To Kill A BlueBird

The Process of Branding Common Kin Bakery

January 17th, 2017

The branding for Common Kin was originally completed at Twin Forrest. This process article was first published on Medium and has only been slightly modified. A special thanks to Matt Yow for helping edit this article.

Meet Your Baker

Previously known as BlueBird Cupcakes, Twin Forrest worked with owners, Cindy and Josh, to rename their business as they began to shift towards a more mature menu and continue to expand their offerings. We set out to develop a brand that reflects the humble beginnings of a two person operation and their commitment to locally sourcing ingredients.

This article aims to not only showcase the process we went through in building the identity for Common Kin, but to also shed light on why each decision was made.

Table of Contents

Questionnaire & Brand Strategy

Our process always begins with an extensive questionnaire that we’ve developed to get past the surface and uncover our clients’ stories and recognize the needs of their customers. The questions aim to challenge our clients to think deeper about themselves, their business, and their goals.

The questionnaire plays an integral role in the branding process as it lays the foundation in which the brand strategy is built. It presents us with the opportunities to discover ways in which the brand can not only manifest but also grow or shift over time.

In the case of Common Kin, the questionnaire revealed Cindy and Josh’s commitment to locally sourcing their ingredients which became a stake in their brand identity.

Their pride in the relationships they’ve developed with neighboring farms and interest in further connecting with their customers informed their pastry labels. Knowing everything is made 100% from scratch and in small batches informed the union stamps. Their practice of using produce at its peak informed the decision to highlight their ingredients through icons.

Above everything, we always kept in mind Cindy and Josh’s goals and aspirations for Common Kin. We developed their brand identity to suit their current needs as a home-based bakery (taking on commissions and selling products at local markets), but we always ensured it’d remain robust enough to accommodate the needs of a brick and mortar business down the road.

A selection of local competitors

A paradox designers often succumb to is that in focusing so intently on being “different” from their competition, they indirectly follow the same trends and structures of those they’re trying to differ from. However, we’re deliberate to only make a brief note of the competition which exists so we simply know what exists.

Then we forget about them—because we believe a brand isn’t built on the sake of being different, but rather on the values, goals, and needs of the business itself.

“I think this is wonderful. I feel so relieved that you seem to understand us so well — it’s like magic. Very well written and cohesive brand strategy! WE’RE SO IN SYNC” —Cindy

The Naming Process

Truth be told, renaming BlueBird Bakery was up in the air since the beginning of the project, which is why we went through the entire brand strategy as though Cindy and Josh would continue conducting business under that name. We’d previously discussed the potential of renaming the bakery with them and they were certainly open to the idea, but as we know so well, it’s typical for clients to say they’re open to an idea when really they’re not.

That wasn’t exactly the case with Cindy and Josh. While they would have been comfortable keeping the name, Cindy had expressed her fear that BlueBird already feels dated and would only continue to age — and not in a good way.

Knowing that we had a chance to help them develop a new business name that’s more reflective of them, their business, and their goals, we set out to make them feel confident in leaving BlueBird behind in the pursuit of a new name.

Pre-existing BlueBird businesses

While Cindy and Josh are a very local driven bakery, we shared the above list with them to help demonstrate the generality of the name and show that they deserve something better. This list only shows a portion of baking-related companies using the name BlueBird and doesn’t include the plethora of other BlueBird businesses. We had even stumbled across an article titled How to Name Your Baking Business which uses BlueBird Ice Cream as an example. It goes without saying that a new name was worth exploring.

Where to start?

Rather than barreling into name ideas, we followed a stream of consciousness and began with writing down words we pulled directly from the original questionnaire, associations with baking, and since Matt Yow is also from the Raleigh area, he made note of North Carolina and local references. The point of generating these wordlists wasn’t to give us any specific names, but rather serve as the foundation that’d inform our thinking as we moved forward.

The benefit of generating a wordlist like this is that you’re beginning with a divergent mindset, and by tangentially following your thoughts, you’re creating the opportunity for unexpected connections to form later.

Presenting Names

When finally exploring and generating name ideas, the most important thing you have to do is stop caring and let loose. It’s too easy to get caught up in trying to find the right name, but in trying to find the perfect name it becomes extremely easy to inhibit your ability to actually think of any names. As is the case with most aspects of life, you have to dig through a lot of bad to get to the good.

