Upcycling it in style

Friday 27 March 2015


A few years ago will.i.am had an idea and like most of his ideas, it didn’t just stop there. He got Coca-Cola involved and soon the fruit of this collaboration was born under the name of Ekocycle™.


Ekocycle™ intends to change perceptions about recycling by creating aspirational, yet attainable lifestyle products made in part from recycled material, from plastic bottles, to aluminum cans and other types of consumer packaging. The brand aimed high from the very start, curating some of the best brands to collaborate with and more recently having its own branded space in Harrods where generous pockets will open to buy the trendy yet sustainable designs. 


A similar project is the G-Star RAW line made in collaboration with Bionic Yarn, under the creative supervision of Pharell Williams. The garments use textile woven partially with recovered ocean plastic, highlighting the brand’s philosophy of bringing the best out of denim.


At the heart of this movement is a simple equation: take what you have, partner up with like-minded brands and people, and add some creative dust to transform it into something meaningful. And remember the key word is ‘collaboration’.

There is a genuine thirst for more initiatives like this, where brands become a catalyst for a future-proofed, better living. You might not see it yet, but those coming after you hopefully will. To feed this desire, brands are rethinking materials and supply chains, changing perspective to create things that help the planet, not just the individual. In other words, thinking holistically about their purpose and impact.

However, changing a paradigm is never easy. It’s time consuming, risky, takes a lot of effort... why even bother?! Because this is how all great initiatives that make the world and the way we live a little better are born. Because when you get there, all that effort would have paid off. Because this will make your brand a little more valuable as well. 

By Alina Pirvu, Creative Planner, jkr London

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Champions of Design - Blunt

Thursday 26 March 2015


Once in a blue moon, the right combination of enterprise, ingenuity, tenacity and luck results in a design that revolutionises a category by solving a genuine problem. Tetrapak brought resealable, efficient ease to fiddly, fumbly milk cartons. The Biro made ink blot-free writing available to the masses. And Blunt have fundamentally redesigned a product that has been frustrating people around the world since 1928: the modern umbrella.

Greig Brebner developed his uber-umbrella in his native New Zealand. He reasoned that if he could build an umbrella that could withstand Kiwi-style gale force winds, he would have built an umbrella that would work anywhere. He did it, creating a strong lightweight umbrella that can withstand winds of up to 50mph (that’s a ‘strong gale’ on the Beaufort Wind Force Scale, by the way). He also managed to build one that wouldn’t poke anyone’s eyes out.


Here comes the science bit: Blunt umbrellas use a radial tensioning system that distributes the effort used in opening the umbrella throughout the entire canopy, which makes the umbrella really strong so it won’t bend
in a bluster. The distribution of force extends to each point of the umbrella – which, you will know by now, isn’t really a point: it’s blunt. The Wall Street Journal describes the structure of Blunt umbrellas as ‘somewhere between suspension bridge and NASA space probe’. How cool is that?


In short, Blunt umbrellas are a real innovation. In functional terms, they are light years ahead of anything else on the market. But in stylistic terms, they pull off something equally brilliant because for the first time, we have an umbrella brand that’s distinctive and recognisable. This is quite possibly the first real ‘designer umbrella’ we have seen – and I mean that in every sense of the word. It’s engineered, it’s stylish and it’s totally unique. In the grey sleet of windy Wellington or the tropical downpours of Singapore, you can spot a Blunt a mile off by virtue of their characteristic rounded corners and bright, cheery colours.

I believe that the sign of a really great design is when our response to it is a kind of bemused, satisfied incredulity. Statements like ‘Of course! How obvious! Why haven’t they done that before?!’ are really the best feedback you can ever hope for. Blunt umbrellas solved all of our umbrella issues in one intuitive, human and joyful design.

Can’t wait for the next rainstorm.

By Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore

First published on Campaign Asia

Campaign Asia 2

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How the last 10% can sabotage the great 90%

Tuesday 24 March 2015

This Chinese New Year, the big box office hit in China was a film called Dragon Blade. It's a multicultural-historical-kung-fu-fighting-high-octane-epic of adventure, betrayal, friendship and courage, featuring Jackie Chan, John Cusack and Adrien Brody. Blood is spilled. Horses perish. A cast of (probably literally) thousands of people charge at each other on battlefields. Brave warriors shout and grunt, and fight with balletic skill. You get the picture. (You can watch the trailer here)

I might go and see it. Or I might not. But if I do, it won't be because of the enticing promotional gift on offer here: 



Perhaps it's just me, but as a memento of an exhilarating, bloodthirsty, Han dysnasty cinematic experience, a coffee mug with a sticker on it ranks pretty low on my list. Or perhaps I'm being unfairly critical. Perhaps the thing Genghis Khan wanted most of all was a nice mug of Nescafé after bloody conquest. But I doubt it. 

