Meet Wabi: The humble circle

Who (or what) is Wabi? Wabi is trivago’s new corporate brand-mark, created to reflect our identity and to define a clear distinction between our products/services, and our corporate channels and tools. Wabi doesn’t replace the trivago icon for hotel search or any other consumer or b2b products, but is rather the digital embodiment of our culture.

“Wabi seeks to capture and represent our spirit as a company – fluid and ever-evolving, yet simple, authentic, and imperfect. A modern representation of the trust that unifies us and makes us strong, and the authenticity and diversity of opinions that broaden our horizons. A visualization of the imperfect detail of raw ideas and the way we evaluate empirical data to find proof and therefore, focus. A way to show that we never stand still. Capturing how we are driven forward by our entrepreneurial passion and continuous learning, from our own experiences and the experience of others – this is Wabi.”

That is an official summary of our new corporate brand-mark “Wabi”. Presented with a sound-byte as intriguing as it is inspirational, we wanted to pull back the curtain a little to reveal some of the thinking and process that went into developing Wabi. We caught up with three of the designers behind the project; Anna Druckrey, Katalin Varga and Dawn McCance.

Life at trivago: Hello you three. So… Wabi! Firstly, I’d like to know, what was the catalyst for having a new brand-mark? Or, having one at all?

Anna Druckrey: Technically, it actually started off when we looked at the trivago branding system and we realised that over the years, we had really created a bit of a visual smorgasboard. There was a very creative and broad mix of marketing branding, internal events branding, team branding, task branding and project branding, but everything was being branded with the hotel search logo. On the one hand, it shows the pride people have in their own initiatives, and the creative freedom they are afforded to develop their own projects, but when you have a company made up of entrepreneurs all working independently on their own initiatives, you can quickly lose touch of the overarching branding system. As everyone at trivago is afforded this freedom of expression, there was no-one controlling it or who had created a system that people could stick to, to regulate and synergize the whole thing. We wanted to create a distinct relationship between our organisation and our services, and saw it as an opportunity to create something that really encapsulated the spirit of trivago, and our vibrant culture, in one symbol.

Lat: So, what was your first step towards tackling this?

AD: The first step of cleaning up our branding system: we created two ‘buckets’, in which we differentiated between the marketing offerings of services and products, and then all of the corporate branding. For the corporate branding, since we are starting to develop a lot of new external initiatives, it would make sense to introduce a corporate brand that acts as the umbrella for everything that is happening in the outside world.

“Not just an icon”

Lat: That makes a lot of sense. When I think about the internal initiatives that get spread to the “outside world”, so many come to mind. For instance, all the merchandise that goes along with events. I see a lot of people around Düsseldorf in Women in Tech trivago hoodies, or with trivago on tour caps. Is this where we would, in the future, start to see more of Wabi?

AD: Yes, exactly! This ties into the two buckets I mentioned. On the marketing side everything is derived from the core product: trivago’s hotel search. While on the corporate side it is more about the ‘communication occasion’ that we’re involving the audience in. Is it something where we want external impact? If so, that is where we need to use a 100% branding system. This is where we would have ‘Wabi’ the brand-mark, coupled with the word-mark. So “Wabi-trivago”. The more internal a project, and the less external visibility we have, the less we want to brand. Meaning for all the employee-initiated projects, we now step away as a brand and leave it completely 100% up to them to find their own design and branding system. Because we do really want to continue to nurture the culture of employee’s being able to ideate and execute these internal initiatives and still have all the freedom without having to confuse things with branding. It is all or nothing, rather than a big grey area.

Lat: Okay, so it isn’t like you are taking everything ever created within the trivago walls, amalgamating it and slapping a label on it. You are distancing yourself from things that are never intended for an external audience. I can see how that will work in the future.

AD: Yes, exactly.

Lat: So, we’ve seen Wabi and, he or she, or it? haha

All: It!

Wabi’s embryonic ‘blu-tack’ phase

Lat: It, gotcha. It looks cool. I have also seen some of the previews before it became fully formed, like when it was a blu-tack model. I know there was a few other ideas in the running, but what was your first thinking about Wabi? Did you think “Okay, we had this example of the three stripes, we have this nice circular thing… what I mean is, was it just a case of putting some things together, or taking something away. How did it first develop?