So that’s what we did, we shamelessly explored names regardless of their actual potential and ended up with roughly 200 names to sort through.

As we reflected on the names, basic categories began to naturally surface and became the primary sources of discussion and exploration.

“Bakery Bakery” is a personal favorite

We battled with whether we should share a large list of categorized names or if we should only share a small list of names that we’ve curated. In the end, we decided to share the large list of names (see image above) to help display our thought process, and at the end we placed emphasis on a small list of name proposals we felt most strongly about (see image below).

By including names beyond our smaller list of suggestions, we were able to open up conversations with Cindy and Josh and further get to the heart of what their hopes are for their business and thus what the name should be. It was becoming more and more evident that name needed to feel good natured, inviting, and reminiscent of family.

After discussing the second round of naming with Cindy and Josh, as well as internally, we had reduced the names down to 3 options:

  1. All Good Things
  2. Bellwether
  3. Common Kin

While we tend to check for general availability of names throughout the process to save ourselves time later on, it’s at this point that we look deeper into each name to explore if they have any level of dilution.

As we further research our name options, it’s important that we investigate whether or not any of the names we’re considering have any sort of dilution to them. We do this by checking their availability on the web, legalities in regards to trademarks and copyright, as well as general name affiliations. We want to land on a name that you can own, build credibility behind, and ultimately feel proud of.

One issue which consistently came up with All Good Things is that from one perspective it’s happy and cheerful, but from another perspective it can easily carry a negative connotation, e.g. “all good things must come to an end.” You may also be asking, what’s the “all good things trailer?” It’s a 2010 mystery/crime, romantic film featuring Ryan Gosling and Kirsten Dunst which also makes it even more difficult to own as a name.

While Bellwether has a nice ring to it, and Cindy and Josh may want to become leaders or trend-setters within the field of baking, the name itself was too distant from the home/family quality they desired. In the end, we all felt strongly about Common Kin because it possessed a sincerity to it and carries the connotations of shared family and friends.

“I think [Common Kin] works with downtown Raleigh’s vibe, the community of like-minded people that share a common interest in good food. Also, the larger community of bakers like us, trying to bring the art of pastry and bread making back to life. Also it sounds super inviting, and southern without being annoying. And old-timey. And catchy. And folky.” —Cindy

“For me Common Kin invokes this strong sense of family which for whatever reason keeps coming up in my mind as very important. Not just actually family but the relational family a good business is built upon — be it the customers or the suppliers and farmers we work with.” —Josh

Building an Identity

Similar to the naming process, the identity process is similar in the sense that it begins with relentless exploration. All of the ideas and sketches are largely informed by the brand strategy but we leave room to venture outside of our own expectations. We defined the following creative brief to serve as our guiding force:

The branding for Common Kin will pay homage to their roots as a two person operation and home-based bakery — the utmost of humble sacrifice, dedication, and gratitude. You aren’t a customer of Common Kin, you’re a friend, because Common Kin is less about exchanges happening and more about the connections being made. The pastries simply provide the medium in which friendships are formed, and the branding should feel exactly like that: Like a friend you can trust, have fun with, ask questions, look to for advice, and is always looking out for your best interest.

Concept 1: Good Harvest

This concept derives from what the farmer sees and interacts with. It’s rooted in vintage packaging, traditional print, and raw material. There’s a utilitarian touch juxtaposed against a very fresh and lively atmosphere — similar to the relationship between the tools and the cultivation of land.

While the farmer is full of knowledge and experience, they’re just as approachable and eager to share everything they know. The visual elements are informed by old seed and vegetable catalogues, vintage packaging, and give structure to elegance.

Custom drawn “Common Kin” paired with Ridley Grotesk

Rather than focusing on a singular logo mark, we were interested in creating a unique logotype that could reduce down to a monogram that could effectively function as a logo mark.

Logotype condensed into a monogram

Ridley Grotesk paired with Pensum Pro

In our presentations, we’re aiming to not only contextualize the brand but showcase characteristics of it. The image above for example intended to give Cindy and Josh a feel for the accompanying typography while the image below further showcases that typography but also introduces an illustration style we were pitching.

