Westcomb and I worked together over the course of 7 years, to build a strong visual identity and shift their business model towards direct-to-consumer, away from their previous distribution model.
Westcomb is a small Vancouver-based apparel manufacturer famous within the outdoor industry for making some of the most technically advanced gear in the market. In 2013, when we first began working together, Alan and his team were seeking a strong brand identity to appeal to a much broader, lifestyle-oriented audience.
At that time, Westcomb were using a distribution model which was reducing the amount of value they were able to pass along to consumers, and adding constraints around the branding itself. Until then, the brand was a lacking cohesive visual identity and clear messaging. While the website was functional, it lacked in visual and consumer appeal, being targeted exclusively to enthusiasts who understood the technical details and jargon.
They did, however, have a large Instagram following due to a constant feed of inspiring adventure photography (this has grown to 29k at the time of writing) and an ethos of "Human Powered Adventures." After harmonizing the basic brand elements – a fresher (proudly Canadian) bright red and Gotham as the corporate, bold and highly legible typeface – we began to reflect the vision of "Human Powered Adventures" visually throughout the brand.
Despite Westcomb's social popularity, the customer base was small but fiercely loyal. So we wanted to grow the brand's appeal, without diluting or alienating this core base. Westcomb started an ambassador program, where in exchange for sponsorship, ambassadors supplied us with a constant stream of photography from their latest adventures. In this way, we were able to embrace, reflect, and grow this community by using photography sourced directly from within.
We set some basic photography guidelines. Images should always contain a human and element of adventure, they should feature wide open spaces and place a human in the center of it, a sense of fun was good, a sense of human endurance was better, and of course, ambassadors should be sporting Westcomb gear.
As Westcomb pivoted from a reseller distribution model to a direct-to-consumer brand, the website took on a much more central and strategic role. I worked with Euphemia Wong to audit the current site map. Via a reverse card sorting paired with our quantitative and qualitative data analysis, Euphemia was able to structure the sitemap so that it agreement scoring was improved by 20%. The most notable changes involved the revising some of the language on the site (for example 'Our Ethos' to 'About Us'), to match the terms users use, and to better group the information related to after sales care.
We combined these structural navigation changes with strategic visual changes: strong visual hierarchy, large images and product image titles, clear supporting information and next steps, social links moved to the main navigation bar (due to their success), quick links to the most frequently searched product categories added to the home page, and a library of icons built around product features, such as resistance to cold, waterproof, windproof and so on, to help lifestyle buyers quickly understand the more technical garment details.
In each iteration of the website, I used a combination of Sketch to design, and InVision wireframes to walk Westcomb and their developers through the user's journey.
This new visual identity was then rolled out across everything from hang tags and heat transfers to targeted digital campaigns and print catalogues. In each instance, retaining the sense of space, adventure, proud Canadian red, and strategic idea of "Human Powered Adventures" that are at the heart of the brand’s identity.
With a cohesive brand identity in place, Westcomb began bringing "Human Powered Adventures" to the world. In the Chinese market, Canadian outdoor goods are viewed as a luxury item (see Canada Goose). This in turn provided a feedback loop of sorts, with website designs starting to take on a more upscale tone (see the 2020 website evolution above) through the introduction of serif typefaces, a greater focus on product details, and the incorporation of Westcomb's manufacturing heritage in to the brand story.
Over the 7 years I’ve worked with Westcomb, we’ve been able to build a strong, cohesive visual identity rooted in the adventure community from which it came. Westcomb's competitors have budgets that dwarf what we had to work with, so we've always had to be strategic and resourceful with what we were able to create. As the brand continues to evolve, the design needs to extend and scale to appeal to an ever wider and more international audience. The work is far from over.