Made Thought rebrands G.F Smith

Made Thought has designed a new visual identity, website and brand book for paper company G.F Smith, which it says aims to better reflect the brand’s heritage and the people behind its products.

Made Thought has designed a new visual identity, website and brand book for paper company G.F Smith, which it says aims to better reflect the brand’s heritage and the people behind its products.

The identity features a new sans typeface and two brand marks. The first bears the company name above the strapline ‘1885 onwards’ and is described by G.F Smith as a “mark of custodianship”. It will replace the company’s previous logo, which SEA developed from the company’s original logo in 2003, depicting a sheet of paper passing through a paper machine


The old mark



The new

“We wanted to bring the focus back to the company’s founder, George Frederick Smith, adding a more human element,” says Made Thought co-founder Ben Parker. “It was important to do this in a progressive way, which is why [the strapline] reads ‘1885 onwards instead’ of ‘established’ or ‘since 1885’. It reflects the company’s past but also its … desire to look forward rather than back,” he adds.

The second mark also features the company name but the full stop between Smith’s initials has been replaced with an image of a hand turning a sheet of paper. Described as a “curator mark”, it symbolises the hand-crafted aspect of the company’s work – such as selecting new paper ranges and preparing custom orders.


Parker says the mark will be embossed and, like a watermark, used as a symbol of quality. In some cases, it will appear without the accompanying brand name. The positioning of the symbol allows the thumbnail in the hand to act in the same way as the full stop in the custodian mark, providing a symmetry and consistency between the two, explains Parker.

The new typeface is a humanist sans, which Parker says reflects the company’s mix of human craft and “efficient mechanisation”. “It is a combination of the machine age and the more calligraphic line,” he says.



Made Thought has been working with G.F Smith since 2012 and last year, rebranded its Colorplan series with a new logo, website and promo book (see our blog post on it here). While working with the company, Parker says the agency felt more could be done to communicate its heritage, and presented a ‘clarity’ framework in 2013.

“There are some genuinely great stories surrounding the brand, and this was all about making people aware of that,” says Parker. “Most brands would give their right arm to have such an impressive heritage, and there are some genuinely great stories of triumph over adversity in G.F Smith’s past,” he adds.



To co-incide with the rebrand, Made Thought designed a brand book titled Portrait of a Company, with copywriting by Patrick Baglee. The book is divided into three sections, providing a look at the company’s past, its staff and its future ambitions. The publication includes letters, ephemera and sample books dating back to 1890, which has been documented by a former employee.

“A lot of G.F Smith’s archive material was lost during the second world war [when its warehouses were bombed], but a retired member of staff has been documenting what exists. They have around 800 pages so far, and they keep finding new items … if the material is appropriate, we’ll definitely do something with it, or at least use it to populate the website,” says Parker.



The brand book comes with 12 different covers, each featuring a portrait of an employee. Made Thought has also designed length of service badges for staff – from a nickel one for those who’ve served for less than five years to a 24-carat one for employees who’ve been there for 30 years or more. Each comes packaged in a Colorplan box and Parker says both the book and badges aim to celebrate the company’s positive relationship with staff.



“G.F Smith employs around 190 people and 36 of them have been there for more than 20 years. They really look after their staff and the employees take a genuine pride in their work, which is a rare thing. The service badges are a small acknowledgement of that,” explains Parker.

G.F Smith’s website has also been given a makeover and provides a detailed look at the company’s history, as well as new services including a ‘we recommend’ filter. The homepage features a video of a ‘collection wall’ showcasing G.F Smith’s products, which was constructed in Hull using 10cm high A4 stacks.



“To some extent, the design process has been simply about ‘joining up the dots’ and exploiting what already exists…. Most importantly, we have wanted to reflect a human dimension to a remarkable brand that still proudly carries its founders name more than 130 years later,” says Parker.






Given their target market, it has always been a surprise just how poor a lot of marketing communications materials for paper companies are. GF Smith has been an exception. Previous incumbent SEA helped position the company as a paper brand that knew how to talk to designers. But the old mark had begun to look a little tired. More importantly, this new identity positions the company in line with current thinking around the future of print as being about luxury, craft and tactility rather than mass communication: The medium is the message.

No doubt much of the debate about this redesign will revolve round the spacing of the G . and F on the top line of the mark and the relationship to the dot of the ‘i’ in Smith. It’s the obvious thing for people to pick out and may jar with some. But I find its idiosyncrasy enjoyable and endearing. How dull the world of corporate identity would be without such flourishes.

