Rebranding Shiny Shoe:
Game Developer Integrates Handmade Comic-Book Feel Without Alienating Corporate Clients
Early in 2015, after completing a successful consulting project for Sony and Disney, San Francisco-based game development studio Shiny Shoe needed to upgrade its marketing and overall look.
“It wasn’t just about a new website.”
Yujin Kiem, Shiny Shoe Creative Director
Founded in 2011, the studio had fallen into a pattern of handling a few consulting projects for larger game developers and corporate clients and then using their profits to focus on creating original games, including the popular PuzzleRaiders.
However, gradually, Founder/CEO Mark Cooke recognized he needed a more integrated business model, one that would allow Shiny Shoe to grow, while assigning development time to consult projects and original work simultaneously.
“Mark had identified the strategy he wanted to move the business to the next level. He had a lot of leads for other high-profile projects and realized our website and collateral materials weren’t representing the company we’d grown into,” says Yujin Kiem, Shiny Shoe’s Creative Director.
A gifted artist and designer, Kiem knew that in a studio filled with opinionated creative personnel, outsourcing the project would be a smart move. After researching design/web development firms online, he reached out to his sister, e9digital’s Creative Director Jina Kiem.
“I kept asking questions. When it came down to it, I started bugging my sister until she caved and agreed to handle the project,” Yujin says.
e9’s team was excited by the prospect of creating not only a website, but also a new logo, business cards/letterhead and other collateral materials and overall style for Shiny Shoe to build on.
“It wasn’t just about a new website,” Yujin adds.
Starting from Scratch
Shiny Shoe’s existing logo and website – a golden high-top sneaker and minimalist site designed by a college student – weren’t doing the firm any favors, especially when making presentations to potential corporate clients less familiar with their work.“It’s part of coming across as professional,” says Mark. “The older site looked unprofessional and we had moved beyond that stage. It was time for a more professional presence on the web and for more consistency among the collateral materials (business cards, letterhead, etc.).”
Locking in a Logo
Though most of the rebranding went smoothly, developing and selecting a logo took time.
During the early stages of the project, e9’s creative team developed a series of concepts grouped into four categories, called “buckets” – which we labeled craftsmanship, feverish creativity, legacy and evolution.
Images based on a horseshoe, a footprint, a friendly (possibly alien) monster, and a shoelace with the handmade feel of midcentury graphic design generated positive client feedback.
Shiny Shoe’s team was enthused about the idea of the monster and the connotation of a ‘fevered imagination,’, but weren’t quite sure about the actual character itself, so e9 went back to the drawing board to dream up some other characters.
After considering different character shapes, Shiny Shoe decided that the original character was headed in the right direction, but wanted it to look even more fantastic.
Ultimately, while Shiny Shoe’s team liked the concept of the monster, they felt it didn’t quite represent them accurately. Instead, they decided they wanted on a recognizable animal. e9 developed several options, including a fox, a bunny, a cat and a gorilla.
Mark liked the cat, but thought it might register as “too cute”; he wanted something more authoritative, opting for the gorilla.
Next, the gorilla went through several iterations as we sought the right mix of “friendly” and “powerful.” One version featured him as an imposing blacksmith, reinforcing Shiny Shoe’s emphasis on craftsmanship.
Back to Basics
Finally, after lengthy deliberation, Yujin and Mark revisited an early favorite: the shoelace, which they agreed would work not only as a logo on their website, but also as a smaller image on letterhead, business cards and other materials.
“Ultimately it came down to one that was cool, creative and consistently appealing.”
Mark Cooke, Shiny Shoe CEO
While they couldn’t agree on the exact physical expression, animation style or color palette for the gorilla, almost everything about the shoelace worked visually—a distinct combination of teal, red, yellow and black, with a handcrafted look that reinforced Shiny Shoe’s mission and its founder’s aesthetic.
Mark explains the reasoning behind his final decision. “Ultimately it came down to one that was cool, creative and consistently appealing across the website, business cards and other collateral materials. The shoelace worked best in an aggregated, global scope.”
Tagline Hits Its Target
“When a game developer uses that term, they’re referring to something of high quality.”
Mark Cooke, Shiny Shoe CEO
With the logo locked down, we moved on to developing the website design and copy.
Shiny Shoe’s existing tagline was “Our Games Shine,” which was a bit too obvious, especially when juxtaposed with a golden sneaker.
