Blok helps bring unique coffee subscription service to life with personality-driven design

Case Study by Vanessa Eckstein RGD, Blok Design 

More than just a coffee subscription service, Mod Rec is a company with a unique philosophy that needed more than just a brand identity - they needed a partner to help build the business and bring their story to life. 



When we first met founders Nicole Scott and Jess Steffy, Mod Rec was just an idea and a business plan. But it was grounded in so much talent, expertise, passion and vision that we knew from our first conversation that this was a project we wanted to work on. It was love at first sight - a true meeting of values, passions and minds. 


Being astute business people, they had done their research and had interviewed many design firms but it was our chemistry and this intangible yet know-able and exciting sense of what we could do together that clinched the decision, for us as much as for them.


Any good design process has inherently, a deep mining of the values and the soulfulness of a company. To begin a process with openness and collaboration with a client will help define an identity that is more cohesive, more aligned and has an understanding of where the company is today and where it stands 10 years from now. That brings a depth and dimensionality to the identity that is truly unique.



The Client

Mod Rec is a coffee subscription service with a unique difference: they scour the world for the best small-batch roasters and ship the beans, freshly roasted and in original packaging, to their clients. The twist is that you never know what's coming; it could be from Iceland, Japan or Scotland. Each month is a surprise.


But what truly puts the company on a different level is the founders' philosophy. The company was founded by culture carriers with extraordinary backgrounds: Jess has judged and crowned most of Europe's top baristas and Nicole's background and work in Africa brings the idealism that defines their uniqueness. The founders are vehemently anti-artifice and anti-mass culture. Their intent is not just to be purveyors of great coffee beans but to be a portal into a world where realness, individualism and spontaneity reign supreme. Jess captured it perfectly when she said in our strategic brainstorm session, that Mod Rec was "for the woke". Thus, with each month, they set out to bring to their clients a sense of place and possibility, expanding their world through the art, music, experiences and culture of the coffee's city of origin.




Today, consumers are no longer being defined simply by their age bracket or economic status. They are being defined by their value sets. Brands have learned that if they can align themselves with the values of their audiences, the reward is a longer and more loyal relationship.


Mod Rec's founders had done their research to identify their optimum target. The group, which is called 'Neos' is defined by three key qualities:

  • Their belief in quality and their willingness to spend money for things that offer enduring value, regardless of their economic status.
  • Their desire for new: experiences, culture, art, music that surprises and delights them. Neos get bored easily.
  • Their need for bragging rights; they discovered it first.

Understanding these values and emotional needs was critical to unlocking how we would shape the brand identity and voice and the many required elements, particularly the experience of the packaging itself.



The scope of the project was wide. It included Strategic Mining to identify Mod Rec's differentiating brand story and voice; development of the brand identity; a packaging system; sourcing a packaging provider (a challenge given that their audience is global and quality and economics needed to be perfectly aligned); establishing an art directorial vision for photography; and marketing ideas to enhance the founder's original idea, build consumer interest and ultimately foster loyalty.


With the 'Neo' audience as our guiding light, we set out to create an identity that would serve as a window into Mod Rec's unique philosophy of living. We aimed to seduce this audience with an attitude and experience that would keep them off guard and on their toes.



The bold wordmark frames the experience, while language, colour and pattern unite to evoke the off-beat journey of discovery that awaits subscribers.


Photography was a critical component in bringing Mod Rec's irreverent voice to life. We worked with Montreal-based Jimmi Francoeur, giving him the freedom to express the brand through real people in real situations. Documenting life, emotions and moments.


Given that each month's coffee bean offering would be a surprise, we made the decision to hold back on revealing the roaster's identity on the site, using social media to tease audiences with clues to the location and then unveiling the name just prior to ordering time.


Continuing the sense of discovery was equally as important for the packaging. The entire team wanted the experience of receiving and opening the box to be embedded with the same delicious sense of anticipation and delight that you remembered as a child when opening a present on Christmas morning. Keeping the box deliberately nondescript, we designed a series of labels, one for each of the roasters, that would offer intriguing clues to the roaster's location. For example, one label lists all the street names leading to the roaster; another lists all the words for coffee occasions in the language of the roaster's country; another offers GPS co-ordinates and on another we featured directions on how to walk from the subway to the café.


These clues are supported by language that continues to build the sense of the unexpected through phrases such as, "non-linear direct journey". In fact, the writing tone used throughout forms the critical third in the triumvirate of photography and identity that truly gives Mod Rec its singular, deliciously witty and highly irreverent presence in the world.



The final ask was a website, the hub of their business. We worked with an outside development company with expertise in Shopify, brought in by Mod Rec, to design the site and write content. We normally work with companies and developers outside of our studio and the way to ensure a healthy collaboration is to clearly define the roles of each company and the expectations we all have with each other and for the project. Fluid communication is essential, as well as a willingness to listen to each other and alignment on high standards to make sure we live up to the possibilities of a project.


The website experience needed to be more than just an e-commerce site, it needed to be a seamless extension of the brand's witty voice. The home page became an in-your-face challenge and invitation, hinting at the subscription service through phrases like, "a year of insanely good coffee" while directing users to the right content through links embedded in the sentence itself.


Mod Rec's voice is carried through every aspect of the sell, from the descriptions of the roasters to the actual sign-up page.


The project began in late 2016, the website was launched on November 2, 2017, and the first box shipped to customers in December 2017.