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Dropbox Bucks the Trend

I’ve been using Dropbox lately to host files for a client project, and I was inevitably served some targeted ads for the service. I was on Slate when I first noticed the ads following me—arguably one of the more visually hectic news sites since their recent redesign. Tim wrote a post last year citing Dropbox and several other prominent brands as examples of the very 2017 trend of “design gluttony,” a combination of “all the colors, all the fonts and all the photography.” In this context, however, I felt the Dropbox ad stood out from the clutter. It was a very simple design—some color blocking, a simple headline of large text, the logo, and that’s it—but it was the unexpected color palette (aubergine and a powder blue, in this case) that really caught my eye.

With a quick search I stumbled on the dedicated microsite Dropbox created for the rebrand, which they unveiled late last year. It turns out Dropbox has a large library of these unexpected color pairings, leveraging their entire brand strategy around contrasting elements. From Dropbox: “Our new design system is built on the idea that extraordinary things happen when diverse minds come together. We communicate this visually by pairing contrasting colors, type, and imagery to show what’s possible when we bring ideas together in unexpected ways.”

Against a backdrop of these bold color choices, Dropbox uses a diverse typography system, a (very) large family of one brand typeface. Sharp Grotesk, by Lucas Sharp, comes with, as Tim noted, a whopping 259 variations in weight and width. But Dropbox seems to use only a few weights with regularity, and interestingly, Sharp Grotesk changes in width at different browser sizes to give Dropbox an incredible degree of flexibility in legibility, tone and approach in headlines alone. The standard weight, Sharp Medium, is unique and approachable. Some weights are fat, silly or goofy, others still are thin and serious, toeing the line of ordinary or corporate. For Dropbox, it’s all in the name of creating a brand that reduces mental clutter for the user and puts focus on what is important: the work people are creating and storing on the platform (integrated in this brand in the form of beautiful, glossy, high-art photography).

It’s a big color palette yes, and I certainly wouldn’t want to be responsible for writing the brand standards that includes a font family 259 strong, but I also think it’s all an excellent example of how a few simple elements, unremarkable on their own but pieced together in a smart and memorable way, become an exciting brand experience as a whole.