The Bonnie Neon Signs of Denver’s Bonnie Brae

23.07.19

You’re walking along on a hot summer day and feel a craving coming on. The ‘ol sweet tooth. Panicked, with your very survival at stake, your eyes search for the first hit of sugar available. If you’re a mile within Bonnie Brae Ice Cream in Denver you’re in luck, because you’ll see this sign from a distance:

If you’re into visually rich signage, a quick scan of South Denver neighborhood Bonnie Brae will give you the feels. It sure did for us. We are a design studio born in Scotland that’s since moved out West, with an affinity for vintage visual culture.Therefore, we love stumbling on visual gems that tie us to home.

…And tied to home it is. Surprisingly, this hood isn’t called Bonnie Brae (“pleasant hill” in Gaelic) for nothing. According to the neighborhood’s historical record, it got its name when a 1920’s developer “strived to recreate the aura of peaceful Scottish village in Denver”. Tissue, please. We’re crying.

The neons are lit and the ice cream is handmade. So, what could be better? For designers who love to incorporate neon into logotypes ourselves (like our logo for Pretend Lovers above), nothing. Want to talk about getting your own bonnie neon sign or logo? You can sit down with us at Bonnie Brae Tavern, established in 1934.

O Street, buy me a pizza.

Five takeaways from the Craft Brewers Conference

30.04.19

As you might have heard, we don’t just drink beer. No, our relationship with the beautiful brew is much deeper than that. You might call it our muse. But our inspiration doesn’t just come from guzzling the stuff down—we also take to putting ourselves in the shoes of brewers to better serve them.

So when the Craft Brewers Conference came to Denver, our resident American put on his coolest hat and braved the booths to see what’s happening in the industry. Here are our five takeaways from #CBC2019:


1 Ingredients matter.

The Denver Convention Center is a scary big place and the floor was crawling with farmers and salespeople pushing hops and barley. With the big names in craft brewing now available in Colorado supermarkets and ever-increasing consumer consciousness, brewers have got to be picky with what they put in their beer. The moustached dude dropping $6 for a can at his local shop cares where those hops come from and we designers need to help brewers put that information front-and-center.


2 The merch game has transcended simple branding.

In an overwhelming space, it was Brist MFG’s booth that really caught our eye—and for good reason. Their quality hats (given away for free!) and 90s throw-back Hawaiian shirts, gave off relaxed, too-cool vibes in an otherwise sterile space. Think about how this applies to your brewery’s merchandise: cheap logo t-shirts are no longer enough. Felt baseball caps, real flannels, technical hoodies and other quality wares should be in your future if you want today’s consumers to hit the town sporting your logo.


3 Quality print finishes are still the exception.

Surprisingly, quality still doesn’t seem to be the norm with packaging. Although some craft brewers work with artists and designers to push boundaries, most of what we saw on the floor at CBC was pushing efficient but uninteresting print finishes and can wraps. Just like with fine food, you don’t simply experience it with your taste buds. You also drink it in with your eyes and feel it with your hands. As long as you can work within the bounds of regulations, it looks like there’s plenty of room in the craft space to do something special with packaging.


4 Look up from your phone.

It’s the bane of our times, isn’t it? We met some amazing people, formed meaningful business connections and learned a lot in just a couple hours at CBC. One interaction really stands out though: one that didn’t happen. A company threw a lot of money at a booth, only to be squandered by their representatives sitting down to stare at their phones (they were middle-aged men, by the way, don’t blame the millennials). This is less about brewing than a general reminder that engagement is a human phenomenon and nobody is safe from apathy if you let it waltz in through the front door.


5 There’s just a LOT going on.

Hops. Barley. Water. Kegs. Cleaning systems. Brewing technology. Label printing. Regulations. In-house canning. Marketing. Merchandise. Branding. Sustainability. Brewing is not a simple endeavor; you could spend three days at CBC and still fall well short of stopping by every booth. It’s sort of like running a brewery, actually: there’s just more to do than you have time for. So, pick your battles and delegate what you can. May we humbly suggest design?

Is Logo Design Dead?

08.02.19

A social media post made a splash when designer Mirko Ilic posted an image featuring the vintage logotypes of several famous fashion brands alongside their new logos. His caption simply read, “Interesting logos are being replaced with boring ones. This are the people why are destroying respect for graphic design.”

The post immediately caught fire and was soon being debated across the internet and mentioned in industry leading podcasts such as The Observatory. Reactions tend to fall into two camps:

1 The redesigns are legible, in the tradition of Modernism, and that’s dandy.
2 Graphic design is dead.

We’d like to propose a third option:

3 Brands used to set themselves apart with a logo, but now they’re now differentiating themselves in new and interesting ways.

First, a look at the two initial camps. With its roots in Bauhaus universalism, capital-M Modernism—not to be confused with its generalized cousin ‘contemporary’—stresses legibility. In typography, this tends to express itself in simple, geometric sans-serif typefaces. With Modernism, creativity is thrown in the trash in favor of simplicity and straightforward communication. It’s all KISS (Keep It Stupid Simple), a tagline thrown around so much you don’t need to look far to see it in the comments for this debate:

Modernism has its place in design history, but it’s important to remember that it was a specific movement in the arts and advertising. While there are Modernist principles that will live forever, practicing Modernism like it’s 1960 has become an aesthetic; a statement in and of itself. Many of us are just suckers for its legacy, look, and feel. Some days I’m one of them.

