Case Study by Russell Shaw, Affiliate Member of RGD
This project was selected as a winner in the For-Profit, Client-Initiated category of RGD's 2013 So(cial) Good Design Awards.
Skylight Farm is a biodiverse, organic vegetable farm located just outside of Atlanta. Everything produced at Skylight Farm is of the highest quality and Certified Naturally Grown. The challenge for this project was to get people in the city – an urban environment where processed food is prevalent but healthy produce alternatives are harder to come by – excited about Skylight Farm’s offerings.
My initial involvement with the farm came as a result of a good relationship with the farmer, Justin Aiello, prior to him even purchasing the land. Before he got into farming, I did some work with a non-profit organization that he was close to, and when he struck out on his own he called to ask if I could help craft a company image with him for the new venture. He wanted to keep his focus on the agriculture, but realized the importance of having others on board to help with the marketing and promotional responsibilities necessary for starting this kind of business. Running in similar circles, he had already seen and liked some of the work I had done previously and we were able to reach an agreement to move forward fairly quickly.
The initial contact for the project came in early January of 2013. I always start new branding projects with a custom questionnaire that I’ve developed over time to help new companies take an honest look at where they are, where their competitors are and what type of positioning would be most effective in a given market.
Phase 1 of my design process involves a 'listen first' approach. Together with the client, we talked through the questionnaire for a week, eventually settling on a few ideas that I used as a starting point for my research.
The research process I use is based on practices developed over previous brand projects with the help of a marketing professional. Once I understand the client's desired outcome, I look for ways their goals might translate visually. Books like Wheeler's Designing Brand Identity and Millman's Brand Thinking are helpful sources for inspiration and provide great information for forming an effective approach.
The visuals for this project are a modern twist on old farming labels, which are part of the region's rich visual history. The idea was to give a nod to the farming history of the community and show that Skylight Farm is rooted in traditional agricultural practices. Research for this involved studying simple, small local farms and how they would have labeled materials in the past. All of the illustrations were done in a style that replicated what we found in industry magazines from the 1910s, 20s and 30s, which were picked up in thrift stores and vintage shops. The 'modern twist' was introduced in the form of a tweaked Brandon Grotesque typeface.
After the concept is chosen, it usually goes through multiple rounds of revisions. In this case however, after testing with community members and seeing the reactions of different people, the concept the client selected was very well-received and did not require much change - it was more a matter of carrying it across multiple pieces and seeing how it could be applied in different ways.
In tandem with creating the visual identity, another contributor, Brittany Price, was developing fantastic copy that would serve as messaging for some of the materials. The visuals and the messaging wrapped around the same time, which was a treat, making coordination of these elements a lot easier.
The roll-out occurred at the beginning of March, just in time for the beginning of the Farmers' Market season and the time when families usually start signing up for the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program.
Design Concept / Strategy
Dealing primarily in personal interaction, the business needed physical touch-points for the brand to be a priority. This included the booth that would be set up at Farmers' Markets, bags for the CSAs and other materials that people would see and interact with on a regular basis.
It was refreshing to be part of a roll-out that was as organic as the farm itself - taking the assets we had worked on and setting up shop at the city's largest park to sell certified, naturally-grown produce to the community. This made more sense for the product than doing a big launch or pushing out a more aggressive campaign.
A creative solution for encouraging people to connect with the brand was using 100% recyclable seeded paper for the print collateral. This way, each customer is able to replant the paper in their own garden. Whether picking up a business card or receiving a Thank You note from the farm, every customer is able to actively participate in the re-telling of the brand’s story by planting the paper.
The goal is to remind people that an understanding of good agricultural practice is not something that should fall by the wayside in the 21st century. The choice to use plantable, post-consumer recyclables helped ensure that, not only was the material created in a sensible way, but it can also live on after its initial use.
Regarding materials, the seed paper was something I remembered seeing several years ago and turned out to be relatively simple to track down. Of course it would be a little tricky to run on press, so I purchased the reams myself and made custom, wooden hand-stamps of all the brand's assets. Everything was stamped and cut in the studio. This obviously added a lot more work to the process, but there was something very rewarding about this type of natural organic farm having its materials made by hand as well. The materials have been a huge hit, and we'll soon have to do a new run of materials at much greater volume to keep up with the great response.
Working with the farm's founder, Justin Aiello, was a great experience. He was involved and attentive, but also trusted me to do my job. And our writer, Brittany, has real talent. It was great to partner with both of them.
The farm’s first season after the roll-out last year went very well – the CSA program filled up quickly, some favourite local restaurants began using Skylight Farm as a provider of organic produce for their menus, and the farm got into multiple Farmers’ Markets around town. It was also nice to hear from Justin that their booth and identity stood out at the markets – he told me that people were coming up to him and commenting about everything down to the signage, and that he felt like he was selling products under the best brand image at the local market. There has also been good social traffic – they’ve received coverage on other sites: a great Lifestyle writeup on Southbound Brethren and a PR article on agribusiness from Eberly & Collard, among others. Attention from the design community, like RGD's Social Good Design Awards, has been helpful for the client by helping to grow their followers.
- Keep creative thinking at the forefront of every design project, or, to quote The Standardistas, “The development of a more critical, analytical relation to our subject is both inevitable and necessary. To grow as a discipline and as individual designers, we need to devote ourselves not just to the art of making, but also to the art of thinking.” Often times you start by developing something that looks great – and that is a part of good design. But deeper thinking leads to a more robust identity system.
- Offering design that delights – bringing back an element of fun into branding – can be an effective way to change how customers think. Sometimes offering something that is delightful and unique will go farther than a more traditional, serious tone when it comes to reaching audiences and creating a memorable brand.
- Consider the shelf-life of the design you create. In the digital space, our work as designers doesn’t leave as much of a footprint as it once did, but when it comes to producing tangible, physical pieces, we should think through what will become of the material after the customer sees it. Think about how the materials can be sensibly produced and also how you might allow for immediate repurposing once the user is finished with it.
- Establish trust in the client-designer relationship. The best results will come out of a relationship where the designer believes in the client's goals and the client trusts the designer to represent their business in the most effective way. The relationship should be a trusting partnership, where the designer is more than a hired hand brought on board to churn out logos and designs on your behalf.
- Be open to non-traditional ideas. Keeping an open mind will allow your brand to go further than it would with a 'safe' approach. It brings a more human element to the business and adds personality, which I think is a very refreshing approach that differentiates successful companies in today’s marketplace
About the So(cial) Good Design Awards
Every year, RGD invites submissions of graphic design projects done under the theme of communication design for social good; work with the power to incite action and make meaningful change in the way we live our lives. When we approach social issues creatively, we can make a real difference in the world. The So(cial) Good Design Awards gives voice to the important work designers are doing and can do to change the way we think and act.
For more information on the So Good Design Awards, click here.