This year marks Rootstrap’s 8-year anniversary.
A lot has changed in that time.
For one, we weren’t always called Rootstrap: the first iteration of our agency business was Neon Roots.
NR was born scrappy. We started out as 3 engineers, 2 MacBook Minis, and one client.
But we were determined to be great. And since those fateful days, this agency has gone through a lot of changes. We’ve changed our name, changed our service offerings, and changed our size. Those 3 engineers are now a team of over 85 employees across 3 continents.
We’ve also changed our look.
Looking back through the iterations of our websites is almost a visual history of web design, and certainly of how our agency grew through the years. As we built our skills, built our client base, and grew, the designs got more advanced, more complex, and more daring. As did our company.
But it all started back in 2012 – with little more than a simple Flash site showcasing our clients and our services.
NR1: An Agency Is Born
While Neon Roots officially started in 2011, it was in 2012 that we launched our first hi-fi website. At the time, much of our work focused on games and emerging tech like augmented reality, so we wanted a website that conveyed both interactivity and forward-thinking design. To achieve that, we borrowed a design vocabulary that anyone would instantly recognize and carried those same connotations: the PlayStation.
We also featured plenty of warm, sunset-hued colors to keep the site visually pleasing:
NR1.5: Remember the PlayStation
It wasn’t long before we started to move the site in a more complex direction. In 2013, we redesigned and relaunched a second iteration of the PlayStation design.
Again, we wanted to present ourselves as a young, forward-thinking dev shop that created cutting-edge experiences. The site design focused on blending organic and digital aesthetics, partially reflecting our experience in AR – – we even got nominated for an Awwward for this design.
On another note, look at those colors. Our branding has changed a lot over the years, and in comparison to our current brand template, it’s nostalgic to see all those shades of rose and purple.
Our case studies were less minimalist, throwing a lot more elements on the page:
NR2: Ah, the Sidescroller
The second major iteration of our website dropped the PlayStation theme and made another big change to the layout of the site: instead of a vertical website, NR2 used a horizontal orientation.
Horizontal websites are few and far between today, but back around 2014 when we launched NR2, they were much more common. To be honest, it’s a matter of trend more than anything else – although we do tend to prefer vertical websites ourselves.
NR2 used a similar color palette to previous iterations, with muted sunset colors and prominent pinks. It also featured much more imagery, and it put our augmented reality work front and center:
As is always important, we wanted to quickly and easily educate users on how to use the site. Hence the prompts to swipe, use arrow keys, or use the mouse wheel to access different parts of the site.
Another interesting tidbit from NR2 is its introduction of Storycarding Services – the primordial first ancestor to what is now our Discovery service.
Unfortunately the specific elements on this page are lost to history – but it’s interesting to see the very beginnings of what would eventually split into its own company, and in the end, come to define our brand.
This site, however, was short-lived. Even while these bold primary colors were live, we were hard at work on a new iteration of our site.
One that would make a significant departure from our past aesthetic.
NR3: Changing the Tone
Similar to the PlayStation design, we wanted the next iteration to position us as cutting-edge and forward-thinking. We were ahead of the game in things like AR and responsive design, and we wanted our site to showcase that.
As always, it started with rough ideas. Take a look at some of our early wireframe sketches:
But the final designs represented a major tonal change. The next iteration of our website – NR3 – dialed colors back to nearly zero in favor of an ultra-sleek, dark-toned landscape. Here’s what the homepage looked like when it went live in 2015:
And how we refined it with the v2:
This was a break from our older styling. While our past websites featured multichromatic palettes, NR3 distilled and focused our branding. We kept almost everything in grayscale, relying on a futuristic shade of green to make key elements pop.
We also upped the game with moving parts. NR3 featured a number of animated elements designed to feel like the future:
NR3 was probably the most significant redesign of the Neon Roots website, and the core branding vocabulary stayed constant for the rest of the company’s existence. But around the same time that we built NR3, we launched a new core element of our business: Rootstrap.
