Crafting the Carousel story

Carousel is the new gallery from Dropbox that helps you organize, share, and save your photos and videos with friends and family (remember having to individually send every photo in a set over iMessage? Yeah, no more!). It’s an app that holds your photos and videos, and therefore your memories - and its story needs to do it justice.

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I worked on this story and in developing the visual language around our branding for the last half year alongside fellow illustrator Ryan Putnam. I would describe it as a true collaboration and am super proud of what we created in such a short amount of time. Every Easter egg, every detail was put in with a lot of love and care.


The Story

If you look carefully at every brand touchpoint - whether the product in-app onboarding, the launch materials, or the marketing site - you will notice the same two characters appearing in every single illustrated photo. You see this boy and girl, named Owen and Nora, through their life, starting as two friends who attend camp as children, grow up together, and finally get married. Along the way we also see their playful dog grow up as well.


We created this story because this is the kind of story that we think represents what Carousel really is comprised of: memories that stand in quiet ordinariness but together, compose a compelling, relatable, and, importantly, unpretentious narrative. We’re not the fancy vacation getaway snap or perfectly composed brunch shot (we wish!). We’re getting your license, going to camp, getting cake smashed on your face - that imperfect, uncomposed, candid picture.

The Mark

Our first goal was to create a logo that evoked the candid, timeless feel of the name “Carousel.” Strategically, it also had to stand out on the phone’s home screen and compete amongst other apps, especially potential competitors (ie. the native Gallery).


We went through many, many iterations - themes included “clusters,” photography, bursts of color, and actual carousels. The logo that we ultimately selected and refined was based off of a concept created by IDEO (some of these explorations you can see above). It is a representation of your photo stream, with the three top spokes symbolizing singular photos and videos.

The Style

We soon ran into our next challenge: Dropbox traditionally never uses photography in its branding and marketing. Never. It’s all illustration in a hand-drawn style. So how does one brand, illustrate, and showcase a photography app without using photography?


We tried to explore a hybrid of line-art illustration, but it came off as forced. We even tried to place colorized filters on top of photographs to make them one-toned, but it looked too much like aspirational stock photography. We realized a disjoint that users experience when they look at photographs that are of people that aren’t them - it is instantly unrelatable.

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In the last forty minutes of one of our weeklong branding offsites, our team created a fun, pastel watercolored style that played well with our existing illustration style but was far more lush and bright with life. This is the direction that we went through. The colorful, loose style that you see here greatly informed the bright style of our final brand.

The Goods

When it came time to implement this, we knew this brand would be seen across a hugely diverse set of mediums. On one hand, branding is apparent to every user who interacts with the app and goes through onboarding on their mobile devices. It is also digitally seen through the marketing website, help center, and blog. We would be printing across large, 20-foot canvases at the event launch space as well, so it had to carry to print. The brand would also touch smaller launch items like the backs of tiny menu cards and other collateral.

When it came to putting branding into the app and site, we opted for a highly interactive, demonstrative approach. Every action that the user goes through in order to progress, whether it’s a scroll down or a tap to continue, triggers an action that teaches them something about our app.

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We also adapted our 70+ illustrations into a pattern that we could reuse across event materials. This has been the coolest project I’ve ever done, and I’m so happy to have worked with Ryan on it. So much of each of us individually is in this story, from my initials “A+L” on the wedding invites to the colors we chose.


Note: Designing the Carousel story was a highly collaborative process, most heavily between Ryan and I for the last six months. Other collaborators include other illustration teammates (Linda, Morgan, Jon), our awesome product designers (Yi, Puckett), and Jonnie & Preston. All of the final assets I’ve placed here reflect this, but I’ve been careful to represent my original work in the process shots.