The net result is I associate this film with inappropriate coffee. Not, presumably, the associations the director and marketing department had in mind when they conceived the film. 

It's not a massive leap to see how the same ill-timed or ill-conceived executions can undermine years of brand equity building in our own industry. 

Like when an isolated incident of staff incompetence poisons a customer's life-long relationship with a service. Like when a badly judged tweet can literally destroy a brand (or a career). Like when the forest of lacklustre promotional material at your swanky coffee shop counter suggests that perhaps your brand of choice is actually a little bit cheap and not as desirable after all. 

Sometimes, despite penetrating insight, clarity of message, distinctive offer, and months (or even years) of brilliant thinking and flawless creative, a single, careless gesture can sabotage the entire thing. It's worth remembering that seemingly inconsequential details can create great influence - both good and bad. Great, global brands are built by sweating the small stuff, not ignoring it. 

Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore


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When content and context make for remarkable creativity

Thursday 19 March 2015

There’s something about art in public spaces that feels particularly visceral. Outside the formal confines of a gallery or a museum, we seem to feel more ownership of art. We feel more involved. The National Gallery in London did it with a series of famous paintings mounted around the streets of London (see some coverage of the campaign here). The campaign brought the gallery to the city, rather than inviting the city to visit the gallery.

I think there’s also something about the disconnect between context and content – when we don’t expect to see creativity but do, the ideas become truly remarkable. Like when you come across the appearance of beautiful, whimsical illustrations in the inner city London borough of Tower Hamlets.


The outdoor campaign is conceived by AMV BBDO to promote the V&A’s Museum of Childhood. Each piece has been created by a different illustrator and reimagines everyday pieces of the cityscape as objects of childhood wonder. As the agency explains "Where you might see a drain in the street, a child sees a fire engine; a fountain becomes a whale’s blow-hole; and a lamppost is transformed into a monkey bar”. I think that’s why this one is so special – these aren’t just pieces of gorgeous design that are quirkily out of place – they're clever, witty and inventive in the way they draw on the space to deliver a message.




You can view the whole series here.

Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore

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An ephemeral identity for cloud computing

Wednesday 18 March 2015

There’s a well-established set of conventions governing the design of brand identities for technology brands (sans serif, clean, simple, almost always blue) and software brands (sans serif, clean, simple, but with a dose of friendliness thrown in).

Once upon a time we needed our technology to look ‘techie’ but perhaps we’ve now become familiar enough with it pervading every aspect of life to permit it some space to be a little experimental.

The new Sonos identity that made waves (pardon the pun) earlier this year showed us how identities could leverage technology to take on a kinetic nature. You can read our blog on it here.

But for sheer distinctiveness within its category I rather like this identity system for a cloud computing software company called Fugue, designed by New York agency Sagmeister & Walsh. It’s expressive, it’s organic, and it moves fluently across media with elegance and élan. And if this is a brand that lives almost exclusively in the digital space, why shouldn’t it be kinetic, malleable and changeable?


Fugue collateral

fugue logos



The identity, explain the agency, was created to reflect what the software does: so it constantly changes and regenerates. Watching the brand morph across screens it feels like a mesmerising fusion of Japanese calligraphy, binary code and abstract art. Interestingly, one of the agency’s deliverables was an app that automatically changes line drawings into the ‘language of the logo’. That’s one way of doing away with the need for a brand guidelines. Or the need for a designer.

But the system is great – its truly distinctive in a category that, despite constant innovation, is strangely devoid of truly charismatic design. Fugue’s brave move indicates that things are changing.

Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore

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A game of perceptions

Monday 16 March 2015

A recent research conducted by California Polytechnic State University revealed the power of touch in relationship with people’s perception of quality and value, focusing on cosmetics and beauty packaging. The testing method was pretty basic: creating 3 different types of packaging for the same product, but with different textures – plain, glossy, soft – and assessing different prices to each, ascending from plain to soft. As expected, results showed that people were more likely to pay a price premium for a product with a more engaging pack texture.

Which leads me to the following: why shouldn’t everyday objects feel special and give you a positive feel? Sometimes people are more likely to pay more for things if they know it will make them feel better.


