🍊Inventing an Internal Brand Mascot
Five Case Studies of Design ➕ Internal Communications
When Design and Internal Communications collaborate, the creative returns result in transformational impact — employees feel pride, connect in meaningful ways or simply smile when it's needed most.
I had the incredible fortune of partnering with two of the most talented Designers while working at Spin — Visual Designer Steph Quan and Illustrator Justin Kohout. Together, we took ideas from a sketch and turned them into an internal communications creation.
This is a look back at five of my favorite projects along with the strategy or in some cases the serendipity that led to our impact. It includes design perspectives from Steph and Justin to share the creative process. I hope these case studies will inspire organizations to recognize the importance of partnering with design to take internal communications in meaningful directions.
#1 🍊 Internal Brand Mascot
We accidentally invented an internal brand mascot with a thank you card. Beyond a public Slack post and a general email, I set out to create a unique, branded way to personally appreciate employees around Thanksgiving 2020.
When I went to the Design team with this concept, the creative wheels began to turn and the result was beyond anything I could have imagined. Steph and Justin combined their creativity to produce a unique card.
As I opened the first draft of the card, my response was instant joy. Immediately inspired, I asked in our group Slack chat: “Is this a giant orange on a scooter?!” Justin confirmed this creation. I was smitten. We gave her a headband and dubbed her Orangina!
The Thank You cards were just the beginning. Eventually, Orangina made her debut as the voice of Welcome Week for new employees! She would be featured in onboarding materials, the Intranet, open enrollment, conversation cards, and more. She even had her own Slack profile to make announcements. I loved writing in the fun and spunky brand voice of Orangina who dropped puns in every other sentence.
Looking back at Orangina’s “birth” and the other design projects she sparked, I wanted to know more about their creative process.
What inspired you to create this illustration?
Justin: Honestly I had no idea what to do for this assignment at first. I have to give the credit for the idea to Steph who cleverly connected the internal motto “Be(e) Orange” [for the color of our scooters] with the opportunity to personify the phrase. Once she did, I knew it was perfect–particularly because a simple round orange supported the thick-line-minimal-detail approach I had been exploring with Spin’s illustration style. Full disclosure, at the time I assumed this character was just going to be used for Thank You cards. The fact that she turned into something of an unofficial internal company mascot was a complete surprise.
How did you evolve the Orangina brand into other materials?
Steph: “Be(e) Orange'' was a phrase that was used in the workplace to identify with the company’s mission, values and purpose. To have an internal mascot that would be the face and voice of Be Orange would not only help establish an internal company identity but create a character that would be able to connect and engage with team members in a creative and playful way. We thought it’d be fun to introduce her in other materials to spark conversations and moments and embrace the company’s spirit.
#2 💬 Conversation Cards
When thinking about employee holiday gift ideas and reading an inspiring article in Fast Company Magazine about a custom deck of cards, I thought it would be fun to take on the challenge of creating souvenir cards as a beautiful look back at our year of company accomplishments.
With the Design team on board, we began brainstorming. But, two months into the project, we pressed pause, realizing it was too much, too soon. So, I pivoted to a different deck of cards.
As the company embraced a remote work model, I had been engaged in a project to transition our working norms. I observed that meetings were missing the casual chatter that might happen if gathered in the same room. The cards were created as a way to make that happen.
How did you approach the creative process for the Conversation Cards?
Steph: The process was teamwork. Once we made a decision to create conversation cards, I started a rough mockup on the organization of the deck. Grouping questions in categories really helped divide each section which brought up the idea of implementing a theme. That’s when Orangina came up to be on the cards – she has become the face of internal communications that many have grown to admire.
Justin, our Illustrator, did an amazing job adding more expressions of Orangina that would represent each category. Not only did we think it’d be fun to show different variations of Orangina that we haven’t seen before, but how she could resonate within our workplace and team.
#3 📰 Newsletter Header
When it came time to launch a company newsletter, I invited employees to participate in the process with a naming contest. The creative winning entry — The Spinside Scoop — was submitted by two employees — so it felt meant to be!
