An Inside Look at Upwork’s Rebrand and How We Introduced the Work Marketplace

Amy Sept
Amy Sept
May 25, 2021
An Inside Look at Upwork’s Rebrand and How We Introduced the Work Marketplace

Rebranding often focuses on what a company looks like: its name, logo, color scheme, and the types of images they use. But Upwork’s recent rebrand goes much deeper.

It started in the summer of 2020 with a fresh look at Upwork’s brand strategy and its place in our industry. We wanted to dig into our relationship with the clients and independent professionals who rely on Upwork, to better understand how their needs and relationships have evolved alongside other work and cultural trends.

But last year shattered the status quo. It became clear to many businesses that distributed talent can be key to growth while many professionals confirmed that they can do meaningful work from anywhere.

Upwork’s core values became top-of-mind for businesses around the world and we saw an opportunity to lead a new path in the way people work. One that is centered around opportunity and abundance, freedom and control.

That new path became the work marketplace—our vision for a place where highly skilled independent talent and companies can connect and reach their full potential through meaningful work relationships.

Finding that solution wasn’t simple. Neither was getting to launch day. Upwork rethought its brand from the ground up, a massive scope of work that was only possible within an ambitious timeline because of the knowledge and commitment of the people we have access to: Top talent inside and outside of our organization.

“This is the strongest team our marketing team has ever built,” said Lisa Edwards, Director of Brand Marketing at Upwork. “It includes employees, independent professionals, and agencies—each one an expert in their field. A hybrid team like this gives us deep expertise that we may not be able to afford otherwise, helps us to move faster, and elevates our work.”

The work marketplace helps businesses achieve more

Upwork kickstarted the rebranding process by conducting in-depth research, holding conversations with our community, and exploring the changing needs of the marketplace. This deep dive brought two things into focus:

  • There’s a problem in the industry. Businesses are limited by talent they have access to—and misconceptions about independent talent hold many of them back.
  • There’s a new way to work. Productive relationships are key to growth and new opportunities. Both companies and talent turn to Upwork as the only place that helps them make those connections.

“People come to Upwork because they have a particular immediate need. They stay because they recognize the power of the relationships they’ve built on our platform,” Edwards said. And our research confirmed that these collaborations don’t have a time limit: Repeat projects, sometimes over the course of years, are rooted in mutual trust and quality results.

The challenge, then, was to get to the essence of what Upwork makes possible and start to reframe how businesses think about work and independent talent.

We redefined Upwork’s vision to put the focus on what drives our work: Independent talent at the heart of every business. What we envision isn’t just a different product or user experience. It’s a new mindset.

That unique perspective is what led us to introduce the work marketplace industry category—and that’s where the hands-on work began.

Countdown to launch: 3 ways independent talent helped make it happen

How Independent Talent Made it Happen

The work had an impact across the organization: From rethinking the products and services Upwork offers, to revising the language used across marketing and advertising, to refreshing the look and feel of every channel we use to connect with our customers.

Edwards knew Upwork’s small brand team needed support. “We didn’t have enough resources to do the work quickly,” she said. “We couldn’t educate someone or explain how to do it. We needed people who’d already done this a hundred times.”

She worked with cross-functional partners to rapidly build out a dynamic hybrid team of employees, independent professionals, and agencies—each one focused on their critical part of the project.

It’s something Ed Rogers, Managing Partner at Alto, calls casting.

1. Great results require great casting

Alto, one of the top independent creative agencies in the world, was engaged by Upwork to help bring the work marketplace to life—a swath of creative work that includes the brand platform, ad campaign, a new brand visual identity and , and explainer videos.

Alto doesn’t just understand the principles that drive the work marketplace. They live them.

“We have a core team of employees and we work with the best independent talent, or other specialty partners based on the unique needs of the brief,” said Rogers.

Alto is one of six agencies that contributed to the rebranding project, many of which follow the same approach to accessing talent.

“A lot of the talent we work with is fiercely independent. They’re so good and so competent at what they do that I don’t think they would ever not be independent,” Rogers said. “Particularly in the creative field, the businesses that succeed are the ones who understand the vital role independent talent can and will play in their business.”

Casting, he said, is everything. And, for a complex project, flexible and timely access to a cross-section of capabilities can be paramount.

