Dutch illustrator Martijn Rijven discusses designing a firey fox for Mozilla and Wolff Olins around a concept of 'freedom'.

At this year's Mobile World Congress (MWC) exhibition in Barcelona, Mozilla launched its own mobile phone OS, Firefox OS

Branding for the mobile phone system was created by Wolff Olins, who commissioned illustrator Martijn Rijven to design the Firefox OS character.

Firefox OS offers interesting app creation possibilties as they're built in HTML5 code – so can draw on a wider developer pool than Apple's iOS or Google's Android.

We sat down with Martijn to find out about the character development process for the fox, with Martijn also revealing some of his sketches and roughs for the character.

DA: Tell us a bit about yourself?

MR: "I'm based in Amsterdam in the Netherlands and I run a one-man graphic/typographic/illustrative design studio under the name BOLTgraphics. I'm kind of like a jack of all trades, master of.. some."

DA: How did you get the gig?

MR: "The creative director at Wolff Olins for this project is Mike Abbink. We worked together on a big rebranding job a few years ago for Akzo Nobel. I ended up doing a substantial amount of illustrative logo design work for that project. Mike's been getting me involved whenever he needed some illustrative elements he thought would suit my skills."

DA: What was the brief?

MR: "The brief was very open and free at first. Whenever I work with Mike on these kinds of projects, he'll have me just explore a certain subject or problem – but quite extensively.

"For this I was asked to look at how I could show a fox 'on the move', free, unleashed. The intent was to capture the spirit of a fox and the way it moved first – and then look at how to evolve the current fox icon into that spirit.

"Later as the ideas at Wolff Olins developed, the brief and direction got more specific. Especially where it concerned the actual character of the fox. It had to be strong and sort of 'bad-ass' but not threatening or feral, for instance. At the same time it had to be playful but not childish."

Early sketches of the Firefox OS fox. The note by the bottom-left sketch says 'too childish'.
Advanced sketches
Early vector versions

DA: What was the concept for the character?

MR: "The concept for these foxes was basically 'freedom': freedom to roam, explore, to go wherever, to live.

"They needed to have a some attitude, be bold and adventurous. Of course the fox also had to be fiery, but not look like it was a fox that was lit on fire. Mike used  “superhero-like” to describe what the persona of the fox could be: powerful, agile and protective.

DA: Did you draw on the look of the Firefox application icon?

MR: "Because of the way we started exploring the idea, the initial 'free foxes' ended up quite far away from the fox in the app icon, stylistically. [We then streered] it back towards that icon in a controlled and conscious way: keeping his new-found freedom intact but also having him be part of the same family as the fox in the icon. Especially the way the colours were applied in the original logo helped tie them together.

DA: How did you develop the character?

MR: "One of more the important aspects of the process was the days of free and almost unguided exploration. I would just make tons of sketches and the Wolff Olins team – who were working on the rest of the branding elements and initially on other concepts as well – would hardly give me any direction. Mike would look at my – numerous and really diverse – sketches and just say things like:"This is looking good, keep going". I really had to force myself to come up with more different ways to draw that fox by the end of that first sketching phase.

"[It was] a bit weird but I really enjoyed working like this. iIt really pushes you to make the base of possible solutions as broad as can be.

"After about three or four days of sketches I started getting more concrete direction; "focus more on this type of thing" or "explore that more". Obviously in the meantime the WO team in New York had an eye on the whole style and how it would all tie together.

"After the results of the really broad sketching phase were presented, the client's thoughts were also taken into account and the design got a bit more concrete. At this point the focus was more based on trying to get to the postures (see below), the body and head character and the right combination of flame and fox. We would then bring in the elements or shape to connect it back to the Firefox symbol.

The Bolt posture
The Leap posture
The Charge posture
The Swoop posture

"Then the Wolff Olins Design team started applying the illustrations more and more to the actual brand that these were becoming a part of. And then the foxes needed to be adjusted accordingly. We looked for a kind of a modular way of using them, where the tails, or tail segments, could be swapped out and changed to fit the foxes on more different applications."

Martjin's fox in use in Mozilla's ads and branding materials

DA: What's next?

MR: "At the moment I'm working on few local design and illustration projects, one of which is a job of producing training material for the Dutch Police force which involves design, animation and infographics. It's nice and varied – just the way I like it."