Established in 2013, Compass is a a technology-driven real estate company with offices in New York, NY and Washington, DC. And, yeah, that’s about as much as I can tell you. And you are probably thinking, “Why is this getting a Review?”, since I typically reserve them for larger or more well-known clients. What attracted me to review this project was a rare case of over-sharing in this post by Matt Spangler, who was hired as the in-house head of design and marketing, and goes into extensive detail about the rebranding of Compass from the inside out, detailing things like how Compass purchased digital design company Made for Humans to start building a design team, or the decision to make a go at owning the word “compass”, and, of course, plenty of minutia about the design of the identity.
If you have the time, I recommend reading Matt’s post in full. It verbalizes quite well a lot of the random challenges designers — in-house or independent — face and puts things into straightforward assessments that you could easily blend into how you present to clients. I wouldn’t be doing my job — I can critique logos and writings on Medium for the price of one! — if I didn’t warn you that it gets a little eye-rolling in some areas, especially when he places Compass too high up on a pedestal. But that’s fine, it’s cool to be proud of the work and the company you do it for.
With such an iconic name it would be rare that the logo-mark would ever be used on its own. By integrating the logo-mark inside the final logo-type, we achieved a combination of balance and symmetry while still having the option for a bold symbol. It needed to look elegant sitting centered in the middle of a white page or over a gorgeous interior photograph. A subtle confidence that represents the feeling Compass agents give their clients. […] Sitting alone the mark is abstract and conjures up many different references (compass, keyhole, i/o button, road sign) but sitting within the name, it is clearly the most distilled form of a compass — a circle and needle.
The original logo was decent, or at least not annoying, like other real estate logos can be, with their houses and windows and bad typography. Dropping “Urban” was key (no pun intended) into turning this logo into something much more manageable, memorable, and possibly category-defining. The new logo was initially designed by RoAndCo but finished in-house, “The internal design team polished the final logo, adding mathematical rigor to the angles, line weight, kerning, and circular relationships.” The resulting wordmark is quite nice, particularly with the “O” serving as the compass. It’s the kind of distinguishing detail that makes a bare-bones wordmark stand out. It feels like a lifestyle brand more than a real estate brand, like something you would find at REI (or other similar outdoor activity store).
[Instead] of color, we decided to riff on the shapes (dots, needle) within the compass to add textures, character, and a subtle nod to way-finding, nautical motifs and our data-driven approach. We felt it was an ownable, dimensional part of our toolkit.
In application, things are quite simple and elegant and all the elements are there to serve the listings and nothing more. Meaning, yes, they help establish an identity but the designers understood really well that that identity has to sell houses. The video showing the different sizes of listings is one of the hottest things I’ve seen all year — just the last 8 seconds, the first 12 are kind of useless — as I love simple systems like that in the service of content. (Okay, so maybe it’s not the hottest but it’s nice to see someone putting effort into listings layouts, which can sometimes be excruciating to look at). Overall, this identity isn’t groundbreaking or visually arresting but it’s a solid case study of simplicity executed well, with conviction, and a clear purpose of what it has and wants to be.