Episode 8

Designing for Diversity : How Gojek reaches millions with it’s brand strategy

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In this episode, Arjita chats with Soniya, a seasoned designer who has worked in a variety of industries, including packaging, digital design, and branding. She is currently the lead brand designer at Gojek, an app that operates in Indonesia, Singapore, and other Southeast Asian countries. She speaks about:

  • Designing a brand for a culturally diverse audience. 
  • Transitioning from print design and moving to the ever-changing landscape of branding. 
  • How to account for cultural and local nuances in your brand identity. 

Lead Designer at Gojek
Arjita K
Director, Growth and Business
Development, Artwork Flow


Arjita: Hi, Sonia, how are you? Welcome to the Artworkflow podcast, Creative Operations podcast by Artworkflow. Thank you so much for taking out the time. For our listeners, Sonia here is a very dear friend and very talented illustrator who has navigated the complex landscape of creative design, visual communication, and now leads the brand and creative work at Gojek Tech. Why don't you introduce yourself, Sonia?

Soniya: Sure. Thank you so much, Arjita, for having me. This is a great thing for me on many levels, apart from the fact that I get to talk to you through this. Arjita and I have known each other for quite a few years now because we have worked together. But right now, I think both of us are at quite different junctures of our career when it comes to navigating different kind of things in life.

So very glad to be here. I would just like to give you all some context on where I come from, what I do. I think mostly, Arjita, you know most of it, but for our listeners, I did not start out as a designer, although I studied design mainly. So that is one thing that I feel many designers have gone through or some have a very straightforward path of studying design and then working as a designer.

For me, it has not happened the same way because after I studied design, I kind of had that inclination to try out my hand at copywriting. So I was working as a copywriter in a design studio for some time and after working there, only then did I realize that, you know, design was my calling and I like that a little bit more than writing. But I feel in terms of looking at design in a broader spectrum.

It's always a mix of so many things that even if you're interested in a thing that is not exactly design focused, somehow it meddles its way through design anyway. So I think in that sense, I'm very lucky that whatever my interests were, whatever other things that I liked apart from design have somehow influenced the way I design today. So after this whole copywriting gig and then designing for digital.

I landed up at Bizongo where I was working with print for quite a few years. And currently I'm again into digital, which is designing for an app called Gojek. So currently I'm a part of their branding team and we take care of many different requirements that the brand has. But we'll deep dive into that further. But that's like the overall gist of my education and my career and in the middle of it all I've studied a bit, I've taught a bit, so I do that on the side as well. But my main job is sort of just designing.

Arjita: So thank you for the amazing introduction, Sonia. And I think you were the first, I have no exposure or formal training in design, but whatever little that I know about design, it started with working very closely with you when we were building Desworks. We started building Desworks in 2018. We did some of those really interesting, crazy, quirky projects with the alphabet T box. And then we picked up some really interesting commercial work with Cadbury, Bonville. And I think that was the first time when Cadbury was also launching e-commerce packs in a big way in Rakhi. Now they're really, really big. I see like all online channels of Cadbury, you know, being flooded with those festival packs, especially on Rakhi, but we started that with them.

Soniya: Yeah.

Arjita: So would you walk us through how your entire journey with Bizongo DesWorks was back then when we were doing and building packaging as a vertical and how did it then translate into the work that you've done now over the last 3-4 years with Gojek?

Soniya: Sure, sure. I think it's so interesting that you brought up that particular project. It was challenging for not only us, but for I think them as well, like you said, because it was their first launch for something like a Rakhi pack. And so I think in terms of working on anything that's new for the first time, there have to be mistakes made.

Arjita: Yeah.

Soniya: And there have to be things that you don't expect to go wrong, but they also go wrong. So a lot of those things happened in the first project, but the major thing to learn from all of this was that you do them better the next time or you look out for those when it comes to doing something like that again. So I think the learning from that project was immense because that helped us navigate many more projects in the future.

But to design for a brand like that as your first project is something that I feel is exciting for anybody to work on like Cadbury, to work on Wanderlust because we have grown up with that brand, makes us sound very old, but so be it. I think it's something that you always aspire to work for and I feel having that as a project in itself was a dream come true.