After brainstorming words and phrases that referenced craftsmanship, creativity, and passion, as well as common video game terms and jargon, we circled back to the term “Polished,” which immediately felt right.
“Polished” worked on a number of levels, referencing both shoes and the studio’s reputation for refined work. To our surprise, “polished” is also a popular game industry term, but not one that’s oversaturated.
“When a game developer uses that term, they’re referring to something of high quality,” says Cooke. “It’s also a term we use a lot at Shiny Shoe. We’re always striving for our work to reach a polished state.”
Bios Balance Facts & Fun
After the logo and an overall color scheme were chosen, the development process accelerated. For content, in addition to the core information about the game developer’s services/expertise, original games and consulting projects, e9 and the client agreed to develop employee bios, two detailed case studies and a mission statement.
For the bios, Mark liked the content and layout of two disparate sources: Media giant Twitter and a small game developer, similar to Shiny Shoe.
Twitter’s approach is corporate, but clean, devoting about 150-200 words to each professional profile, while the other game studio’s site took a minimalist approach, with shortlists of each employee’s favorite games, and quotes about favorite foods and personal likes/dislikes—amusing, but too cute for the rebranded Shiny Shoe, which would be pitching its services to more traditional corporate clients. Mark did, however, like how this competitor made it “easier to tell the size of the team at a glance and what people do.”
We believe we’ve found a solution, rather than a compromise.
While the bios are closer to the Twitter model (around 100 words each), we’ve added personal quotes from each staff member about why they love designing games. We’ve also introduced Shiny Shoe’s staff together on the website’s home page as a line of caricatures that link to longer bios inside. This approach emphasizes the fun aspect of their work while encapsulating the size/scope of the team.
Clarifying A Mission
We helped Mark synopsize his short- and long-term vision for the studio in a few hundred words that also developed the concept behind “polished.”
The unifying theme for the mission statement was “Passion and Professionalism,” emphasizing the studio’s strengths—experienced gaming designers/developers who love what they do, always put in extra effort and respect client deadlines, essential points of differentiation in a field known for extreme youth, and a certain degree of arrogance.
Case Studies—How They Do What They Do
In addition to descriptions of original games like Offworld and PuzzleRaiders, the site features information about Shiny Shoe’s development work on high-profile games Batman: Arkham Underworld, Game of Thrones, and War Commander: Rogue Assault.
It also features in-depth case studies focusing on two major projects: the studio’s work helping Double Fine Productions remaster the classic game Grim Fandango and the creation of ViPR Strike, a run/chase game designed to generate excitement for data storage provider EMC at its annual convention in Las Vegas.
For potential consulting clients to better understand the advantages of using experienced game developers like Shiny Shoe, each case study provides step-by-step details of the ways in which the game studio not only helped clients develop exciting work, but also problem-solved, met challenging deadlines and truly collaborated with clients to meet their needs.
Style and Substance
After locking down the logo, color palette and overall style, e9’s creative team turned their attention to the website.
The team’s challenge was to incorporate a substantial amount of content without losing sight of Shiny Shoe as a leader in a visual industry.
The team made some smart choices, choosing an easy-to-navigate, one-page design that made it easy to either get a quick overview of Shiny Shoe’s services or dig deeper to access the case studies, mission, bios and other detailed content.
“The team was able to use that layout structure and build a lot of depth that these one-pagers don’t typically have. They found a great way of presenting an overview on the home page and then letting the user decide what they wanted to read. They were able to include more content without the site getting bogged down,” says Kiem.
“Everyone at e9digital was easy to work with…”
Mark Cooke, Shiny Shoe CEO
“A lot of gaming company websites look really ‘techy’ or ‘space agey,’ while their logos look like sports team logos, but Shiny Shoe’s doesn’t. It looks handmade. I think it really sets us apart from their competition,” says Kiem.
Shiny Shoe’s staff is equally happy with its new site. “It’s a big picture website that projects who we are” says Kiem.
Cook says: “The site is fun; it’s bright; the design and copy work together to put the historical context of the projects we’ve worked on in a good light.”
He adds that he’s especially happy with the way in which the company’s new site balances a need to make an appropriate impression on (possibly) more conservative corporate clients without losing the vivid colors he likes. “The loudness of some of the color choices is a good thing.”
And he’ll definitely recommend e9 to his clients. “Everyone at e9digital was easy to work with, accommodating and always worked on things quickly. Very responsive and very professional.”