Brand Identity, Brand Strategy

Brand identity for the cloud-based HR solutions company.

Cornerstone is a leader in cloud-based, adaptive human resources (HR) solutions that helps organizations inspire a work environment of growth, agility and success for all. It is one of the world’s largest companies in the HR space and and has a mission to use technology and insights to make work a place that works for everyone.

Pentagram has designed a new brand identity for Cornerstone that conveys the engaging experience of its technology and sets the company apart in its category. The program encompasses brand strategy, positioning and verbal identity, along with a new visual language including a new mark, color palette and complete suite of communication tools.

The Pentagram team collaborated closely with Cornerstone leadership on the rebrand. Based in Santa Monica, CA, the company was originally founded in 1999 (as the learning technology company CyberU) and provided online corporate training and education for adults before shifting its focus to HR software. Cornerstone now serves over 6,000 customers and 75 million users, and is available in 180 countries and 50 languages. It works with hundreds of the world’s largest companies, including Walgreens, Starwood Hotels & Resorts, Deutsche Post DHL Group and Western Union, along with thousands of smaller ones, as well as government agencies, hospitals, nonprofits and schools. The company was recently acquired by the private equity firm Clearlake Capital for $5.2 billion. 

Cornerstone’s suite of products have expanded well beyond learning into recruiting, employee development, performance and careers, effectively managing the entire employee lifecycle with cloud-based software that is easily integrated with other technology platforms. With the rebrand, the company wanted to leverage its knowledge and expertise and stand out as a pioneer. The new identity is also intended to signal that Cornerstone has gone through a significant transition since combining forces with a former competitor, Saba Software. It also coincides with the launch of Cornerstone Xplor, the category’s only AI-powered, hyper-personalized solution to bring every element of people growth into a single destination (with name and logo by Pentagram).

The events of 2020 have changed how and where people work and what they want from a career. Cloud-based HR software is becoming more important with the increase of work from home and companies that have employees across time zones, and the industry is highly competitive with an unprecedented number of platforms. Cornerstone wanted to break through and connect with a clear, singular brand voice. The identity had to appeal to a broad audience that encompasses talent managers, chief HR officers, business leaders and company employees, from medical professions needing compliance training to knowledge workers and engineers to operations managers at factories and fulfillment centers.

The challenge for the Pentagram team was to develop a brand strategy that speaks to the engaging experience of Cornerstone, rather than the arcana of the underlying technology itself, with a visual and verbal identity that is friendly and accessible. The positioning highlights Cornerstone as a platform that empowers people to achieve extraordinary things and work with autonomy, freedom, creativity and agility. The strategy emphasizes understanding and freedom, which allows the branding to be both smart and playful. 

Brand messaging avoids jargon to be human, direct and straightforward, with language that is confident, optimistic and positive. The team developed a new, forward-looking tagline, “Power the future ready workforce,” which also reflects Cornerstone’s commitment to helping organizations create inclusive and welcoming workplaces.

These themes inform a dynamic visual language that is simple, bold and warm. The new Cornerstone logo combines the letter “C” with a “North Star” shaped counter at the center of the mark. The North Star is used by Cornerstone as a metaphor for guiding people forward along their professional journey no matter where they are. Built of circles, the logo’s form has a clean geometry that is simultaneously strong and friendly. The primary brand color is a bright orange, a marked shift from the blue of the previous identity and the more subdued corporate colors of competitors.

The identity streamlines the name to just “Cornerstone” (from Cornerstone OnDemand) in a wordmark based on the geometric sans serif Fellix SemiBold (from Displaay Type Foundry). Certain characters have been customized with a mono-line stroke inspired by the pathways companies and employees take to grow and evolve. The brand’s primary typeface is the contemporary grotesk Beatrice (designed by Lucas Sharp).

The logo for the new people growth experience Cornerstone Xplor adds a North Star at the top right, like an exponent, or power, in a mathematical notation.

The Cornerstone symbol serves as the foundation for a comprehensive design system, with the “eclipse” shape of one of its sections used as a window for imagery or a container for type in layouts. The forms extend to a series of simple custom icons designed using the characteristics of the Cornerstone logo. These are augmented with additional illustrated icons to give the in-house design teams an array of options for the hundreds of pieces of communications the company creates each month. 

The brand’s new visual style is bright and charming, and the increased use of illustration helps make it warm and approachable. A major component of the identity’s toolkit is a family of exuberant 3D animated characters created by the London-based motion studio Mr Kaplin. The playful mascots are a cross between whimsical creatures and anthropomorphic spacecraft, in orange rounded forms that echo the logo and with a sophisticated design that reflects the technology. 

Conceived as explorers, dreamers and risk takers, the characters float and move alongside employees and leaders as a way to express the engaging world of learning. The characters personify Cornerstone as an innovator powered by AI and data insight, and although artificial themselves, help speak to the friendly, personable benefits of the software rather than the underlying code itself. 

As part of the system, Pentagram also established new guidelines for brand photography that feels real and authentic, rather than staged, for an honest depiction of working life. People can recognize themselves in images capturing moments of humor, stress and satisfaction, and in a global workforce that is diverse and varied.

New York
Luke Hayman
Project team
Shigeto Akiyama
Jenny Hung
Liam Hamill
Ben Law
Avery George
Robin Haueter, strategist and writer
Melenie Flynn, strategist and writer
Mr Kaplin, 3D character design
Ayanna Quint, photo editor
Clay, web design
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