Apart from that fact, I also feel it had various facets to it. So it was not just graphics on the pack. It was designing the pack itself and how the cold chain would relate to that. Because again, chocolates have a tendency to melt in the Indian climate. So the introduction of gel packs and how to conceal them from the customer so that their experience is not spoiled. All of those small things that we had to take care of, which I feel

As a designer, I never ended up thinking when I received a pack like that. Because you just see the outer packaging, you see the chocolates, and then you are just happy with that. But what goes on inside under the pack to make those chocolates look the way they look, is I feel the behind-the-scenes work that designers have to do as well, and I feel it is something that is more complex than it sounds.

because there are many different key aspects to like the, how do you say, the details of the packaging because I don't know what exactly to call those things that come outside the pack, which are ribbed. And I think we struggled so much to just figure out how that ribbing would change the mechanics of the entire size and things like that. So I think attention to detail was another thing that we learned on that project. And obviously there's definitely stakeholder management that also comes into picture when you present the work to the client, how they take it, what's their feedback, how you take it. So all of that, I think was a very interesting journey because I know we started a little wobbly, but when we saw the pack and it being executed, it was a different joy in itself. So to be able to work on something like the design of it on the outer side with respect to illustration, with respect to typography, with respect to all the things that go onto the pack and inside it right to selecting the rakhi's with you. I think that was...

Arjita: And it was actually called Joy Deliveries. Ironically. It bought us very little joy to make that whole thing but at least it was called Joy Deliveries.

Soniya: Yeah, yeah. Yep. Yeah, I think in the end it all paid off is what I feel. And I especially remember the library pack for Bonville, right? It looked just gorgeous and I think the fact that it was the first library pack again, we had liberty to design it for the Indian audience was not an opportunity everybody gets all the time. So yeah.

Arjita: Yeah, no that was really like a path breaking project for Desworks as well. So Sonia, tell us more about, you know, the current work that you're doing at Gojek. And I've heard this a lot of times and I've also seen, you know, I follow the Gojek design team on Instagram and, you know, you guys work out of India, but you're also designing for a market.

Arjita: That is a lot in Singapore, Indonesia, these kind of countries. And the app is huge itself, like it is the impact and the touch points in terms of the number of consumers that consume on Gojek app is immense. So, you know, tell us a little bit more about, you know, at that scale, what does brand actually mean for your teams? And, you know, how do you go about building something that is, you know, that has such a massive reach.

Soniya: Right, right. I think in terms of Gojek being such a huge brand, definitely scalability works as the main crux of whatever we do. Nothing that we design can be designed for one particular small thing. It has to be applied to a larger audience and it has to be scalable. But apart from this scalability factor, the brand in itself is called a super app which means that it has so many different verticals under Gojek also, which means you have your ride hailing apps, you have your cars, you have food, you have entertainment, you have daily services. So there are so many different verticals that each have their own voice. So you have to really analyze how all of their visual language can somehow relate to their parent brand and not confuse the audience.

Arjita: Yeah.

Soniya: I think it's quite a challenge maintaining all of those consistently at the same time to maintain their own unique voice. So where we start is also again the point you mentioned about it being a brand which is Indonesian. I think so our team currently sits in Bangalore. Some of our team sits in Jakarta as well. So we have both these teams work parallelly to see how we can have or make something that is delightful to the consumers. So we have quite a large team of brand designers, illustrators, and writers who work together to make sure that anything that we put out is scalable, and is also very coherent to the Gojek visual language, to the voice of the brand. So we pride ourselves on calling us very friendly, like you know, your buddy, like if you have any problems, we'll solve it for you. Not getting a ride, just call us. Or, you know, that kind of a vibe. So we don't want to be like, oh, you can book a ride here, sophisticated, luxury. That's not the way we want to portray ourselves. So I think that also translates to how you design. And design does not just involve, again, drawing something and finishing it and shipping it out. It also involves the way you write. 

