand evolve, moving forward?
This is really just the first big step in a long journey for us as a company and brand. We want to build a brand that can grow in lockstep with our ambitions and the interest in our service. As we expand to more cities, countries, languages, and additional sectors and customers, the brand will undoubtedly flex and evolve.
Micah, thank you for taking the time to speak with us. And thank you to Manual and the Zipline Brand Lab for building with Standards.
Witness Zipline’s incredible engineering and logistics in action from Mark Robers recent video on YouTube.
Learn more about Zipline’s amazing mission and technology at flyzipline.com