Branding Hyperspectral Agriculture

Context
Cloud Agronomics Visual Design Work
Role
Freelance Designer
Duration
Jul '18 // Jun - Jul '19 // Jul - Dec '2020
Type
branding // art direction // freelance work

Over the past few years, I have worked as a Freelance Designer for Cloud Agronomics, a hyperspectral agriculture start-up with a focus on precision nutrient analysis and soil carbon monitoring at scale. Some of my work includes mock interfaces for pitch competitions, promotional materials like business cards and flyers, slide deck themes, and a full branding guide.

Logo Redesign

Original 2017 Logo

This was the original logo put together by two of the co-founders during Cloud Ag’s infancy and was used at pitch competitions. 

2018 Design

As the company gained traction, the logo needed updating. For my very first freelance project, I was hired to create a simplified and more professional version of the logo. While not without faults, this version of the logo was used for several years in pitch decks, legal documents, and marketing materials.

2020 Redesign

While working on a consolidated set of branding guidelines, we realized that this was the perfect opportunity to update the logo. The previous version had odd whitespace, was difficult to use, and did not scale well to small sizes. The new version addresses all these problems while still maintaining the feel of the 2018 logo design. 

Examples of the new logo out in the real world. Pictured are a branded fleece modeled by Co-Founder David Schurman and the sign mounted in Cloud Agronomic's Boulder office.
Cloud Agronomics is situated in the rapidly developing fields of Agriculture Technology (Ag Tech) and Sustainable Technology (Clean Tech). They are currently developing remote hyperspectral tools that provide detailed nutrient and soil carbon analysis for agriculture fields. Cloud Agronomics promises to deliver the same quality results as traditional field sampling, but at the fraction of the cost and time. This technology has the potential to reduce fertilizer runoff, detect crop disease at earlier stages, and enable farmers to accurately monitor regenerative farming practices for increased carbon capture.

Brand Research

My initial branding research was broken up into two categories: potential customer + competitor brand analysis, and surveys aimed at Cloud Agronomics employees that could speak to the existing branding. While I would have loved to interact with actual customers, the early stage of the company means that potential customer markets are constantly shifting.

When talking with Cloud Agronomics employees, I used a lot of visual references (such as in the images to the right) to guide the conversations.

Some of the reference photos I pulled for discussion purposes around different brand styles. Taken from Behance.

Client + Competitor Brand Analysis

I analyzed the branding materials from over 30 companies located in the agriculture and clean tech spaces in order to gain a comprehensive understanding of the look and feel potential customers might look for. Here were my main insights: 

  1. Customer branding tends to be outdated while competitor branding is more on trend. This is most likely because the competitors are aiming to provide modern approaches to outdated technology in agriculture—just like Cloud Ag.
  2. Simple shapes are often used to frame complex analytical imagery. There's a lot of complicated data hidden in fields that competitors also claim they can simplify and help comprehend. Most companies make this complexity more approachable by placing visually convoluted images inside simple shapes like circles, squares, and hexagons.
  3. Companies with varied client types often have varied branding styles. On websites where specific client types are identified (ex. "For Growers" or "For Buyers"), design elements such as color are often varied to aid in communication distinction.
  4. Sustainability focused start-ups rarely make that their main selling point. There's unfortunately a lot of political connotations behind green and sustainable efforts. A lot of start-ups in this space work around this problem by reframing sustainable value props through other related benefits.