How that copy matches with that design to give you an entire experience. Apart from this, I think the main difference in working at Go-Jek is that it is entirely digital. There is no print like there was in Bizongo before. So for me as a designer, switching from print to digital totally has been the major change on how I used to work and how I work now. So everything has to happen on a screen which means that you have to look for and check for accessibility as well, which is something that, you know, that was also something kept as a very low priority earlier, but in today's world, it's become like the top priority. So we have to take care that whatever we design, whether it is colors, whether it is copy has to be accessible, has to connect with the audience. It can't be something that is so, you know, so good.

Soniya: That nobody can understand it if you know what I mean.

Arjita: So when you say, you know, friendliness, can you give me an example of how any project or any creative that you did, like how that friendliness tone of voice actually came into execution in terms of how a certain campaign was done or a project or a creative was put out?

Soniya: Sure, sure. So I think a lot of our campaigns have to deal with Indonesian culture, largely because the brand is Indonesian. Although we do function in Vietnam, Singapore and Jakarta, so in all it's going to be different region-wise. So we try to connect to each of these audiences separately based on what makes them think or feel a certain way. So I think with respect to Jakarta, I remember there are a lot of different drivers who work for us that were sort of converted into illustrations. So we actually had real, you know, people's illustrations rather than just drawing them out of our own heads and trying to make sure that they are also, you know, in a way advertised to the consumers as somebody who is like, again, their everyday person that they meet on the street or anywhere else. So I think a lot of the illustrations that you see currently are all stemming from real people that you come across in Indonesia. The way they speak, the way they look, the dresses they wear, the color schemes they have, all of that is influenced by real life information and people. So I think in all the projects, I don't think it would just be one project that I would say, oh, this works the best but in all projects we try to maintain this balance so as to make sure that the connection is there for sure. Whether they like the product or not is a different thing but at the same time the connection of just feeling like oh that looks like somebody I know or that looks like me that should be there. So that is what we go for in most projects we work on.

Arjita: So largely, you know, creating that relatability with the audience that's using the app in that particular country, be it Indonesia or Singapore or Vietnam. And so, you know, a lot of companies have a brand book, right? So largely they have an illustration style, a font style, a guide, a color, you know, a color palette, you know, but most companies stop at that.

Soniya: It's okay.

Arjita: Right? And when the time comes to actually execute, your designers are all over the place looking for different elements that they might want to use in a project. So what is the framework to designing a brand book that encompasses everything? And what are all the elements that a brand book should have in order for it to be complete and future proof?

Soniya: So I think many different brands have different approaches to first of all having a brand book Some like it just as a guideline to share with other vendors so that they follow it in case they are not designing stuff themselves So they want it to be pretty concise Some brands like to have a very detailed brand book, but at the same time have multiple versions of you know smaller bits of information that they can circulate just so that, you know, that particular aspect is applicable for say a particular kind of communication. But at Gojek, I remember when we designed the brand book, it was quite an extensive array of things. In fact, I had just kept it here to show you how big it is. So yeah.

Arjita: Oh, that's so nice. I love the cutout thing with the Gojek logo on it.

Soniya: Yes, yes. So this is our very, very favorite project from our entire team. And as you can see, like it has, I don't think I'm doing a great job at this, but you can see like, these are our color palettes and yeah. Yes, yes. So it has a lot of different sections and it also has our visual language, our iconography, our typography, our color palette. So all of this information is necessary for a brand like Gojek just because there are so many sub brands to manage like I mentioned. So when you look at something like this or designing something like this, it's not just up to, you know, making something and just selling it off. It's also very important that it all makes sense.

Arjita: That looks so detailed.Yeah.

Soniya: So when you look at the logo right now versus the logo they had so this brand book was also made when we rebranded a Couple of years ago, so our first logo was

Arjita: Did your internal team work on that or did... Okay.

Soniya: Yeah, our internal team did. And currently, the logo that you see is designed by our internal team. And the previous logo had a scooter and a Wi-Fi signal of sorts. But when we expanded services, that was not fitting in. So we have this logo, which is called basically a Solve, S-O-L-V. So this is something that is used in all our communication.

