For decades, ramen has been considered “cheap eats.” Dry ramen noodles with a flavor foil packet could be bought for less than 30 cents a box. Just add a cup of boiling water, steep, and eat. More than one college student has subsisted on instant ramen for months at a time. Ramen wasn’t featured on the menu of fancy Japanese restaurants. That’s no longer the case. Now Americans are being exposed to the delicate yet complex flavor of true ramen. Freshly made ramen noodles is served with a wide selection of broths, including pork, chicken, seafood, and beef, and served with artfully arranged toppings such as vegetables, mushroom, seaweed, meats, egg, and the like.
Trendy ramen bistros are popping up all over the U.S. One of the most notable upscale ramen houses is Afuri in Portland, Oregon. The sleekly modern restaurant, which seats 90 diners, features ramen as its main specialty, and is renown for its signature ramen dish made with a citrusy yuzu broth.
Portland-based Murmur Creative was commissioned to develop a sweeping design branding program for Afuri that combines the Japanese aesthetic with the Pacific Northwest’s inviting style.
If you think that when you’ve seen one Starbucks cafe, you’ve seen them all, you need to visit the Starbucks Roastery and Reserve Tasting Room in Shanghai. The Starbucks signature mermaid and green brand elements are underplayed to the point of not being noticeable. Elegant wood and gleaming copper finishes adorn the 30,000-square-foot establishment, staffed by 400 employees. The place feels like “Disneyland” for caffeine lovers.
The sights are awesome and entertaining! A towering copper cask, adorned with more than 1,000 traditional Chinese chops (stamps) hand-engraved to narrate the story of Starbucks and coffee. A ceiling made out of 10,000 handmade hexagonal wooden tiles, inspired by the locking of an espresso shot on an espresso machine. A Roastery featuring three wood-carved bars, one of which is 88 feet long, where customers can watch beans being roasted and baristas brewing coffee using six different methods and beans from 30 countries. If that isn’t enough, an integrated AR system, built with an Alibaba web app, lets customers immerse themselves in the space through their smartphones. There is also specially crafted nitrogen-infused teas at the tea bar, and an on-site bakery offering scrumptious artisanal baked goods by famed Italian baker, Rocco Princi acclaimed from Milan to London.
With a population of 24 million people just in the city of Shanghai, even a gigantic Starbucks store can’t serve all the locals. Shanghai already has 600 other Starbucks cafes in the city, and 3,000 locations in 136 Chinese cities, with one new Starbucks location opening in China every 15 hours.
When people think of becoming a designer, they usually think of print graphics, industrial, digital, environmental, interior, software, etc., but design encompasses a lot more territory than that and has many subsets. This is an interview with Dublin-based designer Annie Atkins who specializes in creating authentic-looking props and graphics for such films as Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel. Here, Atkins talks about her craft and the importance of paying attention to seemingly insignificant details.
Pantone, the authority on all things color, has announced that Ultra Violet – aka, Pantone 18-3838 — will be the Color of 2018. Pantone didn’t come up with this pronouncement arbitrarily, although it would seem that funereal black or pukey orange would be more fitting to the times. Pantone color gurus, however, are more philosophical and optimistic – and less snide. The Institute describes Ultra Violet as associated with “mindfulness practices, which offer a higher ground to those seeking refuge from today’s over-stimulated world.” Pantone vice president Laurie Pressman says, “Pantone Color of the Year has come to mean so much more than ‘what’s trending’ in the world of design, it’s truly a reflection of what’s needed in the world today.” Considered in that light, I would nominate “Pussy Hat Pink” or Fire Rescue Red” instead.
Consider this: The retail coffee market in the U.S. is estimated to be $48 billion annually (NCA). Worldwide 151.3 million 60-kilogram bags of coffee were consumed in 2015-16 (ICO), and gourmet varieties represent more than half of overall consumption. Americans love their caffeine so much that 52% of coffee drinkers say they would rather skip their morning shower than forego their cup of joe (Huffington Post).
Gourmet coffee, by any measure, is big business, and the industry is appealing to budding connoisseurs with new specialty blends and descriptive coffee lingo that rivals that of wine. Some of the latest trends include nitrogen-infused coffee, cold brews, and frozen blends. Millennials see the beverage as a social experience enjoyed with friends in cafes. They take delight in being the first in their crowd to discover new brands. That has made designing eye-catching brand packaging more important than ever.
In the age of electronic communications, audio branding has become part of the product experience. An audio logo has to be unique, distinctive, appropriate to the type of product, used consistently so that it becomes familiar over time, and not annoying. It has to be recognizable even without lyrics or saying the brand name aloud. This quiz challenges you to match the visual brand logos with the audio logos that you can listen to in the numbered bands below.
