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
“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.