Seeing it on the pin badges suggests the ‘vernacular’ British designs of the 19th century – think of the great railway companies for example – while the type choice places the work within the current ‘austerity graphics’ trend that Farrow’s Peyton and Byrne identity has been such an influence on. But on the book cover and business cards it feels far more contemporary: not an easy trick to pull off but very much in line with Made Thought’s intentions for the project.

Overall, a beautifully crafted project that succeeds in keeping G.F Smith distinct from its rivals as one of the few real ‘brands’ in the sector and one that graphic designers have a great affinity with.

Patrick Burgoyne

  • Mark

    Nicely awkward (that’s a compliment!)

  • STU

    A fantastic and long overdue redesign – well done Made Thought. Now thats a Dream client.

  • Greg

    N I C E

  • Michael

    Great print work.

    Underwhelming website design and build.

  • These are lovely!
    I love embossing and that emboss is so fine it could be an art.

  • Rob

    Really nice work!

  • James

    Everything on paper is great and the little badges are lovely but I can’t believe the website still doesn’t have proper product info on it, no weights, no decent colour representations, etc…

  • Phil

    Hmmm, bit disappointed by this. This style of design is very of the moment, it could have come from any of the many studio’s that are pedalling this ‘look’. I usually love Made Thoughts work and it’s a shame to see them following the pack style wise as I think all their best work has sat outside of the current ‘what’s hot on the blogs’ trends.

  • Perfectly simple – the website might not be great but it’s straight to the point and exactly what you need. With this company, the product speaks for itself and they just needed a refresh – this looks great.

  • Jamie D

    I think you have to take it for what it is – A simple, clean and seductive piece of communication produced by designers for GFSmith’s audience… designers.

    Certainly, it is not as iconic as SEA’s previous attempt, but it is executed and implemented well.

    One side of the coin is that it feels more up-to-date than before. The other side is that the design feels a bit ‘trendy’ and ‘of the moment’ (as mentioned by someone already).

    Overall, is it ground-breaking, no – but does it do the job, I expect so.

  • Max

    About time GF Smith got rid of their horrible, totally illegible old brandmark. This doesn’t necessarily jump out, but with a brand as established as this one, I would question whether it really needs to.

  • Jon

    I get the understated nature of the new logo – letting the product do the talking – but I do feel it’s still a little underwhelming and a bit of a missed opportunity for an established company like GF Smith. In terms of their recent marketing, Made Thought have created some beautiful and elegant pieces but what I admired about the work SEA produced was that they demonstrated in great detail, ink on paper. A fundamental basic when specifying a stock? With a lot of the recent work I do sometimes think that It’s more about Made Thought than GF Smith.

  • alice

    N I C E
    O N E

  • Alex P

    Style over substance. Trendy fashion graphics for the sake of being ‘cool’.
    It’s a real shame. G.F.Smith were due an overhaul, but this is just weak.
    Very much for the ‘It’s Nice That’ generation of today.

  • GeoffN

    It’s claimed that the previous G.F Smith logo, ‘depicting a sheet of paper passing through a paper machine’, was developed in 2003. There’s a comment that ‘the old mark had begun to look a little tired…’
    Does this mean that GF Smith were still happily using this monstrosity until a couple of years ago?

  • GeoffN

    It’s claimed that the previous G.F Smith logo, ‘depicting a sheet of paper passing through a paper machine’, was developed in 2003. There’s a comment that ‘the old mark had begun to look a little tired…’
    Does this mean that GF Smith were still happily using this monstrosity until a couple of years ago?

  • Ryan Jones (Ex. SEA Design)

    Regarding the previous logo ‘depicting a sheet of paper passing through a paper machine’, the logo was revived by SEA in 2003 from an old 1960’s version that was drawn by a student in a competition run by GF Smith. SEA digitised it, redrew it and added the ‘Paper from GF Smith’. That logo was seen as being from the ‘classic’ period of GF Smith, a period where Bill Mackay was responsible for creating some of their most iconic swatches and marketing materials. It was a move to remind GF Smith of their design heritage after a number of years in the design doldrums (85-98). The revived logo replaced one that was set using Palatino.

  • Matt

    I want to like it but the . space between . the G&F has gone too far – to the point that you start to look at the logo in sections rather than as a solid identity.

    This seems to be reinforced by the fact that Made Thought has then created a second logo which literally fills that space!

    And why is there a need for a second identity (which can be used in two ways)? It is referred to being “used as a symbol of quality”, but shouldn’t the actual primary logo be doing this?

