Former Corbis creative director Jens de Gruyter set out in pursuit of his passions with this new exclusive brand devoted to select Asian loose-leaf teas. Alongside tea and accessories, the brand curates a retail offering of printed materials crafted through the art of bookbinding, letterpress, engraving and fine art lithography. Between recon expeditions to the orient and the marketplace, we defined the foundations for a novel and inspired brand. An appreciation for two venerable creations of the ancient masters attributed to the advancement of knowledge and culture became the origins of the brand: a symbiosis of paper and tea; it was Jens’ directive that the brand be plainly named ‘Paper and Tea’, later reduced to ’P & T’. The brand represents a straightforward devotion to craft and artisanal value. In the digital age, as ink and paper are being largely replaced by intangible ephemeral technology, paper and the heritage of printing became our allegorical branding medium. The first task was to incorporate this into a unique brand identity.
Initial Direction
Augmenting the core artisanal orientation, a classic modernity was essential. We were determined to avoid the cliches of nostalgia. This was not a feminine boutique brand; it had to evoke a subtle industrial masculinity. Initial inspiration came from mid-century publishing house logos. I sketched ideas informed by the intricate stylized symbolism common to these marks, but ultimately they proved to be too illustrative to represent Jens’ minimalist vision.
Revised Direction
P & T was embracing the mastery of selecting and brewing tea, thus, we were envisioning the core brand identity as a classic maker’s mark. While we were entranced by the flaws inherent in hand-stamping, to simulate these in a modern application seemed disingenuous and contrived. Instead, we resolved to incorporate the essential shape and simplicity of such marks into a more refined, minimal brand identity. The typography would therefore have to be distinctive.
Jens traveled throughout China to mine for tea and tea wisdom and the project took on a more traditionally Asian influence. Still, we sought to expand beyond the dogmatic niche of Asian tradition that typically accompanies tea, presenting tea rather as a creative catalyst in an industrial age. A notable intersection of busy industry and tea tradition occurs in the railway culture of the old British Empire. Following this thread, whilst combing through an extensive archive of boilerplates and cast signage from this era, I happened upon a peculiar sign featuring a wedge-shaped leg on the letter ‘R’. There was something curiously calligraphic and Asian about that detail. Extrapolating other glyphs from this idea, I drew the rough basis for a hybrid modern logotype.
The ampersand I had always viewed as an opportunity for defining symbolism. I created one as a symbolic abstraction of a teapot within the new angular typographic style. Interestingly, the resulting symbol struck me as being sort-of Japanese-modern.
Finished Brandmark
I originally gravitated towards slightly more ornamental forms informed by our research, however, with his modernist, minimalist vision for the brand Jens asked me to explore simple shapes. The personality transformed from idiosyncratic to clean and austere. Ultimately a simple chamfered rectangle was chosen.
Brand Typography
With such an austere identity for a retail storefront brand, I saw the need to balance it with an expressive typographic ‘voice’. Scotch Modern, a new typeface by Nick Shinn, hit the mark. I first encountered it in 2008 while working for Details Magazine, when it was still a work-in-progress tentatively named Austin Display. A true Scotch revival conspicuously faithful to the 19th-century forms that inspired it, it had a certain elegance and beauty in its imperfection. In small applications, it gives a touch of whimsical elegance. On posters and promotions, it takes on a brash charm. This is a perfect example of a typeface being central to the brand voice and personality. I paired this with National, a modern san-serif inspired by pre-Akzidenz grotesques, with a similar vintage note.
Package Application
I didn’t handle package design, but it faithfully followed the type program laid down in the brand charter.
Brand Charter / Sample Pages
The basic brand charter provides a full brand standards guide. This includes specifications for digital as well as print applications, program typefaces and color specifications, and ‘do’s and don’ts’. Download links to all artwork were provided.