How we crafted the Sora brand

Namika Haiji Hamasaki

Jun 10, 2022

Background

Our brief was to develop a name and brand identity for a hyper-creative, reliable, globally distributed knowledge work company, focused on creating work opportunities for individuals affected, and possibly displaced by, climate change or war.

The encompassing brand value and driving force we wanted to capture in this brand were that people are valuable. Often, displaced individuals become a political problem, but what if there was a way to empower such individuals with a steady flow of income, not impacted by their geographical regions or current circumstances?

The challenge

The ask was to create a brand name, visual identity, guidelines, website and social templates.

There were two important groups this identity had to speak to; the companies that would hire talent, and secondly the talent.

The challenge was to craft a brand that would garner the trust of potential clients, but is visually compelling enough to attract creative talent and knowledge workers.

Our approach

Foundational, guiding questions

Two questions led our exploration:

  • What do we want people to feel when they encounter this brand?

  • What is the narrative that encompasses the facts and feelings that our brand creates?

Naming round 1

With these questions in the back of our minds, we conducted two extensive rounds of name generation.

For our first round, we created several high level territories and descriptions that felt true to the goals of this company.

Connection: Reciprocity, Relation, Communicate

Resourceful: Confident, Wise, Conscientious
Foundational: Necessary, Indispensable

Community: Utopia/New world, Refuge, New opportunities

Impact: Transformation, Energy, Power

Elite: Knowledge, Premium, Sought after
Creative: Innovative, Ingenious, Brave

During this process, our team members also sketched abstract logos to capture the concept for each naming direction, going beyond words to think visually from the start.

Collection of words with logo exploration sketches

Naming round 2

Upon sharing round one’s names with the stakeholders, the names they preferred fell into four larger brand concepts:

  1. Sky

  2. Meeting + Connection

  3. Visitor

  4. Welcoming strangers

We explored a range of new options resonating with these concepts - creating a extensive list of more than 900 names in total. We prioritised words that phonetically sounded lyrical, beautiful, and inherently inspirational.

Each of these words, rooted in non-English languages, represented values we honored.

Chart showing standout name suggestions, context, brainstorms, and deepdives for each of four concepts: Sky, Meeting + Connection, Visitor, and Welcoming strangers

The Shortlist

The stakeholders picked three options to move forward with:

Sora


meaning ‘sky’ in Japanese

Nooma


meaning ‘wind or spirit’, a phonetic spelling of the Greek word πνευμα (pneuma)

Juna

meaning ‘mutual’ in Hausa; “clod of earth” and “source of life” in Saliba.

Harmony between the name and visual identity were incredibly important, and to help us determine which name feels the best, we developed and executed a range of identities for all 3 names, spanning a wide visual spectrum.

Visual exploration exercises with the top three

Logos, branding, and product mockups for 3 brand names: Sora, Noom, and Juna

With the shortlist of three options, we did an indepth visual study of how these options could come to live. The intent of this round was to help the stakeholders narrow down the final option.

The winner: Sora

The stakeholders unaniminously chose Sora to move forward with.

During our explorations, we looked at a variety of words meaning “sky” in different languages, yet the word Sora was the one that stood out. It sounds like the word soaring, by definition flying or rising high in the air. It also felt regal, aspirational, and melodic to pronounce.

The impact of war and climate change can ultimately force people out of their “motherland”, those geographical regions they grew up in. If you take away the mountain ranges, deserts, or valleys that were home to you, what will remain when you’re forced to move to another region or country? The sky; the sunsets and the stars. Sky was the narrative that encompassed our brand.

Sora Creative Explorations

With the final name chosen, we were encouraged to keep pushing on the visuals. We explored logos, with a back and forth between high and low-fidelity to ultimately find an identity that embodies our concept and differentiates us from other brands.

Through this process, several elements of the sky fascinated us: birds, clouds, the sun, and the globe itself.

Many sketches of logos that use birds

The final 4 options

We presented four brand identities to our stakeholders:

  • a dynamic globe eluding to connectedness and collaboration

  • three birds in flight, representing a flock of migratory birds

  • an icon combining a sun/moon, sky and bird wingspan

  • a typographical option that flexed and adapted to different applications.

Exploration of logos with color gradients, shown on a plain background and on a sweatshirt, a mug, and a flag

The chosen option

Option 2, the flock of birds, was the overwhelming favorite, and resonated deeply with our values. Migrating birds captures the essence of Sora Union most aptly. Individual birds are vulnerable to natural elements and various predators. Migratory flocks of birds are a strong metaphor for community, teamwork and stealth. Scientists still don’t understand how birds flying in murmuration, do not collide with each other.

White logo with SORA wordmark and three birds on a teal green to blue gradient background

We spent more time to focus on and refine the icon.

Illustration variations of logo with three birds, showing how they fit in a square with small, medium, or large beaks
Top row: Small beaks. Middle Row: Medium beaks. Bottom row: Large beaks

We laid out the three versions of bird compositions, with minute but significant changes to the curves of the beak and wing shapes, to arrive at the right feeling.

The final icon felt multifaceted, elegant and geometrically precise.

Sora Union logo made of three overlapping abstract bird shapes
The final icon

Typography Research

We tested hundreds of typeface weights and alignments in order to find the perfect combination with the logo.

Exploration of several typefaces using Sora Union name in regular, medium, and bold, with various alignments

Ultimately, we crafted each of the letters to create a bespoke word mark. The font for the word “Union” that stood out, came from a Google font called - wait for it - Sora.

Sora Union wordmark with dark blue capitalized letters in a rounded sans-serif typeface

The color system

What color is the sky? A simple answer might be blue. Yet, as we explored different visual references, we were inspired to see as much variety in colors as in the cultures represented by Sora’s workforce.

Collection of many different sunset photos with many gradients and colors
Sky series, by Eric Cahan

We challenged ourself to come up with a brand color system that could capture the changing colors in the sky - down to the hour. The result was a 24-hour color system for our brand palette.

24-hour color palette as a wheel with a color for each of the 24 hours and the gradients resulting from the blending of one to the next
The 24 Sora Union logos using the 24-hour color system; each has the three-bird logo in the hour's gradient with Sora Union in dark text

This dynamic system comes to life on our website, with the background gradients transitioning every hour linking the current hour to the next one visually. Our color palette expresses the ever-changing nature of the sky above our global team and clients. The colors on the website are personalized to the visitor’s time zone but remain connected to all others through our 24-hour system.

If it's 5 pm, you will see the orange sunset color; if it's 11 am, you will see the clear blue sky. A one-time visitor might not even notice the changing hues of our website’s color palette. We aim to engage deeply with our partners, and we hope repeat visitors will be inspired by Sora Union dynamism and bold color.

The final results

Primary Sora Union logo with the three birds in a coral to aqua gradient and left-aligned Sora Union wordmark on the right

The final result was a robust identity system that both exudes quality and aspiration, with an innovative color system and memorable website.

Screenshots of Sora Union website with the same content for each but with 4 different hourly gradients used
Collage of design assets using reference color design tokens, gradients, visual language, and logo variations

One of our leading questions in the beginning of this project, was “What do we want people to feel when they encounter this brand?”

On the one hand, we wanted Sora Union to make people feel inspired, uplifted and hopeful. On the other hand we wanted to communicate the values of a hyper creative, competent, globally distributed workforce.

We believe that the combination of brand elements accomplish what we set out to do.

8 mobile phones displaying Sora Union's website homepage at different times of day, including a pink gradient, a purple gradient, a yellow gradient, and a green-to-purple gradient

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