“Rebranding of Aza: Pan-African Financial Infrastructure” took home the Visual Communication Winner Award in the 2020 Core77 Design Awards competition.
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Formerly called BitPesa, Aza is a financial technology company that preceded the growth of “Silicon Savannah” since its beginning in Kenya in the early 2010s. Simply put, the company helps foreign businesses transfer money into Africa, and African businesses transfer money out of the continent, bypassing the US Dollar intermediary currency.
And the growth of this financial ecosystem on the continent is rising fast—according to Forbes, Africa’s Tech Hubs grew at a pace of 40% in 2019 alone, which means their global presence is also expanding.
To respond to both a need for a globally understood presence on top of a focus less strictly on cryptocurrency, Bitpesa began a rebranding journey to revamp their brand architecture, positioning, name and visual identity with the help of San Francisco-based design agency Wunderdogs.
The design thinking behind this re-brand was two-pronged in that the company wanted it to be strongly rooted in African culture while also appealing to worldwide investors and partners. Wunderdogs adds, “as a global business with roots in Africa, BitPesa was deeply committed to elevating and enhancing the geographies in which it operates. With a policy for hiring locals over expats and the majority of business done within the continent it was important the new identity was adopted by employees, understood by partners and appreciated by customers across Africa. With this in mind the identity had to be geographically agnostic…we wanted to create an identity that reflected and celebrated the wide-reaching impact technology had on the continent, enticing those in Europe and the US to realize and leverage potential within the region.”
The design team wanted to embrace the cultural roots of Bitpesa instead of creating something homogeneous with brands around the world. They then asked the question: “How do you build modern African tech brands that showcase local and pan-African culture whilst appealing to Western counterparts?”
Their first hurdle came with changing the brand name. After different workshops and semantic explorations, the team came to the name Aza, a nod to several references within African culture. As Wunderdogs explains, “Aza is a female name used across Africa. A subtle yet powerful nod to the leadership team within the business and the matriarchal power structures of Africa. Its meaning varies across languages, yet from Yoruba to Swahili it represents power, strength and honesty. “
For Wunderdogs, the color scheme also needed to stay true to the African brand in which it represents. They took inspiration from the color palettes of 56 national flags across Africa and used it as a jump off point for branding. The complexity and sometimes universality of some of these colors however did present a unique challenge, as Wunderdogs describes: “Selecting distinctly African colors whilst avoiding an obvious similarity with one of the 56 national flags on the continent meant palette choice was one of our biggest challenges. To overcome this hurdle we turned to African textiles and Aza’s industry for visual inspiration.” To bring a balance to the design that suggested both heritage and universality, the team arrived at a palette that showcases Africa’s heritage as well as it’s techno-centric future. Blue was chosen as a widely accepted representation of the fintech space, with greens and orange an obvious tie to the continent as a whole.
Awarded the professional winner award in the Core77 Design Awards Visual Communication category for their expert design execution on Aza, Wunderdogs co-founder Daria Gonzales says of the honor, “As a young agency, winning Core77’s Visual Communication Award is absolutely groundbreaking for both the team and for our future as a business. It is a great honor to be recognized alongside legendary agencies and designers, especially for one of the most interesting and challenging projects we’ve tackled to date. I am so grateful for having supported AZA’s team on their mission to facilitate the flow of currency into Africa.”
The overall success of the project demonstrated to Wunderdogs an important design lesson: never underestimate the power of your story. “The key learning from the Aza rebranding was authenticity triumphs trend,” says Wunderdogs. “There is little to be gained from an African-tech company mimicking Western brand standards, and everything to be won by developing a brand that truly embodies the culture within which it operates.”