Welcome to Breather: a case study in better onboarding (PART 2)

Welcome to Breather: a case study in better onboarding (PART 2)

PART 2: Breather’s onboarding kit, a visual case study

Hi! I’m Katie Brioux, a Graphic Designer on the Creative Marketing team at Breather. I’m also the Department Ambassador (kind of an AMA title for new hires), and have a seat on the Culture Committee as an Advisor on the Values Team.
I got involved with onboarding because as a designer, I care about brand. But as a human, I care about people. Combined, it means what I care most about in my work is creating a meaningful and emotional takeaway.

Read about my onboarding explorations in PART 1 here.

1. Research and Kit Exploration

So just to recap PART 1, here is the basis of the construction of the Breather Employee Welcome Kit V.1

Katie’s onboarding hot tips! 🔥

  • Create a welcoming space for the new hire so that they feel appreciated, proud, and like they are a part of a team—right from Day 1.
  • Educate the new hire with all the information that they need to get started and feel confident and comfortable in their new environment.
  • Take them out for lunch! That should get to know their individual team and who they will be working closely with. (For this section, we’re just going to focus on 1, 2 and 4 since 3 is not directly part of the kit.)
  • Give them COOL STUFF.

Ok so if we simplify this a bit, it looks like this:

  • High quality welcome
  • Educate to inspire
  • Powerful swag
So this becomes the basis of the items in the kit.

Researching swag and welcome kits is not just about finding the best or cheapest branded water bottles and stickers, but about how the items in the kit can become a strong mix of the above breakdown, and have a more everlasting and positive impact on the new hire.

So we knew that we wanted the pieces to all be useful or reusable (high quality), to have a cultural aspect (educate to inspire), and also be fun (powerful swag)! It’s kind of a gift that you’re giving—so make it brag-worthy! (I love making presents, can you tell?)

Since we’re all about collaboration, I worked with my excellent coworker and production wizard, Christophe Ullens, the Production Designer on our team, to get inspired. We collected onboarding packages and photos of some interesting swag items from across the internet and IRL. We made a shortlist of a few key things that we definitely wanted to be in version one of the kit… and then an even shorter list of some nice to have items that we would put more research (and money) into for version two.

Typically, a company will give things like notebooks, tote bags, stickers, pens or pencils, t-shirts and keychains to get their new hire started.

Parallel to this project, we are working on several other “Kits” as add-on offerings to our Breather service, as well as some other secret swag ideas. A lot of the items in these different spheres overlap—which is great! It means that we can order larger quantities of the same item, and use them in several places.

OK—so we knew what we wanted in the kit. We priced everything out, made mockups, made a budget, presented our ideas and got approval from the execs! Here we go!

2. The Welcome Kit

We’ll start with the initial mood board to set the look and feel, and jump into some early mockups and explorations of the assembly.

Initial mood board (focus on VALUES)—

Final list of items to design/find supplier for V1—

Tote bag
Reusable folder
Breather tree sticker for your laptop
Welcome note
Breather Values Postcards
Information sheets

Breakdown and explanation of each piece in the kit—

Breather Values Postcards—

An early-ish mockup of the whole kit—

And the final result!—

Jan 2017 — The Breather Welcome Kit, V1!

BONUS! A little Breather logo sticker for your laptop, placed in the business card slot of the folder.

My two favourite things in this kit are the Welcome Note and the Values Postcards.

Welcome Note

The welcome note is sweet because it’s the only piece that gets personalized in the kit. The rest is generic so that it’s easy to assemble for a batch of new hires and works in all cities. It’s always nice to see your name hand-written on something that you know was put together just for you—so we wanted to make sure that there was a special element like that front and centre. Along with a nice welcome message, the Welcome Note offers an inspirational quote that’s tied to our values. We also use #breatherquotes on our Instagram that relate to both #work and #focus. Including these quotes means the social and motivational aspect of the brand is reflected at the earliest stage of a new employee’s career at Breather.

Design Notes
The Welcome Note is printed directly on 60lbs paper, in “Springhill Green.” This minty paper makes it stand out from all the other pieces in the kit. Also, it’s supa fly.

Values Postcards

The postcards feature each of our eight values and show off some of our beautiful room photography and detail shots. Designed with our full Breather colour palette and font combinations in print, these cards not only state our core values but give an implicit visual introduction to the design of the brand, beyond the homepage or the app. Putting the values onto a physical piece that occupies space on your new desk says, these things? They’re important.

Design Notes
We have 8 core values at Breather, so the Values Postcards are four cards recto-verso altogether. They’re printed on a medium matte cardstock that is soft and lovely, yet sturdy.

Christophe and I with the kit!

3. Challenges, scaling, and… the future!

An obvious challenge for us in onboarding, is that although we operate in 10 cities globally, we don’t have full offices in each of these cities. (Good thing we have awesome workspaces just about everywhere…) While our Montreal and New York City HQ’s have 83 and 35 employees, respectfully, some of our smaller cities only have three or four employees. Which means that not every employee gets a VIP-swag-bag-free-lunch-and-learn-intro-day-at-the-office. But that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t still feel like they’re a part of a team, and get the same welcome as anyone else.

In an effort to ensure that every employee’s onboarding experience is AT LEAST met with the same welcome package, Senior Manager of Talent Acquisition Frances, and Training & Quality Lead, Audrey, pre-packed Welcome Kits to send out to all our cities! This means that no matter where you are, you will receive the Breather Welcome Kit on your first day.

Frances and Audrey’s fierce Welcome Kit assembly line. No employee left behind!

While this effort is obviously fine for right now, what happens when we quadruple in size and open in 10 or 20 or 100 new cities across the world? How many employees will there be two years from now? The Onboarding Kit works as an introduction gift for Breather employees as of today. But soon it will need to be reassessed and redesigned—that’s just one of the realities of working at a startup! Things quickly become outdated. BUT, this doesn’t mean that it was all for naught.

The Breather Welcome Kit right now is Version 1, like I mentioned earlier, and it can only get better from here. Any iteration is only going to improve it and make it more high quality, more educational, more inspirational, and more empowering.

Onwards and upwards!



Over the past year, I have been slowly but surely building up the onboarding stuff with A TON of help from of other great people who also care about this as much as I do. Special shout-out to @frances, @phil.miller, @daveb, @audrey, @christophe, @sacha, and @vanda—THANK YOU! I could not have worked on this crazy thing without your support.

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