Arjita: Yeah. Okay?

Soniya: So that is something that always makes a difference to how you portray the brand as well. With many different services coming into picture that becomes like our main identity and then you sort of break it down to okay this is the color category for each of these brands or sub-brands rather. So designing this brand book not only just began from first fleshing out what we needed to add but also referencing a lot as to how other organizations are doing it. But there are very few super apps that we could refer to for looking at how extensive it could be because ours was just going on and on. So it was just about how to control your content as well and to see what's more important than the other. So here we have our illustration style, we have our main typeface defined, how to use that. We have our tone of voice, we have our visual language. We have a bunch of things that are encased in the current brand book. But as I say this, we are currently working on the next version of it already.

Arjita: To that, you know, because we did a rebranding of artwork flow last year and actually the Desworks and artwork flow team internally did it. So whatever you see on the website now is everything that we've done. But the problem is that, you know, we created an illustration style, but then, you know, six months down the line, we realized that this is not something that resonates with our audience. So we need to change that. So it's also a moving thing. I mean, it's never like you build something and then it lasts forever right, even when it comes to brand it needs to constantly evolve and understand the customer better.

Soniya: True, true. I think that is one thing you have to, like that's something you can't run away from. To keep up with what's more relevant to you at this point, you have to keep adapting and be open to that rather than be, then it will just be like any traditional brand that never changes. But yeah, some things need to change from time to time when you're trying to adapt to the new things that keep popping up in design.

Arjita: Interesting. So while, so Sonia, the next question I have is, you know, while the design team and probably the marketing team also has a good sense of, you know, how do you adhere to the brand, right? When it comes to, say, other stakeholders in the ecosystem, right? How do you ensure that the same brand adherence is also passed on to other stakeholders that are interacting with the brand or using the brand in some way?

Arjita: I always struggle with some of our teams like the sales or the product team to make sure that everything that we have in the brand book while our team adheres to it, but how to get other teams also to adhere to it whenever they are doing a project or a campaign or any kind of outreach.

Soniya: Right, right. I think it's the hardest job.

Arjita: Truth has been spoken.

Soniya: Yeah, I think it's one of the hardest things that you need to check up on once you've put things out there and sort of circulated them. And that is not where your job ends. It's like constantly following up to check if people are actually implementing it the way you had designed it for them. Or are they facing any issues? And I'm not even saying that, you know, when you first design something.

It's like you're so confident that it will go ahead and be perceived in the same way that you did. As a team of designers, all of us are used to seeing things a certain way, used to even taking and absorbing things easily because we either have worked before or come from a similar background or things like that. But you don't know who is going to design for the brand when you give them the guidelines. So you have to give them that benefit of doubt and see what are the issues they are facing. Is the guideline too complicated to follow or is this just a rookie mistake of ignorance or something that slipped off? So I feel I have experienced both because sometimes you see some things and you are like, wait, where did that come from? I didn't design it this way. So I think those things are bound to happen, especially in larger organizations or in bigger brands.

Arjita: Okay.

Soniya: When you have to maintain the same tone of voice and same brand image everywhere. There are bound to be a few hiccups, but I feel how you control those hiccups or again how you take that feedback is important because understanding why it happened is usually the answer to most things. Either your guideline might be also complicated, it might not be their fault at all. So you need to look back and reflect on, okay, how can I make this simpler?

Arjita: Hmm.

Soniya: Or how can I make this more convenient for them to follow. Sometimes their problem is, oh, we want, you know, this sort of orientation of a creative and you don't have that taken into consideration at all in your guideline. In that case, we need to think about, oh, if that's the case, you know, let me add to the guideline. So all of these things I feel can be taken care of, but sometimes the scenarios that you don't foresee, crop up.

So at that time you just have to be on your toes to be like, okay, I've released something. Now I just have to see if there is any damage, how big is the damage and how can I control it from my end. So I think it's usually, you know, that process of releasing something then waiting for okay, is anything is anything going wrong? If it is, why is it going wrong? And then trying to fix it up. So I think it is definitely an exhausting thing, but what has to be done has to be done. So yeah.