AD: I think we have to start at an earlier point because the thing about Wabi is it has to be a symbol for the whole organization, so we started with an internal open call for anyone to participate. Initially it wasn’t even limited to Design, but anyone who had some creative ideas about the new brand-mark was invited to join this creative poll. And I guess that’s where I pass over to these two…

The votes are in

Lat: Okay you two, so when you first reached out internally to the company, how did you communicate it or express what you were looking for? Was it “We’re developing a new brand-mark” or was it more on the QT, like a “submarine project”?

Katalin Varga: Well, actually it was a competition, so there was a bit of secrecy in there! Whilst taking part, myself and Dawn did a lot of research on the existing corporate branding, and we already gleaned some important findings. We wanted to dig into what the core was of trivago as a company, and found that actually it was perfectly represented by our core values.

Lat: So the core values were the inspiration for the first designs?

KV: In a way. I mean, in their essence the values are still only words. So, we had to conduct a lot of research what it mean in a visual and emotional sense, how are we living these values in the organization. How can we give a shape to it, how we can translate it visually, how would it look or feel?

Katalin and Dawn signing off

Lat: So what was the competition?

Dawn McCance: It was quite open, the brief was super simple, like “Create a brand-mark that reflects our values”. Of course, the initial question you struggle with is “How do you communicate a whole culture in one symbol?” but then you start working backwards to the questions that you need to ask first. As Katalin said, everything we do is rooted in our core values, they are present every day. So, we briefed ourselves to find a combined visual representation of our core values. We conducted huge research, trying to to define “What does trust feel like? What does authenticity smell like?” haha. We went so deep into the values we ended up with so many possibilities.

What does authenticity smell like?

KV: In the competition, we had like 6 different teams, and some really strong contenders. The secret to winning the competition was taking another look at the brief and reminding ourselves that it is for the corporate brand and not the product. I think defining the difference was clouding the focus at times. And actually, at the time, when Wabi won the first round, it looked totally different, a very different visual concept.

A Wabi competitor

Lat: One thing I have noticed is that, when I see certain versions, it has the three colours synonymous with trivago, and is quite dynamic and dimensional, whereas in other versions I have seen, it’s just black, and the trivago logo sits next to it, also in black. Is this two versions? Does it change depending on the background I guess?

Wabi – Early iterations

DM: That’s kind of just a technical requirement, if we need a certain colour t-shirt or something haha.

KV: As well as the functional benefits, the three colours in Wabi are presented in a totally different way to the three colours we use in the trivago’s main logo. In Wabi, they are entwined and brought together as one, like us as a company. So, that was a conscious decision, besides functionality, this was also the reasoning.

Lat: The reason I ask, is that I wonder what came first? When I look at the two, I get very different feelings.

KV: In the beginning we reduce colours, we design only in black and white, that is quite common.

Lat: Oh, that’s very interesting. Emotionally they evoke different reactions. The coloured one looks like it is moving, but then the kind of black, almost static version kind of just looks like a messed up circle. Like, in a good way.

(all laugh)

DM: We came to Anna, in a bit of a creative overload, with 100 variations of a logo, all of us looking over a table at one sheet of tiny symbols trying to decide which direction to take, and Anna said “Look this is cool, there is something here, you need to get rid of everything else and just keep this broken circle”.

“You need to get rid of everything else and just keep this broken circle”

AD: It really ties in to the core tenet which we communicate internally. That we are “Never wise, never great, never done”. A circle should be closed, but it is not, because we’re never done. We’re never great, which is why the circle is imperfect. It is organic because we are a human company. You can take so much from that messed up circle. Then, we bring in the colours to reduce the mess haha.

Lat: Exactly, it sure looks less “messed-up” with the colours.

AD: Yeah, see, Wabi is a humble little circle who is very approachable and engaging, very human. You strip off the colours, the cosmetics and it’s like “Heyy, there you are!”

Lat: And here it is indeed.



Florian Krushel

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