3M is an American icon. It is perhaps most famous for Post-it® notes and Scotch® tape but such well known consumer brands are a small fraction of the more than 60,000 products brought to the world by the innovation company. In fact it’s almost impossible to get through a typical day without coming into contact with 3M materials or technology in one way or another… in cars, planes, mobile devices, hospitals, factories, offices, homes and so on. And that's the conundrum: 3M is simultaneously ubiquitous and invisible with technology embedded in so many aspects of our everyday lives.
3M has long been among Fortune’s most admired companies. The company highlighted four key strengths as the basis for their performance when talking to investors: technology, manufacturing, global capability and the brand. As an innovation powerhouse with such impressive breadth and depth, the foundation of the 3M brand rests on its messaging platform: 3M Science. Applied to Life.™ And that's the point. 3M is a science company making vital contributions to life every day.
We were asked to help leverage brand design to express this new 3M leadership story and enable its global deployment. We worked closely with both 3M Chief Design Officer, Eric Quint, and Global Creative Director, Donna Root to create a new visual identity to bring the brand to life. The goal was to create brand experiences that reflect the transformative power of 3M as a visionary pioneer, elevating creativity to humanize innovation.
“With 3M’s innovative culture that thrives on a spirit of curiosity and a passion for discovery, our visual design system must bring life to the 3M experience, elevating every touchpoint of our brand to connect with meaning and consistency.” Eric Quint, 3M Chief Design Officer
It was clear to us all that the brand design system of a company so broad and diversified faced three main challenges. It was unduly dependent on the logo, powerfully iconic and noticeably ubiquitous. In addition, the system as a whole dated from a pre-digital era, lacking interactive tools to express brand essence with dynamic relevance and contemporary flair. Moreover, 3M as a company is constantly evolving, unlocking new solutions in diverse markets every day. Long story short, 3M needed a smart brand design system for the 21st century that would be flexible enough to evolve and adapt to resonate with business partners and customers around the globe…from loyal customers to millennial recruits.
“The collaboration with Eric, Donna and the whole 3M Design team was seamless right from the start. We were incredibly excited to co-create an identity system that would affect so many facets of the organization worldwide and help empower everyone to tell the new 3M story in a creative yet distinct visual way.” Jan Eumann, Design Director
With immediate reactions from 3M's widespread businesses that were overwhelmingly enthusiastic, both the new visual brand identity system and 3M brand platform were revealed at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas in March 2015 and deployed worldwide in a carefully phased program. Rich photography, fresh color, dynamic graphics and creative discipline for consistency propelled the new system to become the universal driver for all 3M brand touch points to build connection with multiple stakeholders on a worldwide basis. This will continue for years to come.
The visual identity rests on the foundation of a creative construct that brings forward strength and symmetry to inspire brand expression that is sophisticated and precise in every detail.
The system is comprised of four core elements developed with science in mind. They are designed with flexible latitude to evolve over time, enabling users to create new and dynamic 3M brand communications. These include:
One of the most significant and bold changes to the 3M identity is the approach to typography – moving from using Helvetic Neue to a more unique and ownable typeface. We partnered with Lineto to create a custom version of Circular, called 3M Circular. This typeface is modern, more distinctive, open, recognizable and easy to read.
The triangle as a singular shape and the mesh, a fluid network of triangles, are the most simple, graphic representation of the brand. This treatment lends a subtle reference to the microscopic structures of many 3M materials. It also creates a visual link to the company’s overarching brand platform: 3M Science. Applied to Life.™
With an ongoing pipeline of innovation and thousands of solutions, 3M reaches everyone in the world. To help capture this scale and significance, we incorporated both epic and lifestyle photography – highlighting the world at large and the real people behind the design, innovation and manufacturing who are solving problems around the world with 3M products.
To reflect the wide variety and versatility of 3M, we carefully engineered an entirely new, vibrant color system and interactive tool to allow for easy implementation. This enables multiple opportunities for distinct brand expression across 3M businesses.