Horse racing fans were on pins-and-needles watching the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs last Saturday, but brand naming experts were probably rolling their eyes and guffawing every time the announcer called out the contenders’ names. The Derby’s naming protocol violates the most basic rules of name development. As anyone in the branding business will tell you, successful names have to be unique, memorable, pronounceable, simple, easy to spell, evocative, and trademark-able. In other words, just the opposite of Triple Crown thoroughbred names. Read More »
On the national branding front, the big news is that the Czech Republic has just adopted the shorter, friendlier name Czechia for all but formal occasions. The name change has been under discussion since the break-up of Czechoslovakia in 1993. Czechia is not the first nation to limit the use of “Republic” in its name. The Slovak Republic goes by Slovakia, the Federal Republic of Germany goes by just Germany. “Cesko” is what many Czechs call their country, but it didn’t make the cut because people like former Czech president Vaclav Havel said the name made his “flesh creep.” So, Czechia it is. Now it is up to Czech designers to promote the national brand on T-shirts, coffee mugs, soccer jerseys, and all kinds of tcotchke.
Moscow-based designer Anna Kulachek has been designing show identities for the Prague School of Design since 2012. Over that time, she has taken her original typographic styling and evolved it into a modular vocabulary of lines and curves that she has morphed into new forms. The breaks in the letterforms suggest that the pieces can be split apart and reassembled into different letters as well as purely decorative lines, half circles and squiggles that look like they are made up of letterform leftovers. The result is a graphic system that retains a consistent look that identifies it with the Prague School of Design, yet changes in surprising and playful ways.
Danish creative digital agency, inetdesign, made this brilliant one-minute video to demonstrate how successful brands don’t even have to be named to be recognized. We could identify them immediately by their colors, shape and typography. I don’t know who wrote the text for this video (bravo, whoever you are), but it succinctly explained what branding is all about. The text is short, so it is quoted below:
“Allen Alexander Mills, an English author once said, ‘The things that make me different are the things that make me.’ Could this be a perfect definition of branding? What is the magic thing that great brands are made of? Is it design?, Typography?, Vision? Imagination? Or a big dose of foresight? We believe it is the Golden Ratio of all those things that help brands grow and stand out. Branding is not like sprinting; it’s more like a marathon. A unique promise kept over time. It’s a story well told. A story that will resonate in the hearts and minds of your customers far into the future. Let us use your passion, experience, and creativity to make your brand’s voice loud and clear.”
In the U.S., most sports teams and many consumer products adopt mascots to give their brand a friendly, animate identity, but as far as we are aware, only Japan has mascots to represent prefectures, towns and public offices. Called Yuru-chara, which translates as “loose character,” the mascots generate millions of dollars in merchandise sales (keychains, mugs, t-shirts and plates, etc.) and the costumed characters make special appearances at promotional events and festivals. Without exception, the yuru-chara are cute (a la Hello Kitty), unsophisticated in design, and exhibit childlike manners. Yuru-chara proliferate throughout Japan, so much so that some prefectural governments worry that the number of little towns that have come up with their own yuru-chara are diluting the impact of the big city mascots and cutting into merchandise sales.
The best-known mascot in Japan is Kumamon (seen here) introduced by Kumamoto Prefecture in 2010 to draw tourists to the region’s Kyushu Shinkasen train line. Kumamon instantly shot to fame, and won the 2011 Yuru-chara Grand Prix, drawing more than 280,000 votes in a nationwide survey and crushing other yuru-chara competitors. The next year Kumamon single-handedly earned the prefecture more than $120 million in product sales and was even featured in a popular video game. As with most other yuru-chara, Kumamon doesn’t speak,has only one facial expression, and is of unknown gender and species. It merely dances around and makes spectators happy. Read More »
Tokyo, the host city for the 2020 Summer Olympics and Paralympics, unveiled its logos for the games recently. Designed by Tokyo-based Kenjiro Sano, founder of Mr. Design Inc., the logos are not merely pleasing graphics; according to the Olympics press release, they were intended to convey a deeper meaning. The Olympic mark has a large black and gold “T”, which we are told represent “Tokyo, Tomorrow and Team.” The red circle, which looks like the red sun on the Japanese national flag, is described instead as a symbol of “inclusiveness and the power of a beating heart.” The same graphic elements are used for the Paralympic games, but the gold and silver shapes are placed within parallel bars to form the universal symbol of equality. The “beating red heart” is placed within one of the bars. The meaning attributed to the graphic elements is poetic, but not immediately apparent to anyone seeing the logos for the first time. The fact that the symbolism has to be explained to be understood makes it seem contrived by a public relations committee, trying to read more into a nice-looking logo than is actually there. That’s totally unnecessary. The logos are graphically compelling on their own. Read More »
More than 3,000 mourners came to the rural Japanese village of Kinokawa last weekend to pay their final respects to Tama the super stationmaster of Kishi Station, the last stop on the Wakayama Electric Railway line. Tama was elevated from stray cat to stationmaster in 2007, at a time when the regional rail line was $4.7 million in the red, forcing the layoff of all employees at Kishi Station and leaving the stop unmanned. Reluctant to evict the charming calico cat that hung around the station, the railway’s president announced that he was appointing Tama the super stationmaster of Kishi Station — a position that included free housing in the ticket booth, her own litter box, and an annual salary paid in cat food. For her official duties of meeting and greeting passengers, Tama was outfitted in a tiny custom-made stationmaster cap and cape.