Ridley Grotesk paired with Pensum Pro

While this concept had potential, we weren’t quite wanting to follow such a vintage inspired direction.

Concept 2: Literary Nostalgia

With this concept we explored castles as a common ground and a place of gathering kin. Through myth and abstraction, the castle as a symbol serves conceptually as an expression of literature, nostalgia, and storytelling.

Harmonia Sans paired with Bagnard

In addition to the proposed logotype and mark above, the following icon was pitched to be used as a secondary element that’d tie back to Sir Walter Raleigh’s Coat of Arms, and was a subtle play on the top of a pie.

Cindy and Josh were quick to move past this concept because it was too medieval and lacked the raw and authentic feel they were looking for.

Concept 3: Literary Nostalgia Variant

Stemming from a similar root as the previous, this concept was more so inspired by charm and nostalgia of children’s books. However, this concept doesn’t take a childish approach, instead it draws on children’s books legibility, impeccable hierarchy, story telling, simple illustrations, memorable quality, and overall ability to capture a personality.

While there was a lot of potential in this concept, the execution bordered a vintage, knockoff Panera-like aesthetic — far from what we wanted. With that being said, there were elements within this concept that stood out and we were able to build upon and use elsewhere. Specifically speaking, the logotype as well as the individual ingredient motifs.

Custom drawn “Common Kin” paired with Pensum Pro

Border tiles can be used to communicate and distinguish pastry types, flavors, and ingredients from one another.

Finding Direction

In our initial round of exploration, we explored three very different ideas, but moving forward we narrowed our focus to one. Taking into consideration our conversations along the way, we further developed the third concept which previously featured the ornamental borders.

We moved away from the use of borders completely, and instead focused on refining the logotype, typographic system, color palette, and iconography. Our goal heading into this round of development was to maintain modernity whilst remaining approachable, hand-made, and local.

Updates to the logotype included better letter spacing, refined curves to the “C” and “O,” slightly taller small caps, and setting Bakery in Ridley Grotesk.

During the process of refining the logotype, we worked on building out the additional elements of the brand to further define how the brand not only looked but also functioned.

Typographic hierarchy, sparing use of color, and the custom dot pattern seen below became a few of the anchors of Common Kin’s identity. We decided to use the Novel type family, including serif and sans-serif versions, so that typography across the brand perfectly complemented one another. Novel’s humanist and grotesque qualities give it a perfect mix of quirky and professional—exactly what we were looking for.

Pastry labels inspired by Everlane’s transparent philosophy.

Cindy and Josh locally source their ingredients from nearby farms, and it’s this commitment to keeping things small and local which makes them so special. It only made sense to design their pastry labels to be reflective of this — we wanted them to be informative and personal; allowing customers to see where the main ingredients are coming from.

Rather than printing the pastry labels and other material on stock white paper, we pitched the idea of using French Paper’s Standard White Kraft. Often times a difficulty of working with small clients is that they’re hesitant to invest in the little details such as using high quality paper, however, this wasn’t the case with Common Kin.

They could resonate with the fact that French Paper is a small, six generation paper manufacturing company who produces their paper in the U.S., and are environmentally conscious with their processes. Cindy and Josh were able to connect with them as a business, and also understood the value in paper. If they’re hands-on and natural with their business, their collateral should be the same.

Original ingredient icon drawings

While the direction for Common Kin’s identity dramatically changed from the borders concept that it was originally deriving from, we rescued and repurposed the ingredient motif. Rather than repeating an individual icon to create a decorative border, we instead isolated them denote either the primary ingredient of an item or indicate its flavor.

Final ingredient icons

Source: Printers and Technology, A History of the International Printing Pressmen and Assistants’ Union, by Elizabeth Faulkner Baker

Towards the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, union labels were becoming more widely used and recognized to indicate that products came from a company where employees were represented by the labor union. In a similar effect, we developed two local labels to indicate to customers that all of their products are made in small batches, from scratch, and by hand with locally sourced ingredients.

The second lockup in specific largely derives from the original IPPU label but the print roller was substituted for the rolling pin.