RS1: Let’s Get Your Online Business Off the Ground
Rootstrap started as a silo agency for the service offering that we now call Discovery. It was a pre-development product workshop that sought to hone the concept of a digital product, validate the idea in the marketplace, and create a clear roadmap towards a full development engagement.
In the beginning, both the workshop and the new company were called Rootstrap. Neon Roots and Rootstrap were sister companies that existed alongside each other: clients would go through the Rootstrap workshop, then move to Neon Roots for development.
In comparison to Neon Roots, Rootstrap’s branding was light, energetic, and playful. This was by design.
Most Rootstrap clients were first-time founders, many of them non-technical. We didn’t want to intimidate then with a flashy, souped-up design aesthetic. The goal of the site was to make starting a business or building a digital product seem achievable and to make us seem approachable to anyone.
Cool, easy-going blues, clean whites, and a DIY-inspired logo in approachable yellow. All intended to seem warm and welcoming.
This was also around the time that clean, stylized iconography came to dominate the digital design landscape. Again, we employed it with the goal of feeling approachable to anyone:
As Rootstrap grew, we continued with an illustration-inspired design aesthetic, but we started moving the brand more in a more sophisticated direction.
We also started to update our color palette:
This light, playful design aesthetic continued into the next iteration:
At this point, Rootstrap was cooking with gas (take a look at that total money raised figure above) and Neon Roots was growing fast.
And in 2016, we released the next – and final – iteration of the NR website.
NR5: Ushering in a New Era
NR5 was another complete redesign of the website, and this time we took the gloves off.
We worked with an awesome, out-there designer who helped us push our creative design chops to the max. We went as futuristic as possible, adopting a kind of hacker-from-2030 design vocabulary.
We also incorporated more movement into the design, using skipping, jumping gifs and text that glitched out periodically:
We pulled out all the stops for NR5, and to be honest, we’re still proud of that website. But shortly after the launch of the site, everything changed: Neon Roots, Rootstrap, and our partner agency TopTier Labs all merged under the Rootstrap banner.
And that, once again, called for a redesign.
RS2: Bringing It All Together
With all of our companies, products, and services now united under a single banner, we needed to iterate the brand to synthesize what had been separate aesthetics.
The result was RS2: a new version of the Rootstrap site, now representing both our Roadmapping and agency business, that blended the Neon Roots future-minimalist aesthetic with the color and approachability of Rootstrap.
We redesigned the Rootstrap logo to be more modern and sleek, also representing the upward trajectory of startups we work with. We took a more abstract approach to the layout, and we also got a little more absurd in our imagery. Take a look at our contact section:
At this point, we also had some impressive statistics under our belt, so we based many design elements around social proof:
RS_Next: Our Brand and Its Future
While our site has gone through some tweaking since the last major redesign, we’re still working with the same overall design aesthetic. Here’s our current homepage, in all its glory:
But that’s changing soon.
We’re hard at work on RS3.0: A full redesign of our site aimed to convey the current state of our company, our brand, and our philosophy.
It’s still in the ideation stages and we can’t share anything yet – but we can already see that it’s going to be something special.
Looking back on the past 8 years, we’ve gone through iteration after iteration of our website, our brand, and our company as a whole. And it begs the question: why all the change?
If there’s one thing I’ve learned after nearly a decade in the agency business, it’s that change is the only constant. Design is always changing, markets are always changing, the world is always, always changing. It has to change.
We constantly tell clients that the day they stop designing and evolving their product is the beginning of the end. In this business, it’s innovate or die. As you can see from this history, we’ve had to change our designs sometimes multiple times in a single year to stay competitive and keep ourselves on the bleeding edge. Because that’s where we have to be – we have to be the gold standard when it comes to best design and dev practices, period. If we aren’t that, we’re dead.
We’ve come a long way in the past 8 years, and looking back, we’re damn proud of our continued commitment to reinventing ourselves, thinking one step ahead, and never accepting complacency. But as far as we’ve come, it’s nothing compared to where we’re headed.
And we’re beyond excited for what’s to come.