Citrix creates digital workspace solutions that make work happen, wherever you happen to work — in a bustling office, on a bullet train, in bed beside a purring cat, and all points between. Founded in 1989, Citrix found new relevance in the age of cloud computing and the distributed workforce, with more than 100 million users relying on its platform daily to access files and connect with colleagues swiftly and securely. In 2019, Citrix invited Athletics to help drive deeper adoption as it shifted from being a tech provider to being a strategic partner focused on the entire employee experience. We saw a golden opportunity to polish up a rather dusty enterprise tech brand. But as our partnership deepened, our efforts echoed well beyond the four walls of a standard brand redesign. The “Big Bang” moment occurred when the strategic reorientation spearheaded by our partners at Invencion landed on the idea that “the future of work is the space to succeed.” Positioning Citrix as “the intelligent workspace that creates space” inspired the decades-old organization to embrace a radically new sense of self. It also inspired our team to explore smart ways of creating space through the senses. To that end, we enlisted the aid of an unlikely ally: sound.
Every element of the new Citrix brand (which we invite you to explore in vivid detail in our case study) rippled outward from the premise that the full potential of individuals and organizations can only be realized when they’re given ample space to be more creative and innovative at work. As we built out the components of the new identity, we paid special attention to internal activation: how can we make this strategy and system resonate with the Citrix team around the world? In one of many workshops between Athletics and Citrix dedicated to solving this question, Malcolm Buick, Athletics Executive Creative Director, made an off-hand suggestion: let’s press an exclusive vinyl record for our team as part of the gift set that will signal the brand relaunch. For our team, knowing that record sleeve design is what inspired Malcolm to become a designer in the first place (read more about that origin story here), his suggestion came as no surprise. But to everyone’s surprise, Citrix jumped at the opportunity. “It was one of those cherished moments when an ambitious, slightly off-the-wall idea sticks. But of course, this opened another question: what’s going to go on this record?” Enter sound artist Simon Pyke, stage left, to the sound of gongs.
For a brief about using sound to transform space, Simon Pyke was a natural fit. Pyke began his musical life in the mid 1990s, releasing experimental electronic music under the name Freeform on labels like Skam and Warp (home to eminent sonic adventurers like Aphex Twin, Autechre, Squarepusher, and Boards of Canada). In the intervening years Pyke launched sound design and music company Freefarm, scoring everything from virtual reality installations to large-scale events like Lighting the Sails at the Sydney Opera House. In 2013, he began recording under his given name, starting with Universal Everything & You, a limited edition picture disc released on Warp to accompany an installation at London’s Science Museum.
The exclusive eight-track composition crafted by Simon Pyke for Citrix, titled One Day, is powerful because its creator embraced the new brand strategy for inspiration: “The jump-off point from Athletics was the idea of creating functional music with utility to soundtrack and assist the workday whilst aesthetically speaking through the lens of the Citrix brand. We thought about the arc of a typical day and how music could help with the peaks and troughs of energy, concentration, and moments of winding down and relaxation.” In tight symmetry with the visual identity, the tones and textures Pyke crafted for One Day (available on Spotify for the less acoustically nostalgic among us) are themselves spacious, defined more by what they leave out than what they keep in. Pyke elaborates: “Athletics allowed me a great deal of creative freedom to create something which expressed my own musical personality within the framework of the brand’s tone of voice. They were insistent that it must feel like an artist project rather than something cold or corporate. It felt more like a collaboration with a record label, which is a good thing!” Smart sound serves a purpose for brands, alongside elements like messaging, typography, motion, and environments. If a sonic brand is discordant with that purpose, it is, as Macbeth once warned, like “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” In this sense, sonic branding is the corporate cousin of film or television scoring, where sound must have purpose: create tension, accentuate romance, raise the audience’s pulse, magnify moments of beauty, and so on. What would Twin Peaks be without Angelo Badalamenti’s eerie synthesizer?
One Day inspired Simon, Athletics, and our partners on the Citrix team to think deeply about how sound shapes our working lives. But just as we were putting the finishing touches on the vinyl project, our working lives were deeply reshaped. The pandemic scattered us from our offices and studios, substituting conference rooms for kitchen tables and colleagues for kids, among other untold pivots. At a moment of deafening distraction, and in the absence of our usual workspaces, the world sought space to think and create in our headphones. This tectonic shift instilled in our team a deeper appreciation for the role of sound in our experience of the world, something we explored in depth in our March 2020 essay, “Pardon the Interruption.” The pandemic lent a deeper urgency around sound’s role in the new Citrix brand, driving us to translate One Day from a discrete sonic composition into a full-scale sonic identity.
Having explored the mood of the emerging sonic identity during the vinyl project — the auditory equivalent to defining look and feel in visual design — we were challenged to formalize the Citrix sonic identity. Specifically, we needed to ensure this “sound system” could transcend Pyke’s skilled hand (and ear) and be applied easily and effectively by the Citrix team for a range of communications, from marketing to interfaces, environments to experiences. That’s where we find ourselves today, in the midst of creating an interactive “soundboard” available to non-technical, non-expert sound designers charged with scoring a range of assets for Citrix. When completed, this soundboard will give Citrix a practical tool to play with the senses well beyond the standard visual and verbal palette. Throughout this expansive project, we’ve reaffirmed our belief that sound has the potential to be the sensory “glue” that binds together the pieces of an identity in conscious and subconscious ways. We’re eager to share the soundboard in the coming months, and hear it unfold in the new Citrix brand. We’ll let the man behind the boards, Simon Pyke, get the last word: “My hope is to continue an artistic approach to identity whereby there is always a sense of the human touch whilst retaining the brand’s tone of voice. We have some very exciting projects underway for the future!”