I joined Hover earlier this year as the first dedicated design hire at an organization working on tools for financial inclusion all over the world. Like many designers digging into a new gig, I started re-working the branding and website pretty much right away. We launched a redesigned .COM site not long ago, and I wanted to take the opportunity to walk through the thinking behind some of the changes.
As a seed-stage startup, Hover focused on their core product offering in the early days. Without any dedicated design staff, that meant that they put the minimal viable amount of visual design and identity work into their original .COM site. The result was loud, sunbursts of orange gradients and transparencies with skinny, poorly contrasting, difficult-to-read type. Our .COM site is also the home for our documentation, an essential component of any developer tool, and the docs didn’t get the love they deserve in the original designs.
My first goal was to professionalize the site. This meant extending the brand and associated visual design, giving those design choices a firm conceptual foundation, and boosting the Content Performance Quotient of the site. Most of our devs work in their 2nd, 3rd, or 4th language when they code, and until we localize all of our documentation (we’re on it, trust me), I don’t want to waste their time with poorly structured content they don’t need. That meant prioritizing scannable, legible, well-structured documentation above all else.
We took a subtractive approach and simplified an already straightforward information architecture to include an intro page, technical documentation, pricing info, and a button to sign-up/login. That’s it.
An extension, not an overhaul
I decided early on that this effort should extend the brand that already exists, rather than overhaul it completely. I kept the basic logo, and I used the oranges and Gotham display typeface as departures for the redesign. The reasons for this were threefold:
1. As a design team of one and a new member of the team living very far away from the the majority of our users, I want to have some more collaborators with more lived experience of our users’ day-to-day context in on any major rebranding we do.
2. We went to Accra and Nairobi for a foundational research study shortly after the redesign was done, and we wanted to learn more before we worked on the brand further.
3. We plan to build out our visual design team in the next several months, which should help with the first point.
The concept: the all-nighter
One of the most fascinating aspects of working at Hover as a designer is the folks who use our products. The vast majority of our users are Android developers at early stage startups living in a sub-Saharan tech hub like Nairobi, Dar es Salaam, Kampala, Lagos, or Accra. I wanted to bring the focus of the brand back to the folks using the product. During some field research in Nairobi earlier this year, I got to interview several people involved in the tech scene there, and one of the many themes that came out of those interviews was the attitude of hustle, resourcefulness, and the willingness to take on many projects outside of a mainline full-time work. When I began to think about the devs using Hover, I imagined developers working on passion projects, side hustles, and new challenges in dark rooms late at night or early in the morning. I took the sunburst gradients and re-imagined them in this context as sunrises or sunsets over a metropolis like Nairobi.
There’s a reason dark themes are so popular these days, especially with developer tools. Devs working long hours in dark rooms are prone to eye strain and a massive external monitor beaming blue-ish white light into their eyes makes it worse. A dark theme helps ameliorate that problem. The dark theme also feels more technical and precise. When we went and met dozens of indie devs in Ghana and Kenya earlier this year, every single desktop we saw and every tool that could be customized with a dark theme had one.
Developers integrating new tools spend an ungodly amount of time flipping around between windows and browser tabs looking for snippets of code to integrate into their IDE of choice (in our case, usually Android Studio or VS Code with a dark theme). One of the goals we had for the technical documentation on the new .COM site was to reduce the perception of distance between the code samples in our docs and the destination code where the samples would eventually live, so we chose to use Solarized to theme the code in our docs. The folks who maintain Solarized have also done a tonne of work to maintain contrast and accessibility while retaining the syntax highlighting developers expect.
Given the size of the team and the resources we had at the time, I made the decision that the site would be very type-forward, and only have one brand-signalling image on the landing page. I am not an illustrator, and we did not have a library of excellent photography on hand at the time, and so I was unfortunately left with stock photography as a last resort.
I began by playing with some more technical images that contained the dark-with-orange-sunburst colour schemes that would harmonize with the rest of the site.
These types of images felt particularly vacant, though, even for stock photography. All they say is, “We make something technical and we know what orange looks like.” Hardly an inspiring brand promise.
I went back to the all-nighter concept and began to look for imagery that depicted the folks you might find in a co-working space, cafe, or startup incubator in one of the tech scenes where our developers live.
Bringing forward the daily lived experiences of the indie devs who use Hover all over the world has become a bigger part of our product focus and our brand. Eventually we settled on this image by Simon Abrams on Unsplash, a young tech worker with headphones on (another ubiquitous dev habit) in silhouette working as the sun rises in the distance.
I knew I wanted to replace Lato Thin that the previous designer had used as a body typeface and replace it with an extremely legible serif typeface for our documentation. After combing through lookbooks and consulting the indispensable Typewolf Guides, I landed on Tisa Pro. It’s legible, has a high x-height, scans well, and plays well with Gibson, the web-servable, Gotham-esque typeface I chose to replace Gotham as our display typeface. Like Tisa, Gibson is super versatile, and can be used for non-paragraph body copy, like tables, and code samples. Gibson also has a nice, chunky bold face that I love for creating big, structural headers on our top-level pages.
The resulting site is a step-change improvement from what we had before, and when we tested the new designs with devs from all over sub-saharan Africa, the feedback we got was overwhelmingly positive. The work is never done, though. We’re always working to improve usehover.com, create products that devs love, and develop our brand.