But we have this other camp to contend with: graphic design is DEAD. Burn your black turtleneck and dig your grave.

For many designers, what makes them relevant is their creativity. They’re just as much artists as they are communicators, and graphic design is their opportunity to make a mark on the world. To apply that unique artistry to a brand, and set them apart from their competitors, is the best thing you can do for said brand. Postmodern design took the rigid rules of Modernism and burned them, and in their eyes, for good reason.

Sadly, in these designers’ eyes, brands are embracing cheap Modernist tricks, and buying easy sans serif logos for five bucks. Lazy designers are selling them boring crap, and killing the industry with ‘blanding’.

There’s your two camps.

At O Street we straddle a line between these two theories of practice. Sometimes, you’ve just got to communicate something so nobody shoots their eye out. Break out the Modernism. At other times, we’re itching to dig into our messy art supplies or crazy 3D digital skills, and it’s also the right thing for the client. So, we ride the line between chaos and order. Let’s call it the Design Tao.

What’s most important for us Design Taoists® is asking: “why?”. No matter the brief, the best solution starts with this simple question.

And there’s a big “why” with this logo debate. Something is driving brands to embrace these simple redesigns, so what gives? This brings us to our theory, or third camp: as brand touch-points get more interesting, logos simply hold less weight.

During the age of Modernism, all brands pretty much had the same ways of reaching their audiences. It was the quintessential ‘brand’:

– Business cards
– Letterhead
– Print advertising, and later television advertising
– Interior design

Today, it’s probably more like:

– Handheld video content
– Personal social media engagement
– Five second Youtube ads before someone hits ‘skip’
– Spacial design, specific to events and ‘happenings’ for maximum impact

Now, obviously people and brands still hand out business cards now and then, and it’s wise to have a card that’s considered and well made (call us if you want one!). But the landscape has changed, and the terrain where most engagement happens is totally foreign to the design world of decades past.

Brands have realized that logos are no longer the key identifier of their brand: interactions, digital and personal, now reign supreme. For a modern day brand operating on the world stage, a static and stable—that is, boring—logo may be necessary so that crazy things can happen on the periphery where the engagement is at. For every designer who’s sad they’re not being paid to make crazy logos, there’s a very happy designer out there making crazy motion graphics and video content.

An example from the post that set off this debate is Burberry. Their old logo was elegant and iconic. Their new one? Boring as heck; the unveiling even included incredibly self-aware email screenshots about how quickly it was made.

What’s not boring as heck is the accompanying pattern, arguably ugly but certainly not stale. The ways that it will be applied are dynamic, exciting, and interesting. The logo itself? An afterthought.

So there’s our third camp argument: logos are just being swept aside for more interesting audience interactions. Of course, we could be wrong. Maybe brands are just skimping on quality design so they can use up their budgets on celebrity Instagram posts.

We’d rather not be wrong, but if we are, you can bet we’ll ask: “why?”

How to Brew a Brand

07.11.18

Beer. Our studio has an undying love for the craft. We’ve been known to swing by Fyne Ales for a brewery tour and a wee keg or two of ale. Our team has been caught up first-hand in the wonder of the scenery, the care of their community and the craft of their beer.

The question is, how do you communicate that wonder to someone deciding what to drink at the pub or shop? That’s exactly what Fyne Ales asked us to do when they needed a rebrand. Through their own extensive consumer and market research, they’d realised that their beer owned a ‘safe’ supermarket perception.

We set out to change that.

Beginning our design process by taking a brewery residency on the farm itself, we spent time with the Fyne Ales family. What became clear was that their brand didn’t fully reflect the story and ethos that we found on the farm. And it’s not only us that saw it that way—much of the team felt like the brand wasn’t bold enough, it was inconsistent, and that the traditional style really didn’t match the exciting things going on in the mash tuns.

What we found was a family company rooted in their place in the world, with a growing community and two eyes on the future of craft brewing. Immersing ourselves in the brewery meant we had firsthand research to draw on when it came time to leave the wellies at the door and take things to the studio desk for a design-led workshop.

The emerging theme was clear: be yourselves.

Not to oversimplify, but we really believe that’s it. Fyne Ales is in the heart of Scotland. They are a family. They make real craft beer with care and integrity. In this era, the key to success is to wholly be themselves. As the poet and environmentalist Gary Snyder wrote: “Find your place on the planet. Dig in and take responsibility from there.” The trick for us—and this brand—was to represent that visually.

With research and values in place, we could get to the the fun bit: the creative. We played around with rebuilding the FA logo in seemingly endless different ways. Before long, there was a favourite—a confident ‘FA’ drawn from planks of wood. Fyne Ales is a brewery on a working farm: a Farm Brewery. We made it a cornerstone of the identity.

Putting this creative concept to work, we built a full brand identity that started at the barn door and evolved to include textures and patterns from the substance of the brewery—from keg pallets to cowpats. This library of patterns is one that can continue to be built upon as long as there’s interesting objects to be found on the farm (which there will be, until the end of time).

The resulting brand system was borne by crafting and testing designs—from choosing brand typography that works for long or short beer names, to balancing the hierarchy of a bold brand presence alongside a clear beer name, and a rich background of textures.

Building a brand is more than creating something that looks cool. It’s delivering a comprehensive suite of assets that conveys story, setting and dedication of the craft to every person that touches it.

As for the finished packaging? Well, you can see that in all its glory here.