Winning the balancing act: designing for biotechnology

By RocketAir Crew
December 8, 2022

Biotechs, especially in their early stages, face a unique set of challenges when it comes to establishing an effective brand. And through our experience working with clients in the biotechnology space, we’ve tackled quite a few of them. Here’s what we’ve learned. 

Making an ambitious future feel accessible today 

When we’re partnering with teams of scientists, we find that the work they’re doing won’t come to fruition for months or years, if not decades. The work we do, however, will often be felt by audiences in a matter of weeks. This discrepancy puts us in a nuanced position. Whether a biotech is aiming to get buy-in from investors, partners, or peers in the scientific community, they need to persuasively convey a far-out vision in a way that feels within reach.

Take the brand work we did with NewLimit, for example. The team has a “moonshot” goal of radically expanding human healthspan. Although they have a bold mission, they’re starting out with near-term, intermediary solutions, focused initially on epigenetic reprogramming. As such, they needed a brand that would represent a not-too-distant future—2040, not 2100. At the same time, their primary objective was attracting top scientific talent, and so they needed a brand that was inspirational and compelling to effectively drive recruitment.

Our solution was a brand identity that conveys a sense of tangible progress. The logomark is reminiscent of a mortality graph, boldly representing the ability to defy aging, while also delineating incremental steps toward that goal. We intentionally designed it to be flexible, easily accommodating visual representations of the different areas NewLimit will focus on.

Standing out in an increasingly crowded field

In all of our brand work, we’re thinking about differentiation. When it comes to biotech, differentiation often comes from the novelty of the science: breakthrough discoveries that lead to proprietary processes resulting in brand-new products. But what happens when those things are in stealth mode, not ready or able to be made publicly available? In these situations, the strength of a client’s unique brand DNA is all the more important.

That’s precisely what we tackled when working with Oviva Therapeutics. As a biotech addressing the unmet issue of age-related decline in ovarian health, they needed a brand that stands apart. To contrast other, more clinical brands, we selected a color palette that brings a sense of warmth and empathy, and created a unique illustration style that makes the complex scientific subject matter more approachable (without veering into inaccuracy).

Mixing scientific accuracy with meaningful abstraction

When working with clients in the biotech space, we’ve encountered a distinct desire for accuracy. If we’re designing a brand pattern that’s based on cytokinesis, for example, we better make sure that each cell splits into two, not three or four. That said, leaning too hard into the science of it all may not result in the most effective brand. It’s our job, then, to thoughtfully toe the line between artful communication and scientific rigor. This means we’ve had to make sure we understand the complexities well enough to simplify them in a way that connects with various target audiences, without losing any of the accuracy. 

Design Lead Tracy Loi comments: 

I think because biotech falls into that trap of science leading the design, the industry itself falls behind and ends up having a lot of catching up to do.

When Cambrian Biopharma was preparing for a Series C fundraising round, they needed a new brand identity that would invoke credibility. Taking inspiration from the Cambrian Period, known for its innovation in the evolution of animals, we developed a logomark that’s rooted in the concept of the tree of life, and then used those rings to create a visual language for the brand—abstracting the complexity of aging into a simple but powerful identity. 

By its very nature, biotech is cutting-edge. When creating an effective brand in this space, it’s incredibly important to satisfy the tenets of both good science and good design. The key to doing that lies somewhere between: complex and simple, optimism and realism, present and future, accuracy and accessibility. Like many things in life, it’s all about finding balance.