Leadership Survey

In addition to looking outward to see what customers might want, I also worked directly with company leadership to establish the core message and ideas the branding would reflect. The main findings from my survey were: 

Key Descriptors

  • Original: game-changing, unique, innovative, revolutionary
  • Not Risky: reliable, approachable, essential, scalable
  • Responsive: dynamic, optimization (tech, imagery, yields, decisions)
  • Sustainable: green

Mission and Values

  • CT Scan for Crops: Hyperspectral data can be used to look "into" the plant to uncover hidden information
  • Information at Scales: Cloud Agronomics provides information from the plant level to the country level
  • Actionable Insights: Not only does Cloud Agronomics gather more airborne sensing data than anyone else, they also provide the analytics tools that make it easy to understand

Brand Concepts

Round One

In the first round of concept iterations, I latched onto two symbolic representations of the data Cloud Agronomics presents: the waveform shape of actual hyperspectral readings, and dotted lines that signify data transmission. Below are the two general concepts I put together in order to gauge reactions and narrow down conversations around style and messaging. These concepts also use the 2018 logo design and led to the decision to redesign the logo again.

This concept abstract the peaks and troughs of a waveform and simplifies them using overlaid circles and rectangles.
This branding concept focuses more on the data being transmitted at scales, where the number of wavelengths and their sizes could be used to represent different data types.

Round Two

In the second round of concept iterations, I  explored some additional motifs based on elements unique to Cloud Agronomics. This time I included actual crop fields in the inspiration material and used them to create patterns. One idea I found particularly compelling (that I carried over to the final branding materials) was directly correlating technology scale (field, farm, state, etc.) to the size of the pattern elements.

This first concept pulls directly from the intricate patterns that crop fields form when viewed from the air. I combined this idea with the colors from the second concept in the previous round of iterations because I liked the friendly feeling they conveyed that diverged from a lot of other start-ups in ag tech.

The crop field pattern is geometrically simple, and easy to reproduce. A more complicated and larger version of the pattern could be used when discussing Cloud Agronomics' solutions in the context of a single field, while the a simpler and smaller version of the pattern could be used to highlight state or country-wide findings.

I used abstracted center-pivot irrigated fields as the basis for the pattern in this concept.

The second concept focuses more on the connection between the actual fields and Cloud Agronomics' technology. Fields are simplified into dots while screens are rectangles, and they're connected by a wide array of data types. Once again, the size and amount of dots can be used to subtly indicate scale of technology, and the number of connecting lines and line styles can indicate specific data types.

Between the two concepts, this was the preferred version. I took the main feedback from both ideas however, and refined them into a usable set of guidelines that can be seen below.

The center-pivot irrigated fields are simplified into simple dots for the pattern in this concept.

Branding Book

While the final branding book includes several shared elements with the above concept, there are a few notable differences. The first is color: rather than continuing the two toned palette, I expanded the color choices to include several other context specific colors, such as Field Yellow or Carbon Brown, as well as examples on how to use them for both graphical and illustrative purposes. I also included a detailed set of guidelines on how to use the logo because I noticed a lot of inconsistencies with how the previous logo was used. Finally, I developed a unique illustration style for Cloud Agronomics that is further explained in the next section.

Illustrations

Here is an anatomical breakdown of the illustration style I created for Cloud Agronomics, located in the branding guide.

When I initially started developing the illustration assets for Cloud Agronomics, I focused on simple shapes and coloration that could be easily replicated by someone with minimal Illustrator experience. However, the resulting assets were rather generic and underwhelming. After discussion with the employees that would actually be using the branding guide the most, we decided it would be better for me to generate all the assets myself, and share the editable versions of the files instead. While this did mean an increase in price for the deliverables, I think the resulting assets have much more personality and character.

One important aspect of the illustration style I developed is the use of layering. Cloud Agronomics promises to deliver complex data and tiered information that paint a comprehensive picture of agricultural fields into easy to use and actionable insights. Similarly, the illustrations I developed combine several different types of layers to create one singular image that is unique to Cloud Agronomics.

Here is a hero image used in the branding guide and presentations to illustrate carbon capture in agricultural fields.

Reflection

One of the most challenging aspects of this project was being responsible for coming up with and executing all of the creative components of the branding. While I was able to source opinions from the Cloud Agronomics team, most of the major decisions were left to me. However, I really enjoyed hitting each of the breakthroughs that led to the final product, and organizing the design components into easy to understand guidelines was immensely satisfying.