With this as inspiration, Justin imagined a header with an ice cream truck listing newsletter sections on a flavor chart. Each time we sent The Spinside Scoop, this header gave the readers a connection to our brand and invoked a fun vibe.
How did you approach the illustration for The Spinside Scoop?
Justin: Unlike the Thank You card project, I had a pretty good idea of what I was going to do for this illustration right off the bat. The association of ice cream with the word “scoop” is pretty obvious, and convenient in the way that one might ride a Spin scooter to a parked ice cream truck. But what if that person was a reporter? And what if their microphone was receiving the ice cream scoop in the same way an ice cream cone would? It all seemed to fall into place conceptually.
#4 🐶 Special Events: The Howl-i-day Pet Show
Branding a special event contributes to a meaningful experience. The design drives curiosity about the program and excitement to attend. During the event, the design provides a backdrop, transitions and connects different sections.
I published this article on the Howl-i-day Pet Show — my favorite event of 2020. The program wouldn’t have been possible without the incredible collaboration of Design. By gathering all the pet people and their friends for a contest that rivaled the Westminster Dog Show (just kidding, not quite), we did bring a lot of holiday cheer.
How did you approach creating the Design for this event?
Steph: Since the holidays were coming up, I thought it would be nice to incorporate some of our holiday artwork that Justin created to wrap up the year with one of the best events of 2020. To showcase the pets, I kept it as simple as possible to highlight the amazing photo and video submissions that we received.
Justin: I had nothing to do with this design, but I did attend the event and it was hands-down my favorite of the year.
#5 🧩 Puzzle
I’ll end where the partnership with Design began. In my first few months at Spin, I was challenged by the Executive Team to create a memento celebrating a 2020 business milestone. The popular pandemic pastime of a puzzle felt like the perfect gift — pairing the organization’s goals with an employee engagement initiative.
When the puzzle arrived in mailboxes, it accomplished this and much more as team members posted videos and photos in Slack of themselves and quarantine crews assembling the puzzle! The extra orders were even sent as holiday gifts to key partners.
Justin, whose creative and colorful drawings epitomized the brand’s unique identity with city launches and special occasions, ultimately brought together the best of those moments on one canvas. Projects like this are also possible because of incredible vendors like Benjamin Saulson of Nadel International whose attention to detail is top-notch.
How did you approach designing the puzzle?
Justin: The 2020 milestone puzzle gave me an opportunity to reuse illustrations I had already created and collage them with additional highlights of Spin’s year – Spin’s 2025 sustainability pledge, the announcement that Spin had gone international with their first market in Germany, a 2020 Lunar New Year of the Rat illustration, Earth Day and Pride Month.
The New Normal marketing campaign and Spin’s feature at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) were both notable projects that other Design team members had worked on that I wanted included in the puzzle. Both used photography, however, and it was eventually decided that an all-illustrated puzzle was preferred. Converting both into Spin’s “illustration style” is something I continue to practice as the style itself evolves.
Words of Wisdom
What’s the best way for Design to collaborate with Internal Communications?
Steph: Don’t hesitate to reach out to the Design team to brainstorm and share ideas. Working in a team boosts creativity all around and we can set a vision for a fun and exciting project.
What’s the best way for an Illustrator to collaborate with Internal Communications?
Justin: I 100% agree with Steph regarding collaboration. A blank canvas can still be daunting for me so direction of any kind, even oddly specific, can really trigger an idea. One of the best ways of generating ideas is to have a conversation among a group of people that trust each other. The fact that this is exactly how Orangina came to be, and then was leveraged to help facilitate conversation (in card form) is fitting in a way I am only just now realizing 🧡
Thank you to Justin and Steph for their incredible collaboration, fun partnership and genuine friendship. Our creative chemistry is one of those professional and now personal rarities that I treasure. Thank you to J.R. Furst and the Marketing Team for creating the Be(e) Orange movement and encouraging me to build upon it for internal communications.
I hope this article inspires Internal Communications leaders to collaborate with the Design Team! You never know what the final result might be — a card, a special event, a puzzle or something that you haven’t even thought of yet! Feel free to share your ideas in the comments.