How we developed Salv identity, part 1: history, mission, and name

April 14, 2020

This post is part of a series on how we developed Salv identity. Also read the other posts in the series:


When I joined Salv in the summer of 2019 as Head of Design, one of my first projects was to help develop and launch a new identity for us.

It’s not every day that you get to be the part of the birth of a whole new company, let alone in building the design concept from the ground up. Which is why I wanted to write down our journey, before it gets lost in history.

This is the story of bringing Salv to life.

“Dataminer is decades old”

Before summer 2019, Salv was called Dataminer. Here is what the logo looked like.

Dataminer logo

There is nothing really wrong with the technical execution of this identity, but it doesn’t stand out and represent anything in particular. It feels like a generic placeholder, which is exactly what it was and reflects how it came to existence. When the company was founded, it obviously needed some sort of name. Rather than have a big project for developing a full identity, the founders at the time decided wisely to quickly establish a placeholder identity and postpone the creation of the real one until a bit later.

In 2018, Taavi and co were consulting with different companies, helping them find insights through data. So, in a meeting one day while they were discussing the fact that they needed some sort of name to be an official entity, one of their lawyers at the time said, “Why not call yourselves Dataminer? That’s essentially what you do.” And that was it. Seriously, that was the whole initial naming process. Thank you, lawyers.

Similar story for the visual identity. “Uh oh, we need a logo, let’s get on a site and pay someone to make one real fast. We can always change it all later.” A hundred euros later and they had a logo. Check.

It was a wise choice then, it’s a wise choice now. If you don’t yet know what your mission is or how you’ll do it, you might as well choose a placeholder name and logo and postpone the heavy lifting for down the road when you know more of who you are.

Looking a bit ahead, after we launched Salv, here’s a concise summary from one of our friends to our CEO Taavi Tamkivi.

Dataminer is decades old

So when I joined, the pain of a mismatched identity was strong. “We’ve evolved far past data mining. Now we have a huge mission and a huge heart. We need a name and an identity that matches who we’ve become.”

So we started on that journey to create it.

Mission

Many brand and identity projects start with soul-searching. Who are we? Why are we? What do we stand for? It is important to know what you want to represent. A brand and identity without a soul is just an empty shell, and it”s not something I’d myself want to work on.

Fortunately, Salv has had a clear mission and purpose from the second it was founded, and it hasn’t changed a single bit. Everyone, including myself, who joins the company must seriously consider the mission through the process of deciding whether to join the team. We trust that everyone who joins has gone through this process and is fully committed to the purpose.

The purpose is to stop financial crime. Here’s an actual slide from an internal presentation.

Stop crime

My eyes bleed looking at the technical execution of this slide, but at the same time, it is beautiful and obvious. We are on a mission to stop crime. To be more precise, we deal directly with financial crime, but through this, we may help stop other kinds of crime too. Criminals engage in financial crimes like money laundering to launder the proceeds of many other crimes like human trafficking, drug dealing, corruption, tax avoidance, and so on.

From the brand perspective, this was a solid foundation. Now we just had to develop the tangible identity representing this mission.

Name

Salv is such a delightful name to work with. I like names with double meanings in various languages, but Salv goes above and beyond that: in Estonian, it also has several meanings, from “ointment” to “storage bin” to probably even more. The English meaning is related to “salvation” and very much directly stands for our crime-fighting mission.

We spent quite a bit of time to come up with the name and had many candidates. Many of them revolved around the concept of “hero”. The real heroes are the teams at financial institutions who fight crime on the ground day-to-day with Salv and other tools, but making it as part of our own name felt too pretentious. True heroes never call themselves that. We let others do the judging. I’m glad we abandoned this direction.

The naming process was nearly complete when I joined Salv. Our research, strategy and creative queen Mallory was more involved in that work, and describes it thus:

We went through so many iterations. Strong. Guard. Protector. But they all felt… strange. Overly masculine. Overly… negative and dark. Military like.

And then the part about hero. Fast. Nimble. Helper. That part sounded better, but the hero part sounded too… egocentric.

We wanted a positive name. Something short, and easy to spell. That if you heard it, it would be easy to visualize over the phone.

Zalvo was one of the options. It made it into the top list but something felt… wrong.

My name means something negative in every language. Because the prefix “mal” means “bad.” Think about it. Malware. Maladapted. Malevolent. We needed a name that always meant something good.

And then, as we sat, the idea came. “Salve”. Wait. This is really positive. It’s a healing balm. Something actively good. But it’s just a balm, so it’s humble. We aren’t saving the world, but we are helping to cleanse some of the ugliest parts. So what if we use Salve, without the ‘e’?

Part 2: Producing the design