The Thinking Behind the ‘What If’ Rebrand


Guest Post by Brian Buirge of GFDA

After our first experience with What If in the Dominican Republic in 2013, my business partner Jason Bacher and I knew the mission of What If was too important not to lend a helping hand. So while enjoying our week as innovators in the DR we plotted to win the favor of conference co-founders Jen and Steve Bebb. Lucky for them we didn’t have to resort to name-calling or other devious tactics to convince them of the value we had to offer.

Reflecting on our own experiences in 2013 with What If (both in the DR and in Bali), we fleshed out a strategy to help guide the process of the rebrand.

Starting off, we were sure that the voice of What If absolutely had to stay the same. So often companies and organizations struggle to artifically attach a voice and personality to their brand in a thinly-veiled attempt make it feel authentic. Fortunately this was not the case, Jen’s personality is omnipresent in the brand and we knew it was imperative to maintain her genuine voice throughout.

Next we needed to clearly define what makes What If distinct. Now, for any who have had the good fortune of previously attending a What If event, you know how difficult it can be to put this experience into words. While you could probably write a short play about this topic alone, we focused ourselves by limiting the distinctions of What If to three areas:

  • What If rapidly establishes a strong close-knit community at each of the events/conferences which then extends well beyond the experience of the event providing participants with a second family to support their creative life endeavors.
  • The atmosphere at What If provides an experience where individual innovators(speakers) and learners(attendees) are seen as equals, creating an environment that allows people to be vulnerable resulting in quicker, long-lasting, more genuine personal and professional growth.
  • What If offers a range of experiences, activities, and adventures from serious and meaningful to light hearted and playful which culminate in the exploratory experience of the individual’s own humanity.

As part of our process we also used words and short phrases to define what a successful design solution would look like as well as care words (our own jargon term meaning words or short phrases that evoke a desired response or emotive reaction from the audience). These helped to define some parameters for us and also helped communicate to Jen and Steve where we felt this whirlwind was headed.

After getting their glowing approval on our intended strategy, (they said we were pretty smart) we pushed forward with roughing out a variety of elements related to the brand. We sketched logo ideas, defined the site map of the website, crafted a variety of color palettes, explored a unique illustrative approach, and brought it all together in the form of the new website.

The logo was defined by the concept “Making Impossible Possible” which we felt captured the spirit of the conference. Much in the way viewing an impossible object requires a constantly changing perspective, so too are attendees challenged to change, shift, and adjust perspectives in work and life.

Based on numbers from previous What If events, we knew that that the audience for What If leans in a feminine direction, so we defined a color palette that has some feminine notes but in the spirit of being more gender neutral and all-inclusive, is decidedly earthy. These colors also played into the illustrations we developed. The illustrations were an opportunity for us to reinforce the personal and playful side of the conference while providing room to explore a visual language for all aspects of the brand. We wanted to focus on the various tools that bring innovators and attendees ideas into motion.

Creating a web solution for a nearly sold-out event meant we needed to address two things, both the design of the upcoming event and all future events to come. We needed the final design to be clear and easily accessible, but also flexible and scalable in both the visual design and backend to consider the transformation for future What If events.

Ultimately a brand is like a person. It lives and it is constantly growing and developing. We feel privileged to be involved in the direction of the What If brand at this phase in its maturity and look forward to unveiling the remaining visual components at the conference next week!