This time last year, I wrote a piece for Entrepreneur discussing 17 craft driven logos. Though a beautiful and well-crafted mark is well worth praising, for most business owners and entrepreneurs embarking on the design process, though they may commission a logo, what they’re often seeking is a brand. Because the brand, not the logo is what consumers ultimately interact with, where they fall in love, and the reason they stick around. One of the most common ironies of design – the role of which is to make everyday experiences easier and more intuitive – is the lack of clarity in design terminology. Since things can get quite fuzzy in design speak, what exactly does it mean for a business to commission a logo, a brand identity or a brand?
A logo is the actual mark that makes a company identifiable, much as given names give people a place in the world. A brand is a company’s purpose, visualized; it is the heart and soul, encapsulating the truth of the business in a desirable way. Lastly, a brand identity is the expression of a business, and can be flexible and evolutionary, changing as the business grows, like style. Many of the strongest brands are built by leaders who recognize that brand building is not just about a logo; instead it’s about utilizing the full breadth of design and design thinking to add flesh to their business, transforming it into something that seems to come to life of its own accord. To help illustrate the point, here are five examples of brands big and small that have used design to go beyond a great mark to create truly robust brands.
The People’s Supermarket
Though this community coop in London may be modeled after Brooklyn’s own Park Slope Food Coop, The People’s Supermarket didn’t adopt its crunchy aesthetic. Instead, their branding showcases the democratic and communal nature of the market in a desirable way. The brand’s tagline, “For the people, by the people,” is emphasized by an approachable sunny-yellow color palette that extends across their products, marketing materials and offshoot brands, like The People’s Kitchen and The People’s Café. And the cleverest part? The hole punch shape above their word mark is an intentional design tool; a memorable mark representing the modesty and democracy of a common marketplace that can also be used to hang packaged goods. All told, The People’s Supermarket’s brand is bold, impactful and enticing, creating a desirable expression for the cooperative food movement.
The Girl + The Bull
A great restaurant shouldn’t need incredible design to help it shine; its food should do the shining for it. That said, when a restaurant combines great food and great design, that’s a place worth spending time. The Girl + The Bull is a restaurant in the Philippines whose branding not only reflects the warmth of Chef’s Gab and Thea’s cooking, but also the connection between a Chef and their ingredients. Hand crafted silhouettes of a girl and a bull face off on stationary and menus, reminding consumers of the connection between the provenance of their food and the talented people who make it. Classical etching brings a homey feel to the brand’s illustrations and food photography brings the brand collateral to life. As an added touch, the website uses tiny bits of film to bring it to life, creating a moving quality that makes you feel as if you are sitting in a friend’s kitchen. Combine the warmth of the brand and the caliber of the food and you’ve got a winning combination.
Credit: Serious Studio
As cities are multifaceted by nature, creating a brand for one is no easy task. And with a city as culturally and politically diverse as Melbourne, one size does not fit all. The design system for Melbourne is a great example of the head, heart and soul approach to branding. By creating a flexible system that is both recognizable and malleable enough to encompass the range of city’s needs, the brand can evolve as the city evolves around it. An edgy “M” changes color and pattern for each city initiative, government entity or program, and the geometric style that roots these patterns extends beyond the logo as a secondary language on signage, collateral and advertisements. The system in its entirety acts as both a guide to visitors, allowing them to recognize the presence of the city’s efforts, and a reminder to residents that Melbourne is a unified city and a lively place to live. In its breadth, the branding for Melbourne portrays the city as vibrant, modern and progressive, something few cities wouldn’t covet.
Makers & Merchants
Designers often hear the words “make the logo bigger,” but the best brands are palpable even if they’re not overt. Makers & Merchants is a range of food and home goods made in partnership with artisans around the world. The challenge for a project like this is how to unify so many different products in a way that is ownable, without losing the integrity and uniqueness of each crafted item. To address this challenge, instead of creating just one look and feel for the portfolio, Makers & Merchant’s branding is diverse, exploring different patterns, textures and styles, all unified by a strict red color palette. This allows the brand to take on bits and pieces of the heritage or inspiration behind each product without stepping outside the bounds of the portfolio, proving that ranges don’t necessarily need to brand block – a design tactic for creating shelf impact using graphics that appear to travel from pack to pack – or to be noticed. And that “make the logo bigger” nonsense? Well, if you look closely enough, you’ll spy Makers & Merchants’ modest silver logo discreetly placed on each pack.
Mast Brothers Chocolate
For what started out as a small family run business based in Brooklyn, Mast Brothers Chocolate have built an incredibly strong brand. The heart of their business is differentiated from their marketplace competitors – no frilly indulgent candy bars here, the Mast Brothers consider chocolate to be food, and they take their food seriously. To represent this, their logo is spare and simple; the copy that surrounds the brand speaks to the science, sourcing, and craft behind their products, and their packaging makes each chocolate bar seem a work of art. Every pattern is unique to the flavor it is wrapped around and references the chocolate’s creation, though often somewhat discreetly. For example, a bar made in conjunction with Stumptown Coffee a few years back was adorned with a pattern of bicycles as a tribute to the bike loving culture shared between Stumptown’s founding city, Portland, Oregon, and Brooklyn. Their duo’s new collab features vintage motorcycles, another shared cultural commonality. To add even more authenticity to an already earnest brand, the packaging is also invisibly tied to family heritage, as family members, friends and staff design many of their beautiful patterns. All great companies must grow, but Mast Brothers has smartly retained its brand throughout expansion. Their new Brooklyn brew bar for example, “dedicated to the craft of brewed chocolate beverages,” incorporates the beloved Mast Brothers patterns, which adorn cups and packaging and pleasantly offset the otherwise spare aesthetic.
Credit: Mast Brothers
Though each of these examples is incredibly different from the next, they all showcase the power of a great brand idea richly expressed through strategic design thinking. So, the next time you consider commissioning a logo for your business, remember that it is actually a well-executed brand that brings your business’s personality to life and drives an emotional connection with your consumers.
Originally published in Entrepreneur Magazine