    So we already have the primary logo, an alternative with the hand icon and the icon used on it’s own to all represent one company which is supposed to “bring focus back”!? Really!!?!

    It starts to come across that they had two ideas, a simple version & a retro version, couldn’t decide between the two so started to find ways that they could use them all.

    WHICH . IS . A . SHAME !

  • Tim

    Beautifully simple and understated, whilst pleasantly awkward and unconventional. This identity projects the self assured, confident nature of the design industries most desirable paper collection.

    — even if the ‘water mark’ a little contrived and unnecessary.

  • Sam

    It’s Nice That

  • Tom

    I like the dot on top of the ‘i’ – it’s quite playful.

  • Jan


  • Oscar

    Some have said that the positioning of the ‘i’ and the spacing of the ‘G’ and ‘F’ is ‘playful’ and ‘pleasantly’ awkward. I can see the intent to reflect the heritage and tradition of a deservedly well-loved company such as GFS (it brings to mind the branding of some small late-victorian single-track private railway) but I think the result is actually ‘unpleasantly awkward’.
    Putting ‘1885 onwards’ rather than ‘Established 1885’ just comes across as trying a little too hard.
    “It reflects the company’s past but also its … desire to look forward rather than back,”. Alan Partridge, anyone?

  • Gem

    It’s a shame that this trend based design has replaced a modern classic.

    The previous identity was based on a logotype from GFSmith’s archive (I was lucky enough to see their heritage exhibition a few years ago).

    The latest version seems bland for a company with so much heritage…

  • The SEA has been polluted.

    The point about a small late-victorian railway is spot on. . . it’s very dull. I feel MT have sold GF Smith the “Emperor’s New Clothes”. Over-underdesigned-minimal-trend-trytoohard-twaddle. Sadly, it’s dated and out-of-fashion already.

    It’s a massive shift in brand personality from the “cool-talked-about-I-want-their-paper-for-my-next-design” paper company to a “highbrow-elitist-pretentious-they-won’t-talk-to-me-unless-I’m-a-famous-designer” too expensive paper company. . .

    The decision to get rid of the iconic old marque was a bad one and it’s SUCH a shame. The brand needed “developing” not ripping up and starting again . . . Boo.


  • I don’t like change, but I do like this.

  • Charlotte

    I love the new re brand, I am confident that this logo and brand identity will become iconic and reinforce GFSmith as the great company that they are. Can you believe 36 current members of staff have been with the company for more than 20 years… that is a great company

  • Companies move on, brands move on.
    Brands are not designed for today or tomorrow, but for years down the line.
    Time will tell if this work, works.
    I like it. Enjoy.

  • I find it so funny when I hear the ‘on trend’ talk lately…

    1. This paired down aesthetic (which is now ‘on trend’) is probably about 3/4 years old in current culture

    2. This style originated in the art schools of the UK (and EU)—not the design studios of either—which no one ever seems to mention

    3. This ‘style’ is classic typography & graphic design at its best. Well crafted, clear, concise, founded in reason and executed with skill.

  • The rebrand is truly beautiful. It remains very true to the GF Smith heritage.
    I think it is quite a versatile identity that will sit well on printed and digital medium.
    I especially like the business cards.
    Looking forward to the boys next visit and getting my hands on all of the new materials.

    Good job MT.

  • James West

    Although its a very ‘of the moment’ rebrand, I like it BUT… will i last? Who knows, that’s a risk you take being on trend.

    I am really shocked but the website though, its a bad case of style of function and provides a poor UX.

    Looking good is great, but this is a website not print design, it needs to Function with Thought.

  • Charles

    Seriously? Is this it?

    The sum total of a considered design response?

    Deeply unambitious.

    This is nothing. Simply nothing.

  • Jonny

    I actually think the old identity has a lot of character and substance. It’s unique and recognisable. This new look seems to be style over substance. It would have been far more interesting to have seen how the old look could have been developed into something new.

  • vince

    ah the ‘in’ artisan hipster ‘we don’t want to look like we’re trying too hard’ look. experimental jet set churn out same regularly these days.

    also the angled paper and hand allows them to work in the ‘crossing’ effect synonymous with such vintage type, artisan, hipster bollocks.

    it’s basically… crap.

  • PatrickWolcott


  • James

    Beautiful typeface, beautiful curator mark, nice logo – sexy work Made Thought!
    Hipster? WTF are they talking about? Art, Design, Fashion, Type, Illustration; everything evolves – get over it.

  • Simple is the best.. A great change from old.