Case Study by Nayla Yehia RGD
Grand Hotel d’Abidjan is a 3-star hotel has been around since 1956 with a colonial architecture and an Art Deco aesthetic. The hotel was set to undergo a major renovation, requiring a new brand identity that would maintain the colonial character to distinguish it from the ultra modern international hotel chains in the area and to avoid alienating its existing clientèle. The client discovered a branded 40-year-old bar menu cover in a drawer and requested the new identity be an uplift of the old brand elements.
I delved into books on the Art Deco era to learn more about it, get inspired and extract the necessary information for tackling this project.
On a family vacation in San Francisco in 2004, I visited an exhibition entitled Art Deco: 1910-1939 at the Legion of Honor, where I picked up the catalog by C. Benton, T. Benton and G. Wood. This book became my bible which I consulted for everything Art Deco. What I found interesting were the beautiful posters and ads that show us how graphic designers were approaching lettering, typefaces and illustrations in this abstract, geometric style. Gestalt principles were being applied to create the more minimal compositions that became very characteristic of the later era.
The Art Deco aesthetic evolved over several decades, beginning with depiction of historical styles and exotic cultures and developing into linear abstractions and reductions of forms, reflecting the modern, futurist age of the industrialization and mass production. The result is a geometric treatment of patterns, typefaces, illustration and industrial design.
For this project, the content of the illustrations was inspired by early Art Deco, while the style, patterns and typography were guided by the later geometric forms.
The old bar menu discovered by the client had the GRAND HOTEL logo set in a geometric Art Deco inspired typeface, "LE BAR" in another geometric, extended sans, in addition to parallel lines, chevrons and symmetrical geometric forms. It had a palette of warm colours, which were actually very fitting to the Ivory Coast's climate and landscape.
I kept the original logo but did a structural uplift; I chose Century Gothic for the corporate typeface because it was free, geometric and had crossbars that were either a little higher or lower than the x-height centre, which gives typefaces that Art Deco character; I created a library of patterns using elements such as fountains, sunbursts, chevrons and ziggurats that were popular during the Art Deco era. Lastly, I maintained three of the four colours in the bar menu sleeve for the corporate colour palette.
I presented the client with these basic elements and showed how they would be applied on the stationery. After receiving the client’s feedback, which required some very minor changes, and approval of the overall brand feel, I proceeded to design the remaining applications. In doing so, new elements were added to the brand identity. For example, the limited space on the pencil demonstrated a need for a shorthand logo version: an abbreviated GH was established. The menu covers required some brand hierarchy, as they belonged to the sub-brand "L'Exotique," which is the hotel's bar-restaurant. Hence, I created a separate wordmark and strap line for them.
When I set out to brand the various applications such as the menu covers, door hanger, coaster and matchbox, I had the opportunity to develop a more playful and elaborate illustration style, and the three-tone colour palette became very limiting. To solve this, I created a rule for the branding: only the patterns, which featured on the corporate stationery, uniforms and upholstery, would adhere to the three-tone colour palette, and the illustrations found in other applications would not follow any specific colour palette, but would not have more than three tones.
The only challenge in the project was keeping the production costs within the client’s budget. As I was supervising the production, I had to go about this by taking actions like changing the choice of paper, substituting the silver hot stamp for Pantone Silver on some applications, or searching for another supplier altogether.
1. Get the full picture of the brand before locking in an identity and accommodate for future growth.
It's helpful to get a good idea of the full project scope and the brand architecture before locking in the brand identity in order to account for design hierarchy and for sub-brands. Always ask the client how they might expand or develop the brand so that you can create a flexible system that accommodates future growth. In the case of Grand Hotel, the bar-restaurant was an entity within the larger brand called "L'Exotique," for which I created a separate wordmark and an exotic theme for the menus sleeves.
2. Choose sustainable production techniques
If you are looking to use special production techniques, make sure they are physically and economically feasible across all the applications. When the silver hotstamp in the Grand Hotel logo hiked the production costs or was not possible in some applications, I switched it out for the Pantone Silver. For the L'Exotique menus, I knew in advance that the client would be printing the inserts on A4 copy paper using a desktop printer, and then hold-punching them. So I chose special screws for the hard-cover menus and an elastic band for the soft-cover menu to bind the sheets.
3. Test across varied applications to ensure consistency.
When you create your design system, test it across a handful of very different applications to make sure it functions well on each application. In cases where it doesn't work, ask yourself if there is a solution to make it work. For example, you might need an alternate version of the logo when your vertical space is limited. If you don't find a solution, then revisit some of your choices in the brand identity to make it more flexible. Consistency is important so that a brand remains recognizable and professional. It can be achieved by establishing rules in the brand identity and applying them to the best of your ability. Having said that, I always like to introduce "controlled variety" within the brand identity so that the brand doesn't get boring and is able to reinvent itself from time to time.