300. Smart About Being Smart About Coffee.
Jun 25, 2010 at 12:08PM

We try to cover more topics than mere identity redesigns here on Graphicology, but when we feel we have a scoop we try to publish it. The last few articles were about a week or so ahead of the curve so keep reading and be one week smarter than the next guy. (Or dumber, I'm afraid it might work in that direction too, ha.)

This week 146 year-old Glasgow-based coffee merchant Matthew Algie & Co updated their look to compete with contemporary chains. Normally when an old company decides to 'update' their look bad things tend to happen. History is usually neglected. Tradition is thrown out in favor of some shiny web 2.0 mess. And it gets lampooned on design blogs everywhere. But such is not the case here—at least not entirely. Though not a waterhshed moment in design, the resulting brand is quite serviceable.

A little background from their Facebook page first: Matthew Algie was established in 1864 in Glasgow as an importer and packer of tea. Now the UK’s largest independently owned Coffee roaster, Matthew Algie pioneered the movement towards fresh espresso and ethical coffee sourcing. Chief executive Gary Nicol said the launch at this week's Caffe Culture trade exhibition in London (that this rebrand) represents the largest makeover ever undertaken in the company's history. (Source.) 


Founder, Matthew Algie via wikipedia:

Despite having a rich corporate history, Matthew Algie doesn't seem to have a rich design history and their last identity (below) is rather bland. I'm unsure—and unable to find at present—what their brand looked like before this. I'm sure it was quite different in 1864.


Old Logotype:

The new look was developed by Union Connect out of the UK and features a coffee bean for a brain inside a warm orange enclosure. It's simple and instantly communicates their positioning. When it comes to coffee, we're pretty smart. The tagline We know Coffee, is a fairly overused setup (there have been hundreds of We know (blank) taglines over the years,) and simply reiterates the icon; some would say unnecessarily. (And by some I mean me.) The color palette is appropriate—the orange set against a coffee-brown. The branding also uses a lot of negative space with bright colors implemented as highlights. Though trendy it looks nice. I do have a little bit of an issue with the type, however. I'm certainly glad they didn't go with the same anonymous sans everyone else is using. Let's all cheer that. But their choice of a retro 60's revivalist typeface does not feel right at all. I think maybe a truly hand-rendered face would have been a better option. As is, it simply draws too much attention from the stronger elements that are working. All told the typography is too much Austin Powers and not enough James Bond.


The New Combination Mark:

The initiative was more than a logo redesign. It was fairly comprehensive, involving a new look for everything from stationary to the retail interiors. You can view a temporary website that hints at what's to come. I have to say that between all the real coffee chains out there, and all the ones created by students for their portfolios, it's tough to stand out from the crowd. What this new look does is make the chain feel contemporary, but it also throws them smack in the middle of what everyone else is doing. Is the bean as brain thing totally unique? I'm betting not. It is however a very flexible design element and when used outside of the combination mark itself, shines.


Coffee Brains:

The whole project is well-executed and feels as inviting and approachable as any other coffee retailer, communicating their obvious passion for coffee. You can tell the client totally bought into the design which is also nice to see. Given the company's tradition, I would probably have pushed this further away from Dunkin Donuts territory and more into Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf turf, to use coffee-related examples. My gut is that it will work hard for them but because it lacks the design roots a 146 year-old company should have, it may itself not stand the test of time.


A Complete Redesign Project:



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