Arjita: Yeah, and it's a constant struggle for all design and brand teams to ensure that at every touch point, the guidelines are being adhered to for the coherency of the brand itself. So purely, say talking in context of Indonesia being the largest market of Gojek, right? Any cultural connotations from there? And you also, I know that you did a trip there while you were designing this brand book or interesting insights that were brought back to the brand book and what is the impact of Gojek brand that you experienced when you had a visit there.

Soniya: Yeah, I think obviously my trip there made a lot of difference to me understanding how the product works because it was almost like we all were designing from another country for another country. So that really creates some sort of a gap till you actually land there and realize the scale of it. Like the moment you are on the streets, you see green everywhere and that makes you feel like, oh, like I'm designing for such a big brand and it's everywhere and obviously Indonesia also has our biggest competitor who is also green. So you see a sea of green then you are like, oh, that's us. So I think.

Arjita: What's that? The other competitor? Grab, of course. Yeah.

Soniya: It's grab. Yeah, so both of us are green. So that makes for a really interesting case about how we use our green. So that's always going to be an important point of consideration whenever we look at, say, designing helmets or jackets or, you know, all those accessories that even our drivers wear. So when you actually go there and you realize the scale of it, it makes a difference to how you also perceive that and how you say book a ride or have an experience of booking or ordering food. That all of it really influences the way you would look at the app when you use it again, versus, you know, designing from a very different country. I feel when you talk about cultural connotations, one thing that really stood out to me when I was designing was there are not many animals in our app.

So it's almost, you know, there are no cats, there are no dogs, there are no birds. It's just a lot of humans. And this is a discussion I was having with one of the illustrators from the team there that, you know, is there any reason we are not adding any pets? And I don't know how they perceive animals in Indonesia, but they are currently not a part of any animal. So...

Arjita: Okay.

Soniya: Like maybe in India, when I look at apps, I think I've seen a couple of them, just a cat go around or at least some graphics around it. But that's not the case.

Arjita: There was an app, there was a food delivery app that was literally called Tiny Owl and then they had an owl on their logo so yeah we do have animals and type also.

Soniya: Yeah, yeah, that's true. I mean, and food panda also, right? The panda in itself. But I think in our app, we don't see a lot of these. And now we have started introducing them a little bit. So you'll see your cat here and there. But at the same time, it's also about why this was, you know, not included in the first place. So I don't think there's a big, big reason for that. I don't think Indonesians are against it.

Arjita: Yeah.

Arjita: Hmm.

Soniya: Any pets but I also feel that those things drastically differ culturally. So I think in terms of that you really have to take into account what again relates to them the most. I think the attitude of Indonesian people is that never give up and you know always find a way to do something in spite of all odds that our tagline is “pasti ada jalan”, which is basically there'll always be a way. So that is something that we want to bank upon more than go into the direction of, say, animals, for instance. So I also feel there are priorities that differ based on cultural context. And there are also different things that you would like to monopolize on when you are talking about a particular culture.

Arjita: Hmm.

Soniya: I remember one of our illustrations again is based on a ghost who has like a hole in her heart and leaves are flying through it and I think that's basically for no internet connection or you know something of that sort. And obviously I did not relate to it.

Arjita: Okay. Your 404 is like a ghost with a hole in the heart.

Soniya: Yeah, so it's very funny and all of the illustrations have some sort of that, you know, sense of humor. So I feel like when I try to understand it, I just found it oh how funny. But again, when I researched a bit and I found out there actually is a mythological story about some ghosts and you know, having a hole in their body. And I was like, oh, maybe, you know, Indonesians pick up on those tiny things and relate to it more. So for them, it's like 2x level funny, because they already have that context of that story. So I think those kinds of narratives play an important role. And I think in India, we have our own way of doing that in many different apps. In Indonesia, it's different, and I'm sure it will be different in Vietnam and Singapore as well. So I think culture plays a very big role in how you would perceive the story of an app, or how you would perceive an app even as an outsider. So I think leveraging that is always a good idea when it comes to relating more to people and telling the story.

