December 12th 2017

How Dropbox rediscovered their personality

by Martin O'Toole


There is a fair amount of personal perspective in here so you may find yourself calling bullshit on me - and that’s fine.

I don’t know if you noticed but for a while, we designers were trapped in a vortex of rational minimalism. Everything was flat design. Everybody wanted flat design. Nice, inoffensive, flat design. Brands went flat, logos went flat. Everything just got a little bit flat... and lifeless.

Here's a flat design I whipped up

I think I know why. We were wrapping our head around the idea that our designs for the web would have to work on a variety of display sizes and in a variety of contexts. How the fuck do you design for a mobile phone? That was the question we were pretending to know the answer to...even though the design patterns were not well established. We knew our nice predictable 960px grids were dead. Flash was dead and with it the 5 minute load times and bizarre experimental navigations (along with less demonic practises like font replacement). We knew we now had this infinite number of breakpoints to deal with and somehow an even larger number of ways to get a design horribly wrong. We had no fonts and only a rudimentary understanding of the implications of a fluid grid.

So our priorities changed... We needed to be sure that the designs we were putting together for our clients were going to work (read - not break) and that our ideas were translatable into code or, for that matter, translatable into english. Having no vocabulary or shorthand for discussing responsive design & animation concepts can make it very difficult to get anything built. We looked to authority, and looked to trends. Google material design, Microsoft Metro, Twitter Bootstrap. Opinionated design libraries and methodolgies that helped us overcome our insecurity and provide a nice reference point; a framework within which to operate without the risks and expense of experimentation.

This was all well and good, but it did mean everything started to look the same. A general timidity about what was possible within the constraints of digital may well have seeped out into the wider discipline of branding. Knowing that an eventual execution of any brand is going to be for the web meant that decisions made upstream were diluted. "You can’t use that font". "You can’t have that layout." "Everything has to be above the fold." etc...

If you're still with me, this is where I make an attempt at an actual point.

Dropbox's recent rebrand

Given my lengthy preamble, I'd like to frame this rebrand as a reaction against a bland, inoffessive brand design. Sort of middle finger to the servicable, functional, anonymous designs of recent years, as it cruises past in a multi-coloured 1960s convertible cadillac driven by Batman - with a leopard riding shotgun. It's an experiment in what happens when you fully embrace the possibilities digital - motion, unlikely colour combinations, millions of typefaces, textures & crucially a lot of personality...

Dropbox rebrand logo3



From the horses mouth:

“As our mission has evolved from keeping files in sync to helping keep teams in sync, we realised our brand needs to change, too. Our new brand system shows that Dropbox isn’t just a place to store your files - it’s a living workspace that brings teams and ideas together. The look is expressive, with vibrant colors, rich imagery, a versatile typeface, and playful illustrations.”

It’s a massive departure from the old look and feel for sure. The pale-blue & white conservatism of the old brand has been trampled into submission by a scribbly, galloping giraffe and his pals. Reading through the page at (where they describe the 'whats and whys' behind this new look), you see the same concepts of play, versatility and dynamism appearing.

You’ll read about their 259 new fonts (presumably not all to be used simultaneously).

You’ll see animation is everywhere.

You'll see the lively hand-drawn illustrations.

They are leaving behind the usual pursuit of uniformity, rationality and order, and venturing into more interesting territory. The underlying concept for the rebrand is one of ‘creative energy’ and collaboration. Dropbox have worked out that they’re more than just a big box in the sky and are more to do with helping people collaborate towards a creative end. And this gives them license to fill their brand with art. Lovely illustrations. Content that will, for better or worse, create a reaction.

Speaking for myself I think the outcome is brilliant but I’m not going to pretend that this approach is for everybody. I’m sure if I were to put the appropriate search term into Google I could find some negative press about this rebrand... but here's my takeaway. Because, at some point, I need to end this blog...

Real brands stand out.

Your brand should give your audience something they might potentially love (as opposed to likely just ignore). You should feel free to be a little bit wild with it and whatever eccentricity emerges from your business, from your particular culture that is gold. It's unique. Celebrate it.