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Creating the Expressway brand

In October 2010, we first introduced Express Checkout on Cleartrip Mobile. After seeing that a large chunk of our mobile users were using Express Checkout, we decided to launch it for our desktop sites as well:

Incidentally, Expressway replaces Express Checkout, which was previously available only on Cleartrip Mobile — this is ironic because it was the adoption of Express Checkout by our mobile users which spurred us on to develop Expressway as a solution that works across all devices.

When we broadened the availability of Express Checkout from mobile-only to mobile plus desktop, we also decided that we wanted to rechristen and rebrand the feature and, thus, the Expressway brand was born. This post chronicles the story of the Expressway brand name and brand design.

The original Express Checkout feature was only available on mobile devices with HTML5 browsers which supported local storage. We had done little to build awareness or invest in marketing for the feature. The feature was represented in our mobile communications as just a simple cart icon. To be perfectly honest, the cart icon was simply a byproduct of designing the marketing site for Cleartrip Mobile at the last minute. Here’s what the cart icon looked like:

We wanted a strong identity which our customers could connect with because we were opening up 1-click bookings for all of our users, not just our mobile users. The original shopping cart icon wasn’t cutting it and neither was the generic ‘Express Checkout’ name. We wanted a name and a brand identity that captured the essence of what we consider the most important customer benefit — blazingly fast bookings with just one click. We began working on names and visual identities in parallel.

Some of the names that were tossed about for initial consideration were: FastPay, EasyPay, SimplePay, ExpressExit, QuickExit, QuickPay, SpeedBook and QuickTicket. None of these were working and, frankly, most of them were ghastly dull.

We settled on ‘Express Book’ as the working-title for the feature and began exploring visual identities for the brand. Some of the early concepts we explored emanated from the original cart icon itself.

We further simplified that concept into a simple ‘Bolt’.

As we began creating communication materials for the feature, we decided that the ‘Bolt’ wasn’t telling the full story. We believe that 1-click bookings is about more than blazingly fast bookings — it changes the way you book travel forever. The visual execution of the ‘Bolt’ just wasn’t positioning the brand the way we wanted.

So, we went back to the drawing board.

Synthesis — it all comes together

To draw inspiration for the logo, we turned to imagery of retro highway signs, the kind that were popular on American highways in the ’60s. These are some of the road signs we looked at to set the tone for the visual identity we wanted:

It was looking at these signs that led us to the name we finally chose — Expressway. The name Expressway instantly won us over: it had zing, panache, character; it affords an immediate association with travel; and it fit beautifully with the road sign approach we wanted to take for the visual identity. Everyone loved the name. With a name we loved, we focused entirely on creating the visual identity for the brand.

We went through a series of concept designs and iterations:

None of these were quite working. The look was leaning too far towards a neon sign you might find in Vegas as opposed to the highway sign imagery we wanted — not something we were quite happy with, but back-and-forth is a part of the design process at Cleartrip.

We continued to explore alternatives and started looking at signs composed with arrays of bulbs or LEDs; a common approach found on signs lining expressways around the world:

The above mood board led us to the next iteration — what you see today as the final Expressway logo:

Before we could say “Done”, we needed to evaluate how well the logo would scale to smaller sizes. It scaled down to 64 pixels without losing much fidelity. The 32 and 16 pixel icons, however, needed a lot of pixel retouching. 16 pixel icons are a personal passion — I love crafting them with my bare hands (1px ink tool for the Photoshop jockeys among you).

These blown-up versions of the smaller icons highlight the impact that hand-crafted pixels can have while scaling an icon:

Real-world usage

We were thrilled with the logo, but there’s no rest for the wicked — now we needed to adapt the Expressway logo for real-world usage in different contexts on our site.

In the booking flow

We needed to represent Expressway in two different contexts for users booking with us: for users who have Expressway configured and turned on and for users who haven’t yet turned Expressway on. Here’s what it looks like for users who have Expressway turned on:

There’s a little Easter egg in the above representation. If you notice, the icon is slightly different — the Expressway arrow points to the right instead of pointing upwards to signify that Expressway is turned on and is available.

Cleartrip Account Navigation

Getting this right was tricky as have an inset shadow treatment applied to all the icons in the primary navigation for Cleartrip Account. After a series of iterations, we were able to render an Expressway icon with the same treatment.

Mobile features

This adaptation of the Expressway logo is my personal favourite — with only two flat colors the perceived halo around the dots is simply magical.

So that’s the story behind the name, design and application of the Expressway brand. You should get on the Expressway today.

It took a huge amount of effort, but we had a lot of fun building the Expressway product and even more fun creating the brand for it. We’d love to hear your feedback, do share in the comments, on Facebook or on Twitter.