Why ProofPilot Isn’t Blue
A discussion between Matthew Amsden and Dustin Woehrmann on how the ProofPilot brand and logo came to be — and why it’s a big departure from healthcare and human service brands as usual.
Matthew Amsden (CEO and Founder of ProofPilot): I was on an airplane one day, seated in the middle seat in coach on a cross-country flight. It was so completely demoralizing. Participating in a research study isn’t that much better. It’s similarly bare bones. A well thought out brand? It’s hard. it’s just not a priority for most research sponsors. They’ve got to much else to worry about.
Dustin Woehrmann (Creative Director, ProofPilot, and Communify): Ya, even apps on Apple’s ResearchKit are pretty text heavy and sparse … and Apple is known for excellent design. The cost of designing a study and then developing the app doesn’t leave a lot left over for an interesting brand experience.
Matthew: Everyone agrees being part of a research study is important. It provides answers to some of life’s most pressing questions. But no one wants to feel like a cow that’s jabbed with treatments and then milked for data. And that’s what it’s like sometimes!
Dustin: I was watching a couple of episodes of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt on Netflix the other day. There is a story arch in Season 2 where Titus needs to make a little money and joins some medical research studies. The show pokes fun at how poorly participants are treated.
Matthew: Yes, I saw those episodes. It is funny. And at the same time, true to real life, I want to change that with ProofPilot. Since ProofPilot is a platform, I figured we should put some serious consideration into brand and design so that people sponsoring studies can just focus on creating their study protocol. That’s hard enough. And then the ProofPilot platform would make participating in studies … actually fun …
Dustin: … or at least not add to the stress of participants in studies for those who are ill or have problems. You don’t want to make them feel any more demoralized than they already do.
Matthew: Right. And, I think that’s one of the reasons it’s tough to recruit and engage people in studies. It’s only the people who look at studies as an opportunity for experimental life-saving treatments who see a real benefit from going through all that. I think there are so many opportunities for studies that prevent illness and optimize health.
Dustin: Thinking about the brand, the old art deco airline advertisements in your office and the word ‘Pilot’ in the name got me thinking. Those posters illustrate a time when air travel was a glamorous journey of self-discovery. Not a bare-bones experience you had in the middle seat a while back. We needed to convey a warmth, comfort, excitement, possibility … Typical healthcare brands don’t do that. They just communicate safety and care. These airline posters do.
Matthew: And that journey of self-discovery is an interactive story. It’s why I was excited to work with you given your work in the entertainment industry for campaigns like Into the Wild (for which you were a Webby Honoree — Congratulations, by the way!) — Django Unchained, The Imitation Game, and the Academy Award-winning film, the Artist. I wanted researchers to feel like they were designing a piece of interactive entertainment. Because that’s what it is.
Dustin: First step was the mark and brand. A nod back to the airline posters.
The mark itself is an abstraction of the two “P”s from ProofPilot, and a propeller. The propeller symbolizes the power to move forward. An aircraft would not have the ability to take flight without a propeller. ProofPilot is the propeller of the researcher piloting (aka guiding) the participants through an experience.
Matthew: I also really like how the mark is also a bullseye, denoting exactness, and a compass showing direction.
Dustin: And then it was on to the color palette. We looked at a lot of other healthcare brands … there’s lots of blue and white.
Matthew: I think white and blue are so common because they denote safety, clarity, and cleanliness. But, it’s cold and boring. We needed to be fun and exciting … without going overboard.
Dustin: We wanted things to be organic, lively and healthy. That initially meant dark oranges, warm grays and a balance of white and off-white. It’s a departure from healthcare.
Matthew: But that departure is important, and it works. There’s a stigma to being ill and that healthcare is for old people. ProofPilot started in HIV prevention research. An experience that looked too much like healthcare would turn people off. ProofPilot wants to differentiate itself, showing life and solutions.
Dustin: At the same time, we had to be careful … the research study content needed to be front and center — and each study will have unique images, and colors to speak to their unique participant population and convey a specific purpose.
Matthew: Right, we don’t want to be the research equivalent to MySpace circa 2005.
Dustin: So we developed a secondary color palette that fit within the accepted brand values and will look professional and attractive with all kinds of different content. We were particularly careful about the contrast between background colors and text. If the contrast is too high or the colors are too bright, there’s a good chance many people can’t easily read it. That’s an accessibility problem.
Matthew: The brand has extended nicely. We’re using it as the basis of a new visual study protocol design language. You wouldn’t have figured that these colors would work so well together in so many situations — and still remain usable, and professional.
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