How We Make It
Creativity and design are critical parts of Squarespace’s DNA. Over the years, we’ve iterated on our overarching creative vision to try and make sure that everything we put out into the world is beautiful, brave, and has that unique creative lens that consumers and peers have come to expect from us.
With our most recent campaign, ‘Make it’, we introduced a new brand platform for Squarespace to stand on. We also wanted to stress test the model on how we go about ideating and executing the work that has proven to be very successful for us. At the beginning, we didn’t know exactly what form that would take, but we kept our team and our minds flexible to make way for the best ideas to rise to the top.
The Team: Balancing In-House Talent with External Insight
Having a strong in-house creative team is not just important for us – it’s essential – particularly at a place like Squarespace where our brand is growing more prominent, and the company itself is growing larger everyday. The pure speed of the business and the quick decisions that need to be made simply can’t afford to have bottlenecks. Since I joined Squarespace in 2013, I’ve made it a personal mission to build up our creative team to be nimble, and to have the ability to ideate and execute at a world-class level with a myriad of capabilities.
That being said, I’m still a big believer in getting an outside view on our brand and our business. I find it extremely valuable to create partnerships with people who help validate good ideas – and keep bad ones in check. Traditionally, brands have often relied on big agencies for those crucial, outside opinions. While I see the value in these agency partnerships (and no, I’m not here to say agencies are dead), at Squarespace we’ve found success with a different formula of freelancers and bespoke creative collectives. We’ve tried many different ways to solve this problem, but it’s only recently that we’ve hit our stride. With a growing workforce of freelancers and boutique agencies, we have the option to provide insight and complementary ideas without inundating the core Squarespace team.
We struck the perfect balance for our latest campaign by handpicking a few freelancers who we knew personally, and were able to complement our internal creative team. With just a select few external voices in the room, we effectively maintained our own brand vision while also keeping our perspective from becoming too insular or stale.
The Process: Agile Creative Development Means Thinking Like a Product Company
Our brand strategy isn’t something that changes every year. We’re confident in who we are, what problems we’re trying to solve, and the challenges that we face. With that in mind, something that normally would have taken several months to accomplish can often be compressed into a matter of weeks for us. Being a product company, there are a lot of insights on how we go about developing our products that have influenced the way we develop our brand work.
The agency model is built on time, servicing clients, and billing hours – one might even wonder if the model is incentivised to take longer to come up with ideas. A product company is incentivised to do things as quickly as possible with the fewest amount of people. In other words, trim the fat and have just the hard-working muscle. We rapidly prototype ideas and make quick judgement calls on what we feel is right and what we should ultimately build. We found that this model can work for creative storytelling as well.
While the creative process is always messy, the madness can really work in your favour if you place very strong constraints on it – time being the most important one. Our ideation process focused on weekly sprints with the goal in mind to land the plane at the three-week mark. During this time, we came up with many high-level territories with some basic ideas to stress-test each platform. We quickly made some decisions, eliminating all but two, and then threw some work against these two territories on week two. Finally, in week three, we decided on a direction and polished the work. We shaped the ideas into what would eventually become our campaign platform. In this intense and focused setting, we were able to debate the creative premise until it was perfect.
After the creative premise is refined by our core team, we immediately bring in directors and production companies. We find it extremely valuable to have direct relationships with partners who will not only service the work, but those who will bring a new lens and feel invested in the final creative product.
The Result: Make it ________
The end result was a new brand platform – ‘Make it’, which is deceptively simple. It works as a standalone message which speaks to the handmade creation process of building a Squarespace site. More importantly, it also works very well at an aspirational level communicating the desire to ‘make it’ as an entrepreneur. It’s not enough to create an online presence, we want all of our customers to ultimately be successful in their endeavours.
Because Squarespace has such a wide-ranging audience, it was crucial to have a flexible message that spoke to audiences with and without intent to create a website. This is where the two different elements of the campaign, ‘Make It Yourself’ and ‘Make It Stand Out’, were derived from.
Make It Yourself was strategically created for the individual who already has intent to create a website. We focused on telling true customer stories in order to illustrate the importance of how your online presence should be a true reflection of who you are. We worked with Sadie Williams, Daniel Arsham, and Danny Bowien because their unique stories demonstrate the sheer customisability that Squarespace has to offer and the unique design sensibilities the company democratises for all.
Make It Yourself with Daniel Arsham
Make It Yourself with Sadie Williams
Make it Yourself with Danny Bowien
With Make It Stand Out, we were able to deliver a very clear message around why it’s important to stand out from the crowd. This is a message about combatting uniformity that almost anyone can relate to. What made it even more interesting was that the idea was born from real data and research. The discovery of how many bands were named Atlas inspired this approach in a large way, and led to a concept that we adapted for magicians and storytellers as well.
Make It Stand Out: Magicians
Make It Stand Out: Storytellers
Make It Stand Out: Atlas
The Make It platform is one of the most hard-working campaigns we’ve created - the message is both specific to the person viewing the work while being widely applicable to anyone who is watching. Our team and creative process is what allowed for this platform to take shape, and become such a flexible platform that we’re still building on today.
I will say that, just because our approach and process works for us at Squarespace, this doesn’t mean that this will work for any brand. Ultimately, you need to have creative thinking embedded within your organisation from the top down – and at every subsequent level of the company. That’s a huge commitment to establish and maintain.
At the end of the day we’re a DIY web-publishing platform for makers. Everyone who works at Squarespace is a maker – why wouldn’t we bring that philosophy to everything we do?
David Lee is CCO at Squarespace