London creativity in the GCC: the KOA brand design project

My strongest memory of the KOA project was standing in the beautiful landscaped gardens of their property in Al Barari, about twenty minutes’ drive from the centre of Dubai. It was around 42 degrees and I was standing with Nik, the photographer, and he said, “alright, where do you want to start?”

Good question.

We were there to create a mood-led photography set that would inform our work on the KOA project and create a set of completely new, highly stylised, imagery to sit alongside the architectural library the team was building. It was the beginning of a defining piece of work that has just launched – and we’ve been involved in every aspect of the project.

This is the story of the KOA brand design, and how we worked remotely from London, in partnership with KOA’s brand strategy agency as well as in person, art directing locally in Dubai.

The brand

It’s not often that we work on a project that touches on nearly every aspect of the work we do. It’s also most unusual to take more than a year and a half doing it. But the fact is that while some projects benefit from urgency and a tight deadline, the luxury of time offers the opportunity to really get things right. It means the branding in particular has a chance to mature ‘within itself’ before launch, such that every aspect of it feels considered. KOA is such a project.

We first started working with KOA in the summer of 2022, looking first at their brand identity. The idea was to redraw it, finding a way of keeping the essence of what went before alongside the forward-thinking, new take on Dubai living which KOA embraces. What we wanted was for the finished iconography to fit alongside any of the major premium brands that are so well known locally, yet also to stand apart.

Beyond KOA itself, the identity system holds a series of sub-brands which sit ‘below’ the mother company. These are a mix of the developments which are KOA’s primary endeavour, as well as companies that service these, in particular two water processing and construction plant hire firms. It’s been an interesting challenge working on these pieces of design, particularly as the three businesses each do materially different things, serving very different audiences.

The end result is a singular, clear result that has involved a satisfying collaboration with KOA’s brand strategy agency, also based here in London.

koa brand design
koa brand design

Our work on the KOA brand design project

The style

Over several visits to the Middle East, I’ve observed all manner of brands, particularly those in the real estate sphere, and the way they operate visually. These often need to shout, diversify and market hard. None of these attributes were needed here.

In fact, with KOA, I was keen that their style was born of both sophistication, quiet yet steely confidence and decades of work in the region. This is a Dubai business, with vision and passion for the desert landscape and ways of working within it. Working with KOA required a deep soak in that ethos and history, as well as enjoying a shared confidence in their future.

In October 2022, I spent a week working at Al Barari, both directing the custom brand photography and running my business from Canvas, their co-working space. Doing this allowed me to divine a sense of who they are. My professional mission was to help craft a set of these stylised brand images I was talking about, which we use throughout our work on the brand. What I like so much about them is they deliver a sense of place and style which has offered a consistency to everything we’ve done since.

Beyond imagery, we created a series of brand graphics for KOA to help our work on the web in particular. This part of the project where all the elements come together was particularly reminiscent of the sort of work we’ve done in the past in luxury hotel and print design.  These are a set of triangular tessellations which operate as a pattern, can contain images, or animate within the websites. The shapes echo the sharp letterforms of the logo in an abstract way and are then set in the colour palette, which is earthy, muted and minimal.

koa brand design

Sample images from our photo shoot in Al Barari, UAE

Concept polaroids taken on Nik's Mamiya medium format camera

The collaboration

In common with many clients we work with, we’re not the sole business contributing to the finished KOA brand design project.

The first was Nik at Oculis Project, a Dubai-based photographer who has worked extensively for KOA as well as other fantastic clients like Aesop, Loewe and Rolex. Together we shot this mood-led imagery at KOA’s Al Barari property on the searingly hot October day I described at the start of this post. I love the shots we took, both on conventional cameras and his amazing medium format Mamiya.

Back home, as we put together the website, we once again worked with motion designer Carlo Teofilo on devising ways in which the graphic elements we’d dreamed up might react as a user scrolled through the pages, adding interest and flow. These animations are some of the most beautiful and technically complex motion graphics we’ve created for a site, as not only do they look great but they’re completely interchangeable by KOA as they update the site content.

The final collaborator was one of the more interesting we’ve been involved with. It was also rather easier, in that meeting up involved getting on the Northern Line – versus needing a trip to Dubai. Having completed the initial photo project and web design, we began working alongside Shoreditch brand agency Søster in the autumn of 2023. After they completed a positioning and content creation exercise, we then dovetailed, working together to add the new text and imagery, readying the site for launch.

What was so telling with each of these collaborations was how easily we joined forces – there was very little overlap in our core competencies and a shared desire to put a fantastic end result at the core of what we were doing.

koa brand design

Key pages of the KOA website

The power of three

Much like the triangles at the heart of the KOA brand design, the finished website project has three sides. While the KOA master site is the major web project, it’s part of a trifecta of sites we completed as part of the work. The other two are for KONO Contracting and M1 Utilities, both smaller sites reflecting their own priorities. While I’m going to focus on the KOA site here, it’s deeply satisfying to see the overall aesthetic we worked on apply so successfully to two projects focussing on engineering and industry. The work behind these other projects will be looked at in more detail in a future blog post.

The KOA site is striking experience that begins with an unfolding message about this brand, explaining its mission and core principles. Animation has been built into the site from the very beginning – the logo appears to draw itself as you arrive on the site – and from that point on, separate elements slide niftily into place. Pages move across KOA’s core areas of business with a particular focus on the residences which define their aesthetic and vision.

Each section serves to unfold more treasures. Two highlights are their Green Michelin star-winning restaurant LOWE and the extraordinary co-working and living space Nasab, with its soaring ceilings and semi-circular design, which leads down to a series of palm-shaded spaces and beautiful pool. There’s also a glimpse at the future plans that are unfolding with the renderings of the Scaramanga development which looks (to me, anyway) like the best thing KOA will have achieved yet.

As I look back, one of the most interesting aspects of a truly holistic design project that has lasted some 18 months from inception to final oversight and completion is the way in which the aesthetic has coalesced into a single viewpoint that captures the brand. These things take time, both in terms of design itself but also all the supporting components such as completing location photography, signage manufacture and the video which is going to form a central part of the project eventually.

KOA has been a lesson in collaboration and giving a project the time it needs to find its place. The key things we take away from a deeply satisfying piece of creative work, at this exhale-moment are another trifecta – partnership, perspective and patience.

More web design, central to our work on the KOA brand design project

Elegant, holistic branding and web design for Dubai real estate

In the last four years we’ve worked extensively with international clients. In the Middle East alone these have included KOA‘s three core businesses, Abu Dhabi-based startup incubator Anamcara and Saudi interior designer Yasmin Alsdais. We believe our perspective offers a great deal to firms in the GCC, blending a clear-eyed analysis of each business with distinctive, creative flair in the final pieces of work.

If you’re interested in an approach to a website which considers the best way of presenting your business, we’d be interested in your brief. Whatever industry you work in, we can help you achieve that, working within or imaginatively beyond your current brand.

Call us on +44 20 7351 4083 or email direct to tell us all about it.