What started out as a playful marketing ploy to raise awareness of the railway’s plight quickly turned into a media sensation with tourists from across Japan and around the world flocking to the village to see Tama at work. Train ridership increased significantly, and Kishi Station itself became a tourist attraction.
The railway’s management capitalized on Tama’s appeal and developed an extensive line of souvenir items bearing a cartoon likeness of Tama, including T-shirts, coffee mugs, stuffed animals, and even a full set of dining room furniture featuring carved silhouettes of cats. In 2009, Wakayama Electric Railway rolled out a train car decorated with cartoon images of Tama, and redesigned the exterior architecture of Kishi station to resemble a cat’s face. Read More »
The Moscow Metro is getting a wayfinding facelift, with a new custom font, pictograms, and maps. Created exclusively for the Moscow Department of Transport, the overall program was developed and directed by UK/US-based City ID, with the typeface and pictograms designed by Henrik Kubel and Scott Williams of the London-based studio, A2/SW/HK, with UK designer Margaret Calvert as type and pictogram consultant. The Cyrillic script was designed in collaboration with Ilya Ruderman.
Replacing a hodgepodge of fonts and styles implemented over the decades, the new signage is standardized around a custom font called Moscow Sans, which has letterforms for both the English and Russian Cyrillic alphabets. Accompanying Moscow Sans is a full set of universally recognizable pictograms.
Simple and modern, the new signage brings uniformity and clarity to the wayfinding system. Equally important, the signage doesn’t clash with the amazing interior architecture of stations built in the 1930s by some of the USSR’s leading architects and artists. Referred to as “Stalin’s people’s palaces,” the early subway stations are worthy of being museums, with art that includes bas-reliefs, friezes, bronze and marble statues, stained glass windows and lots of mosaics. The styles of the stations range from Baroque to Classicism to Art Deco. The new signage fits right in. The program is being implemented in all Moscow stations during 2015. Read More »
Sweden has joined the ranks of a tiny handful of countries that have adopted their own national typeface. Called Sweden Sans, the font is very Scandinavian in its modern, functional, minimalist look. Created by type designer Stefan Hattanbach in collaboration with design agency, Soderhavat, the font is meant to communicate in a single Swedish voice and in a style evocative of the nation’s design taste.
Hattanbach describes the branded font as “very geometric and modern” and inspired by old Swedish signs that were popular in the 1950s and ‘60s. In an interview heard on PRI The World, Hattanbach said he was particularly pleased with the outcome of the letter “S,” which he explained is a “hard letter to make because it can really fall off and look unbalanced.” He thought that the straight down tail on the letter “Q” looked “pretty cool” too. Overall, Hattanbach felt that Sweden Sans could be described as “lagom,” a Swedish expression meaning “not too much and not too little.”
Sweden Sans does look versatile, but it is still unclear how broadly this national font will be applied. Will it appear on Swedish currency? On official government documents? On government office signage? If regular Swedish citizens decide to use it, will they be violating any legal restrictions. Or if they do adopt Sweden Sans as their default font, will it be viewed as a sign of national pride? The concept of a national font is intriguing, so stay tuned to see how it is used. Read More »
Project K, a Korean Film Festival, has turned into a popular annual event at the Bockenheim campus at Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany. Dubbed “Four Days in Seoul,” the festival is co-hosted by the Korean consul general of Frankfurt; KGN, an organization of second-generation Korean Germans, and the University’s Korean Studies Department. In addition to screening Korean box-office hits and experimental, shorts, animations and indie Korean films, the festival features activities that give students a chance to learn about Korean pop culture and traditions.