Circle needed a fresh face that emphasizes today’s dialog about the advent of stablecoins, how it is catapulting our mission forward, that we are bringing to market tools and services not possible before now, and that we have some totally new ways of working together as an organization. What we didn’t want to do is reverse any brand equity we’ve built or deny Circle’s legacy in the process, so we’ve been careful to capture our original essence while creating space for the brand to grow and connect with new customers.
Speaking now to business owners (and the developers they employ) looking to take advantage of Circle’s half-decade of playing in the crypto payments space, where do I start? Every industry faces countless limitations by traditional banking, resulting in equally countless possible MVPs. In order to find a product market fit we can chew on, we needed to go to market in 2020 with an initial suite of APIs and a fresh feel to kickstart the path forward — and quickly. The new look comes with a gradual unveiling of bolder type, a brighter, more saturated palette, a new icon set, and finally, some structural improvements to the Circle logo itself. Having led creative at Circle for 4+ years, this also meant something personally cathartic:
Circle is having its coming out party, and I get to dress it for the occasion.
What wasn't working?
There had always been a strong duality theme — Circle’s first app was created to send and receive Bitcoin and eventually, allow free conversions between USD, EUR and GBP — the send/receive or in/out connotation was visually clear. Rest that on a 45-degree angle and you have forward momentum, nodding at Circle’s promise to bring to life a new shape of money. Over time, with several mini brands revolving under one roof (Circle Pay, Circle Invest, Circle Trade, Circle Research, USDC, Poloniex, SeedInvest, and Centre), we found our broader brand experience growing in disjointed directions and the umbrella system began to break.
For the new look, we all agreed the icon must be circular, and a new logo should be informed by the current design, not a complete departure. However, the design team at Circle struggled with this mark for years — it was hard for even designers to get right and super easy for non-designers to screw up. If placed on a color other than white or black, or without enough clearspace, or in a tiny app icon or favicon, or on a pen, or even on the right side of a design, no guideline or brand police could stop the abuse from happening. Addressing these balance, weight, and scalability issues was critical.
Our original palette had 5 swatches plus gray. Created with screens in mind, they were chosen for use as gradient endpoints in the 2013 Circle logo. The gradients looked great — even bright — in both the thin logo pinlines and in large swaths. But once the design team began using these colors across our apps and marketing creative, when flat hues were extracted from their gradient counterparts, they all took on a milky-dull coating. Worse, they had serious vibration, contrast, and accessibility issues when placed against one another. I mean, look:
Taste the rainbow
For a new palette, I set out to paint a gloss coat on the whole thing and open it up to a wider range of mixtures. On the right is a more saturated, accessible, and welcoming array with candy names like Jelly, Redhot, and Gumdrop. To top it off, the muddy charcoal has been replaced by a cooler, purply grayscale palette, now dubbed Licorice. The reveal for this in January sparked a sense of newness — like a cloud had been lifted. A sweet start to the new year indeed.
This new palette exponentially opened up new gradients, which have always been the backbone of Circle’s visual system. And an icon library began to form (unapologetically based off of brilliant work done by our in-house illustrator, Mark Grambau, who spent months customizing every single crypto asset we once listed on the now spun-out Poloniex exchange).
Building an icon
Finally, for our new logo, I set out to establish some guiding themes that are fundamentally rooted in the personality and emotional expression I was seeking to build. In those early days of the product, I based the work on two things: who we are looking to engage and inspire, and Circle’s own heritage and attributes. Together with executive staff, we came up with five:
Intelligence. We have big picture thinking with long-term vision.
Reliability. Trust, stability, solidness, and strength.
Warmth. Human connection, respectfulness, and integrity.
Global. We are citizens of the world, not one country.
Inclusiveness. Mindful, collaborative, and open.
Combined with our infant product vision,12 thematic symbols were developed. Several shapes could then be mixed and matched as a structural base resulting in about 20 or so icon concepts.
A few rounds of revisions later, considering first weight and scale then deciding unanimously we should stick more closely to our roots, a new mark was born.
Two sides of the same coin
The duality theme I mentioned earlier still applies today. Where old Circle may have meant send/receive or buy/sell, we’re now talking about fiat/crypto and physical/digital. And while we see both contrasts and parallels between traditional banking and the superpowers of digital currency, our new icon conveys the idea that the two sides work together, with characteristics that coexist in a symbiotic relationship.
Four quadrants can also line up nicely as four brand pillars: Prosperity, Stability, The Global Economy, and The Circle Platform, all which support our mission to “raise global economic prosperity through programmable internet commerce”. These help communicate why Circle is unique and what Circle stands for.
The new Circle
You’ll notice the same overall design, now with some comfortable breathing space for your eye to move in, out and around the form. It’s now open, not closed like an infinite maze you can’t escape from — and if three rings may have represented our three business units: consumers, businesses, and platforms, we are now laser focused on the latter two, so two rings. Some have noticed it could resemble a “programmatic handshake”, where two pieces are coming together in agreement.
Weight. Scalability. Balance.
Where old Circle is quiet and wispy and the icon outweighs the wordmark, new Circle is bold and strong and fills its defined edges in a more complete way. Notice how the two rivals are set to the same width — and new Circle isn’t whispering. Where old Circle gets lost in a sea of others at the same size, new Circle stands its own as a recognizable mark. Where old Circle is made up of varying line weights and spacing, new Circle’s wordmark has a logical relationship with, and spacing from, the icon.
Getting ready for the future
With this exercise, the goal of course was to create space for the brand to grow and connect with entrepreneurs and businesses, but also to breathe new life into our culture, employer brand, and our potential as a “startup” with an already strong global name and legacy. At Circle, we champion authenticity, globalism, and inclusivity because they’re what help us stay true to our mission, which despite some evolution, has remained largely the same since 2013. I hope to inspire our customers in the same way.