Maida Kasper, Upwork’s Director of Product Management, leads a team that’s responsible for, among other things, Upwork’s public website. This included the home page, a digital flagship that needed to be rethought, rewritten, and redesigned. “It’s the introduction to Upwork: Not just communicating who we are and what we stand for but introducing a new way of working.”

Heading into January, with an end-of March timeline to allow room for testing, Kasper had to move quickly to find the right resources. Fortunately, she didn’t need to dig deep: She turned to Upwork’s engineering team—a group that includes more than 500 independent workers—as well as designers, writers, QA professionals, and agency partners who already support Upwork’s web design work. With many of these relationships already in place, the project was off to a fast start.

Kasper’s team also relied on an independent project manager to make sure everything stayed organized. “We knew we had to launch a new site by our deadline—that was the North Star we were all aiming toward,” she said.

“We didn’t just want to launch something, we wanted to launch something we’re proud of that provided a good customer experience,” Kasper said. “Having someone track all the pieces let us focus on the work needed to get us there.”

With a small army of specialists working on different aspects of the project, there was one obvious challenge: Keeping everyone moving in the same direction.

Upwork Rebrand Examples

2. Get help keeping everyone’s eye on the prize

Upwork’s rebrand meant a new aesthetic, new language, new positioning, and new products. Underpinning all of this work is copywriting and creative work.

A brand’s voice, look, and feel are a bit like water to a plant: They permeate every aspect of the business, from its product and website to its email, social media, and advertising.

Keeping all of that consistent is no small feat. Rebecca Faulkner, a Creative Director at Upwork, helped get copy for all the creative pieces in line—including 900+ existing assets that needed to be rewritten.

The project started with a big push. While it will take a year to update all of the assets, many pieces were prioritized to launch with the new public website. To meet this deadline and stay aligned with Kasper’s team, the copywriting team leaned heavily on independent professionals and engaged new talent as the project required it: six independent writers and several agencies, including Alto.

As work moved from one stage to the next, a few people in particular helped keep things on track.

“We engaged a couple of very seasoned independent director-level creatives to come in to support the high-level work,” Faulkner said. One is a design director who interfaced regularly with the agency that focused on the visual identity refresh.

Patrick Holly is an independent creative director whose main focus was to work with Alto on a day-to-day basis. Holly has worked with brands like Apple, Harley-Davidson, and Uber, as well as agencies such as Saatchi & Saatchi. This varied perspective made him an ideal link between Upwork and the agency.

“The value that freelancers bring is that they have this breadth of experience with other organizations,” Holly said. “They can see what has worked and what has not, then apply that to your situation.”

In a project like this one, Holly said that value translates into a fresh point of view. “That external perspective allows brands to move through new and novel projects more quickly and effectively.”

3. Leverage the power of a Virtual Talent Bench

With all the deliverables and work mapped out, many of Upwork’s teams turned to sprints with rigorous timing and milestones for each.

For the engineering team, getting the work done was less about process and more about tapping the right people. Luckily, the team had an existing Virtual Talent Bench—a network of independent professionals they already had relationships with, whom they’ve relied on repeatedly to help Upwork reach its goals.

Because of this, they didn’t need to start from scratch to find people. Engineering leaders just needed to match the right person from that bench to the right part of the project.

“Because they’re already part of our hybrid engineering team, we’re familiar with each person’s skill set and the technology they typically work with,” Kasper said. “We also know what part of our site they already know.”

“We looked at our high-priority pages—most visible, high conversions, high traffic—and looked at how each page was built from a technical standpoint,” Kasper said. “Then we assembled a tiger team of engineers best equipped to tackle each page. Without a Virtual Talent Bench to pull from, we never would’ve been able to get the entire site up-to-date in such a short period of time.”


The work marketplace is a new way of working, where businesses have access to the best talent for their most critical projects.

"By building hybrid teams, we have immediate access to whatever skills or experience we need,” said Lisa Edwards. “This changes the game for seizing opportunities. There's no initiative too big. There's no challenge we can't solve. If we dream it, we can do it.”

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Amy Sept

Amy Sept (@amysept) is an independent writer, editor, and content marketing strategist who’s dedicated to helping businesses of all sizes navigate the future of work. As a Canadian military spouse and slow traveller, she has a lot of hands-on experience with remote work, productivity hacks, and learning how to "go with the flow."

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