Building Cleo

From 'Just Blue' to sweet wrappers shaped like eyeballs. The Design Story of Cleo

The ineffable cool that is Cleo Designer, Corinne Hitching, needs no introduction. Designers, or anyone who’s reading, please enjoy this exploration with one of our original Cleo designers.

Two different cleo logos

When did you join Cleo and how has your role developed since you did?

I joined in May 2019 as the first app designer,  fresh off a flight from New Zealand where I’d been working with a sculptor. There was loads to do but I was really enthused by the energy of Barney (Cleo’s CEO) and the mission to fight for the world’s financial health. I’ve since accepted a permanent role here and have gone from being the only app designer to working within a squad. The decision to go permanent was easy because of the unique bunch of people here, the unmatched potential of the product and the flexible working, so I could continue advocating for creative communities.

As Cleo’s evolved in many ways, I’ve developed alongside her. Cleo’s tone allows us all to shed any grey suit assumption we might have about the finance industry and be more playful and authentic with our designs and how we collaborate. I’m still on the ground running, designing and creating is what I love but I’m not wearing as many hats as I did initially, so I can focus on supporting other designers and developing ideas.

Give us a bit of background on your career before coming to Cleo. How does it compare to other companies you’ve worked at?

Gosh, my career has had many flavours and ingredients. I graduated in 2006 before apps were a thing and websites were pretty much HTML. I worked in above-the-line advertising for an agency focused on responsible products. When the recession hit, I diversified into digital and worked on big brands like Talk Talk, Argos, The Ritz, TalkTalk’s X-Factor ads and a mobile phone that cost £30k! I also studied for a masters in psychology, mostly out of curiosity but also to gain insights that I could apply to my work.

Then, I moved from advertising into service and product design, freelancing for 8 years before I took a permanent role at Cleo. I’m the Art Lead for the UK’s Burning Man where I support artists in building interactive art pieces. I’ve designed and built a few pieces myself for other regional Burns which taught me how to collaborate in my other design life. ‘Just be a good ****’ is what we say to all new participants of our social experiment, it generally gets the idea across of how we work together. That applies to everything from building stuff to receiving an unanticipated delivery of a ton of plastic chickens (yep, that happened). I thrive in an environment where people from all corners come together and create something great, and Cleo exudes this, people love what they do and have fun while they’re doing it.

Burning man

Can you tell me a bit about how the Cleo brand has evolved over your 2 years here?

Apart from a few reverse strategies on swearing! When I joined, Cleo was just blue with a logo. She went through many iterations on icon styles before we developed the brand based on her values. Her tone of voice had received a lot of love, and her visual style needed the same attention. This is where Koto helped us hone down our vision into a brand with a mission. We’ve since tested and played with translations of that brand which had us illustrating eyeballs in sweet wrappers, flamingo life rings and many iterations on the poop emoji. So that’s how you get from just blue to eyeballs in sweet wrappers.

Cleo App old branded logo
Cleo app new branding

Tell us about the design team structure now and how it’s changed.

It began with me grappling with the app while a part time contractor worked on the website before I went at it alone for a bit. After some time we built out the design team centrally, after which we formed squads with Product Managers. Having worked in agile for years, I was keen for design to be more present in feature decisions ahead of development. Honestly, this was tricky to roll out but we knew it was important to nail down the strategy, flow and UX of a feature whilst working in parallel with development.

As we’ve grown, the component library has gone through loads of changes but we’ve settled on a system that works well. We have two designers per squad, regular design meetups, demos and effective communication across squads. We’ve all got different skills so we’re all learning from each other, and lean on each other in areas where we’re less comfortable.

In the last two years, we’ve traversed the rocky mountains of a centralised design team to localised villages, but have our own palatable chunks of the pie to play with, which we share of course. Our structure is now super smooth so that every time we scale, we have flexibility to shift and play with the dynamics.

What are you most excited about, and what are some of the key challenges we’re facing?

I think I speak for everyone at Cleo when I say we’re excited by the idea of giving people more power over their money. We’ve got an environment here where everyone feels valued, included and considered, and this flows through to our user community.

That’s not to say we don’t have challenges, a lot of what we’re doing is new, in fact this whole industry is pretty new. We’re championing for the world’s financial health, that’s certainly not wee buns but it’s a mission we’re all passionate about. So, as much as we iterate on the app, we’re also iterating on how we work and how the industry works. We’re poking some big giants with our big ideas but I guess the biggest challenge might be in anticipating a change that’s needed whilst everything is changing around us, a kaleidoscopic bath of beautiful magic with more than just blue is what we’ve all built here.

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