Along side pastries, ice cream, and other delicious foods, Cindy and Josh sell a variety of homemade jams, preserves, and spreads. Considering they aren’t mass producing these products, we needed to come up with a label solution that was customizable.

By using tags, nothing other than their logo needed to be printed on the jar itself. In allowing the jar to be stripped down to just the Common Kin logo, customers may feel more inclined to keep the jar and reuse it—becoming a product in and of itself.

Additionally, Cindy and Josh could create an incentive for customers to bring their jars back to fill up with coffee at a discounted price or return the jar entirely for a discount on their next jar purchase—essentially creating a rewards system that promoted and incentivized recycling.

Sample of label iterations and test prints

Our initial solution of hangable tags held a ton of potential, but it required Cindy and Josh to print new labels for each flavor which simply wasn’t the customizable nature we were intending, not to mention the fact that they held the risk of being easily damaged or lost.

The label’s content is naturally asymmetrical so the logotype isn’t directly centered to optically balance the negative space.

Furthermore, food label laws revealed that the product name/flavor needs to be positioned on the front of the label, there needs to be room for ingredients to be listed, container size must be displayed, and an address of where it was produced must also be included. Needless to say, we put the hanging labels to rest.

Developing the Logo Mark

Our initial exploration of the logo mark largely revolved around natural elements of leaves and flowers. The issue we faced with this direction was that it needed to be stylistically different from the ingredients icons but in being distinct from them the logo mark began to distance itself from the identity at large. We eventually decided to abandon this direction in search for something more personal.

We were interested in adding an additional human element to the brand because so far it lacked that direct reflection of who they are — people.

We were fascinated with the idea of using hands because they’re personal without being too personal, and directly reflect the hands on quality of their baked goods.

We shared the four hands above with Cindy and Josh and were transparent in telling them we weren’t sold on any of the ones we were presenting. Despite knowing that none of these were “the one,” we shared them any way so we could at least confirm that the concept was worth exploring.

The shield contours were intended to pay homage to Sir Walter Raleigh’s Coat of Arm and help communicate a sense of trust, but we agreed with them in that the shield came off as rather medieval — something we were trying to veer away from. Aside from the shield, Cindy and Josh were both really keen on the idea and so we continued to push it further.

Logo mark v.1

The original hand explorations sought to develop a unique illustrative style that could be carried out elsewhere in the brand, however, this was simply distancing it from the overall identity. In revising the hand, we focused on creating a mark which felt more connected to the logotype and complemented the ingredient icons without being homogenous.

Logo mark v.2

It was integral that the logo mark could work at small sizes not only for business cards but for stamps as well. The counters inside the the fingers were opened up and sharp details in the shadows were soften to allow ink to naturally bleed when it’s printed.

“I absolutely love the hand icon. I think the combination of wheat, the flower and the leaf is perfect. It’s representative of our products and it’s so lovely. It looks great in both colors and the color combo. It evokes the exact feeling I was looking for. It’s PERFECT!” —Cindy

Final logo mark

Previous BlueBird Cupcakes website

Web & Photography

In case it’s not obvious, Cindy and Josh were in dire need of a new website. We designed a Squarespace site so they could easily let customers know what markets they could find them at, showcase their seasonal menus, and sell their small-batch, packaged goods.

In addition to developing Common Kin’s identity and website, we ventured up to Raleigh, NC to meet Cindy and Josh, and photograph them and some of their products at Blue Whistler—one of the local farms they frequently source ingredients from.

“Twin Forrest revolutionized our small business. They developed a new name for us, created a new image for us, revamped our branding, and most importantly, improved how we interact with customers. The team was easy to communicate with, quick to respond, and endlessly accommodating. We were so impressed with their ability to listen to us and translate that into a design that reflects us and our goals. Twin Forrest created something far better than we thought possible.” —Cindy

If you’ve made it here, you’ve likely read through this lengthy article, and for that we thank you. Working with Cindy and Josh was extremely fun, and we’re always grateful to have the opportunity to work such a variety of clients—large and small.

I wrote this in hopes that you find something of value from our identity process or at least think about it a little differently, so if you found this process article helpful let me know on Twitter.

Filed under: Design, Process, Work

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