Designing the Underline Brand

Deciphering the meaning and intention behind the Underline brand

Preamble

As we’ve grown Underline, a question that I frequently receive is about why we chose our name and what it means. This question pops up among new team members, partners, and investors enough that I think it’s worth canonizing a bit.

As the Head of Design, brand intention is a part of the domain - we designers like to don black clothing and make presentations at our local AIGA chapters, waxing on about the values we’ve built into multiple levels of our brand. The intention here is to explain Underline in more surface terms and then go into more layers if I still hold your attention.

Onward.

The “I have other stuff to do so be quick about it” explanation:

Underline at its most basic level means literal lines (cables) under the ground.

Boring, right? This has been my TED talk. Feel free to take some of the appetizers on your way out. The shrimp always goes fastest, so prioritize that first.

The “Okay, maybe I’ve got a little more time” explanation:

Oh ho! You’ve fallen right into my trap! I actually have 3 black turtlenecks on and you’re about to get an earful. But don’t you worry, I’ve created a table of contents for your convenience. It’s included with the tabbed 3-ring under your seat. No bathroom breaks though, I’ve sealed the doors for the duration.

The 6-Part Breakdown:

  1. The Literal
  2. The Practical
  3. The Metaphorical
  4. The Aspirational
  5. The Visual
  6. The Strategic

1. On a literal level

We’ve covered that already - it’s very boring and is about cables being under the ground.

2. On a practical level

Underline is a common word and easy to communicate. If you’re shouting to another person in a loud and crowded house party, chances are you can deliver Underline a lot easier than “My startup is called Mishmasherly.io and we’re going to disrupt the potato art market!”

Potato Art Gallery
The traditionally inaccessible potato art - currently undisrupted... for now.

3. On a metaphorical level

Now we’re going deep and earning those black threads. This one goes down a few levels.

See that line under the word Underline? That’s foundational. Like, foundational in the sense of the pavement and concrete and buried civilizations long lost to time, but also in the pipes and cables and resources flowing through them. We see this lattice of resource delivery as the living tissue of a community. Every water pipe, every data cable, every power line - it’s the lifeblood of a city or place.

We see fiber’s potential to connect physical places together with data, but also to bring more intelligence to other foundational items like water, electricity, and all the other connected devices and lights and sensors that communities will likely adopt in the future.

4. On an aspirational level

Aspirationally, we want to elevate communities. We want to underline them. We want to make them bolder, more competitive, and intelligent. We want them to attract new talent to the area. We want them to thrive.

5. On a visual level

Call me a lazy designer, but it’s really easy to use a single line to make your point visually.

So simple. So clean.

That’s how you get the acrylic awards.

* * *

Ready for your mind to be blown? This is the quote they’ll put on all those acrylic awards:

A line is just a bunch of dots so close together you can’t see the gaps

I'll let you take a minute to recover from the metaphorical earthquake that just cracked off when the mic dropped.

***

Dots are a really good way to represent data and when you combine them with lines and you can evoke things like morse code, one of our earliest forms of telecommunications (You get bonus points when you make a subtle homage to your industry’s history after all).

Underline Logo
The Underline Logo


In the above example of our logo, we’re visually communicating that Underline is:

  1. Bold and foundational,
  2. that foundation is comprised of data (on a cable),
  3. and the data itself is communicative


When you make those dots as squares instead of circles, you evoke the imagery of bits. Combining the lines and squares will render a visual metaphor of data riding on a pipe.

Th Underline Brandmark
The Underline Brandmark

In the above example of the brandmark, the element feels balanced and structural. This visually communicates a foundation or line that is lifted up by data - the same way we see communities being lifted up and elevated by their connected infrastructure.

It’s also a visual shorthand to the larger logo by replacing the word Underline with a literal line and truncating the data pipe to two bits.

Design inception, my friends.

6. On a strategic level

Most of you have passed out from boredom and dehydration by now after this kidnapping session, but we’re almost done. The strategic perspective of Underline is a combination of all of the previously mentioned items.

These synergies make it easier to acquire social media properties (Underline is definitely not a traditional telecommunications trend), domain names, trademarks, etc. It’s generally unique, flexible, and powerful. Across mediums, it’s familiar and easily communicated. It’s easy to spell and understand verbally.

Visually, you get to use basic primitives like lines, squares, and circles, making for more easily-approachable visuals to represent fairly complex technologies and social paradigms. It allows you signal without all the noise.

Conclusion

The ushers will now be untying you from your chairs. We at Underline appreciate your time, interest, and attention. I hope this session has been enlightening and electrifying, but above all inspirational. I also understand this will likely keep you from ever inquiring about another brand’s design process and intention. As such, Underline may in fact be the last brand you’ll ever remember.

That too, is by intention.

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