Arjita: Great. I guess that brings us, you know, we talked a lot about the Gojek brand, the packaging work that you've done. I would also love to hear a little bit more about your personal projects. So you designed my wedding card, which I still have a copy of it somewhere. But yeah, I mean, but you're a brilliant illustrator and you have a very, you have a name for yourself in the illustrator community. And you pick up these interesting projects like 36 Days.

Soniya: Thank you.

Arjita:So tell us more about that and do that in some way also inspire you with your you know work wherever you're working.

Soniya: Yeah, I think personal projects and such projects that are especially for friends are a very important part of any designer's life, I think, because often personal projects lead to many different insights that you otherwise will not find in your professional work. I think that when I work on anything that is, you know, in my job profile, I always look at it from a very practical point of view from okay how can I design this better so that like I told you about accessibility about all these things but when you design for yourself or when you are designing for any personal project you really can let go of all that and just you know concentrate on the craft of it or not worry about the technical constraints of who's a who is it. 

Yeah basically that I mean that is something that you don't get to do often in your professional life so I feel In your personal projects, I try to do that. I think in terms of even making wedding cards for anybody, especially people who are close to me, I feel like that is such an important part of their life. And if I can be a part of their life in such a way, it just gives me joy. So I feel like if that is also one thing that you would enjoy doing, it just informs so many different things that you are interested in or you are drawn towards.

With personal projects like 36 days of type or I've done a couple where I've experimented with Gurmukhi or even with Devanagari. I think all these scripts really interest me because I've not learnt type designing formally but as a designer I end up using type almost every day for something or the other. So I feel doing all those projects just makes me think constantly about, oh this script looks

really nice, can I make utilisation of it in some way or the other in another project or you know, just it makes you very aware of all the available options that you would have and it just feels nice while you do it as well. So I think in terms of that I do like working on comics, I do like working on such challenges. I also like teaching, which is something I did not know before. So till I did a small, you know, guest faculty course at Srishti, I had no idea I would enjoy teaching. So that is something that just again informs you very differently. I think I had never been on the other side, had always been on the student side. So just also getting some pleasures from the side of being a professor is totally different. So I think all those things definitely ou know, inform me as a designer to make my skill set better and also make me think more about how much is, you know, set in stone, because that is an idea that I had when I graduated from design school or art school, where things have to be a certain way for you to be a designer. But when you do all these things, it just becomes like, oh, this is such a fluid environment that you do something here and you do something there, they don't probably have a relationship.

Arjita: Yeah.

Soniya: But through design, you can somehow connect them. So I think that makes a good difference when you do personal projects along with your professional ones.

Arjita: Great Sonia that brings us to the end of this conversation. It was lovely speaking to you. We just have like this quick rapid fire section with some fun questions. So Sonia, if your design style was a city, which city do you think it would be?

Soniya: Hmm... a city, not a country.

Arjita: Yeah, it could be a country. I mean, I'll give you that.

Soniya: I mean it would be India only I think. Yeah, because I feel it's got so much chaos that how much maximalist work I do, it will somehow fit in. I also do minimal work, but very rarely. So I would still say India because it's very colorful as well. So yay, go India.

Arjita: Really well.

Arjita: I actually think if I were to pick a city for your design style it might be Singapore because there's some chaos and culture but there's also a lot of systematic and aesthetic sense to it. I don't know. That's the first thing that came to my mind. Yes. So which design cliché makes you cringe the most? Cliché makes you cringe the most?

Soniya: No.

Soniya: I mean, we are still in Asia though, so that's why I'm guessing.

Soniya: I think it would be make the logo bigger only. What else? I think, only where you go, everywhere you go, there is always one person who will say that. So yeah.

Arjita: Hehehe. Yeah, great. Thank you for taking out the time, Sonia. This is lovely. It was also very nostalgic for me to think about those old days where we were just like three, four of us trying to build something in the design space. But yeah, you've come really far. And I'm always happy to see you grow as an illustrator, as an individual, and all the best for everything that's ahead for you.

Soniya: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me, Arjita. And yeah, I hope to see you soon.

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