More Than Words

Creative expression for the next generation of communications.

GIFs have emerged as a vibrant mode of expression in a time of rapidly expanding vocabularies. Tenor, a startup with an early position as the leading GIF keyboard, saw an opportunity to strengthen their product position in this evolving landscape with a bold new identity and strategy. Our work with Tenor spanned research, strategy, a design system for the platform, and a new brand identity. This partnership accelerated Tenor's ability to help people visually express their thoughts and emotions with more than four billion distinct search terms entered in 2017, culminating in their acquisition by Google in March 2018.


The brand needed an identity open to the possibilities of broader communication features. Tenor, the new name, suggests the nuance of expression through voice and tone.

Contextual experience

Expression is always evolving, and GIFs are just the latest in a line of modes and memes.

So we developed a strategy to ensure Tenor’s place as the platform for GIFs today, and for how we express ourselves tomorrow — via haptic responses, chatbots, virtual reality, and beyond. We designed an experience that gives context to GIFs with a broad range of content features, evolving their product into a full-featured platform that encompasses personalization, content creation, and a community of users.

Escaping the confines of the app

The new interface strategy started with two key solutions for opening up the app. First was unlimited vertical scrolling, an elegant UI solution that opens up significant screen real estate to extend the amount of content Tenor can offer. We found another opportunity to expand usage by pairing the keyboard to the native app in a nested construction. With a nested construction, the app would be where users browse, save, and create new content. Then they could deploy the content on the keyboard while texting.

What is it? A GIF keyboard is a third-party keyboard added to your smartphone that lets you easily find and share GIFs in your favorite apps. It's a handy way to send an animated GIF in any of your everyday conversation channels.

Personal touch

Other interface strategies include personalized search and customizable categories, to make each user’s keyboard unique. Search learns from the user’s expressed preferences and from implied preferences gleaned through usage – preference for animated GIFs over movie GIFs, for example.

We also identified fun new ways users could search for GIFs, like the Mood Slider that would let the user filter through different emotions to find a GIF with the right tone.

Mood slider
Do you want a sincere Happy Birthday or a
snarky GIF?

Freedom of expression

The GIF Editor is a strategy designed to open a whole new world of creative expression, allowing users to create and customize their own content in the native app – draw freehand, add stickers, type messages, even embed GIFs inside emoticons. Creation tools would give the user more freedom to convey emotions and build a personal lexicon, and cultivate deeper engagement in the experience. The camera-first tools would reside in the destination app, for a seamless experience.

Creation tools
What if you could personalize your GIF with stickers, styled text, color, and more?

Community of creativity

Building community around the platform is key to Tenor’s new strategy. By adding meaningful touch points beyond the keyboard, the native app can cultivate engagement with a community of users who create, curate, and share unique expressions. Attributions could put names and faces to the GIF artists, and social networks would allow a creator or curator to build a personal following. All of which is designed to promote the content, the artists, and the community around the Tenor platform.