Our CNET team recently launched its rebrand — the first in more than 25 years! The rebrand transformed more than just the logo. It’s a new identity, site design – every expression of the CNET brand.
To understand more, we met with members of the team who worked on this groundbreaking project.
Below, meet Sushant Sund, VP of Design — he oversees creative strategy and design across RV Media & Commerce brands like CNET, Metacritic, ZDNet, and others.
What was the catalyst for the CNET rebrand?
In recent years CNET has seen historic high traffic. However, overall brand awareness was relatively low in comparison. This highlighted a risk where we are too dependent on SEO and needed to invest in brand awareness to boost unaided direct traffic growth to attract broader audiences (and advertisers, too).
What part of the project were you involved with?
Early in the process I collaborated with internal stakeholders from Brand, Editorial, Social, and Business Intelligence teams to coalesce around a brand strategy that would appeal to current and go-get audiences. Then I leveraged those insights to craft a creative strategy our design teams could use to evolve our identity, visual language and experiences. Collaborating with our agency partner Collins, we created a bold new logo and design language that built upon our proud 25 plus year heritage with a reinvigorated direction that captured the new spirit of CNET: authoritative, credible and confident.
From there, our phenomenally talented multi-disciplinary designers–Chelsea Shi, Robert Rodriguez, Sofei Han, Sarah Bizri, Sean Enzwiler, Naomi Antonino, Zooey Liao, Viva Tung, Jeff Hill, Natasha Hartman, Justin Reynoso, Amy Kim, Adam Mendala–began dreaming up radical new ways of bringing our new vision to life across experiences.
From a compelling new homepage that showcased our expertise, improved navigation that prioritizes usability, a rich new About Us page, revitalized articles with a novel ‘news card’ feature that helps audiences quickly understand what’s new, why it matters and what’s next. Leveraging surrealism in our editorial design to elevate content in powerful new ways and bringing our new design language to life on social, video, and marketing materials to deliver a vibrant, modern, and cohesive experience to audiences.
What was the one thing the team knew you had to get right on this project?
We knew we had to do more than talk the talk; we needed experiences that walked the walk. So beyond a new look and feel, we needed to ensure that the value we’re providing users is real and magnetic — enough to warrant direct and repeat visits.
This was where user testing was so crucial: we leveraged multiple rounds to test new designs for homepage, articles, and navigation, and we quickly discovered that current and target audiences responded overwhelmingly positively to the proposed changes.
The new homepage felt richer but cleaner, and new article designs help audiences clearly understand ‘what’s new, why it matters, and what’s next’.
We then began leveraging this storytelling paradigm across social, video, and other CNET platforms as well.
What’s something about this process that people may be surprised to learn?
People want change, but they are often unprepared when it arrives.
This may not seem like a surprise – in fact it’s something designers are all too familiar with. But everyone involved in the process at some point had to reconcile where we’ve been, with where we can go.
For more than 25 years, CNET has helped people understand opportunity from change. Early on, we realized this also applied to our own thinking for how we were to evolve.
The new CNET is bold, arresting, more accessible, and doesn’t look historically like tech. That was both the point and the lightbulb moment – when we realized to fully present ourselves as a brand that helps guide people through complexity, we didn’t need to be beholden to one category’s established influences.
CNET’s mission is to help people navigate change and guide them to a better future. How does this rebrand do that?
Now matter how or where you land on CNET.com, the new ever-present navigation makes clear that CNET is ‘your guide to a better future’ – right above the diverse and broad categories we cover like Tech, Finance, Wellness, Science, Culture and more.
But it’s in our news, how-tos, reviews, best lists and long-form features where our design, product, and content teams have always tried to ensure complex topics should never feel too ‘inside baseball’ and that they should always feel accessible and easy to understand – and then take positive action from what they learn from it for themselves.
Is there anything else you’d add about your experience on this project?
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated the diverse, smart, and talented collaborators we’ve gotten to work with throughout this project. Everyone is smart, insightful, willing to push and to be pushed into deeper waters, and at the same time support each other to deliver on a common high vision.
I can’t say enough how wonderful, energizing, and enriching it has been to work with so many on a common shared purpose and vision.
What’s the next big thing you hope to work on?
Our RV Media & Commerce design teams are working on some exciting new products for CNET, along with exciting new visions and experiences for ZDNet and Metacritic currently.
We can’t wait to share those with everyone soon!
Come back next week for our deep dive into the PR and earned media aspect of CNET’s rebrand!