Take EOS for example, a simple and basic lip balm dressed in a velvety ball shape, surprisingly soft at touch and aesthetically pleasant. I never actually needed one, but ended up buying two.

And here is one of our own: the Penhaligon’s Christmas music tin could have easily been just another limited edition box. Yet at closer glance, it’s a beautiful play on textures and layers of embossed and debossed details.


Quite often tactility is used as a functional feature of design, improving grip or helping those visually impaired to name just a couple. Yet, there is clearly an emotional side to it that sometimes speaks louder than any marketing campaign and can get a brand noticed, chosen and remembered.

By Alina Pirvu, Creative Planner, jkr London 

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Crowd sourcing and the cutting room floor

Thursday 12 March 2015


There’s a new website doing the rounds out there called Recently Rejected which sells itself as ‘a curated graveyard of both good and bad ideas’. So far, it’s mostly fairly obscure work like magazine front pages, album covers and t-shirt graphics. Disappointingly, no household-name brand designs from the cutting room floor are there to view just yet. But watch that space.

However it does underscore the weird attraction we have to designs that didn’t make the grade – because of how they shed light on the creative process, because we like to see what might have been, but most of all because we like stories of how either the creative team sold the wrong work or the client bought the wrong creative.

It reminded me of this ‘design competition’ that Sony ran back in 1981 long before ‘crowd sourcing’ became a fashionable way of taking advantage of designers. You can read the full story here.


(Image courtesy of Greg Prichard)

I’m interested, and also somewhat appalled, to see that organisations as big and profitable as Sony were asking for free ideas even then – long before Gap tried to clean up its logo redesign debacle with a ‘collaborative’ design invitation to the public. Thankfully however, Sony retracted the invitation and decided to stick with what they had. And you can see why – all of the three finalists are very much ‘of a time’, whereas Sony’s original logo – virtually unchanged since the brand’s launch, now seems timeless.

In retrospect, it seems obvious. But the insidious influences of culture and design are sometimes difficult to resist. Sometimes the greatest contribution that can be made to a brand’s visual equity is to leave it alone.

By Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore

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Banking on something different

Friday 06 March 2015

Banking on something different 1

This week I have mostly been on hold to banking customer service lines. Perhaps that’s why this new retail scheme for NatWest bank caught my attention.

Whatever you might make of it, it’s certainly very different. The strategy behind the project is to reframe complex or boring financial products within the context of ‘real life’. As the agency responsible, Boldrocket, explained to The Drum, people don’t think about taking out a mortgage, they think about buying a home. I get that. So far, so good.

Banking on something different 2

To be honest though, I’d have been happy with a lot less. Specifically, a bank that helped me buy a home and did so in a way that was jargon-free, friendly and efficient. A bank that was easy to deal with, showed a modicum of personal attention and didn’t steal or lose my money. Until banks get the basics right, every attempt to define an ‘emotional territory to own’ feels like artifice. It’s unfortunate that NatWest’s creative execution uses the language of a stage set – and therefore connotes façade more than anything else.

The role of design is to align visual expression with brand promise. But if that brand promise is simply empty rhetoric, even the best design scheme is reduced to superficial styling. And that, arguably, can do more harm than good.

But perhaps my perspective has been coloured by own recent experiences. On the positive side, this is something different for banking – I think – and it’s been done as a pilot scheme in 2 banks before being assessed for wider rollout. And it’s also been done without endless consumer groups. And there’s surely something to admire in that.

By Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore

Imagery courtesy of Philip Volkers photography.

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Oreo’s fusion of idea and iconography

Thursday 05 March 2015

Oreo’s fusion of idea and iconography 1

Oreo’s big hairy idea is about ‘play’. What a humongously rich idea to own. One of the more recent executions is a set of outdoor ads featuring funky illustrations by 10 different artists. Each one of them is wonderful.

Beyond the individual cool of each execution, what makes this special is that it holds together as a collection of artwork so cohesively. Although every piece has its own personality, they all feel like Oreo. That’s a marker of a brand with strong spirit and flexible design language.

Oreo’s fusion of idea and iconography 2

It’s also another example of Oreo’s great skill in using design to drive brand distinctiveness. Like Coke and Stella Artois, Oreo’s communications are increasingly conflating big idea with design iconography.

As our attention spans gets increasingly shorter, I think we’ll see more and more of that.

By Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore

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Champions of Design 4

Friday 27 February 2015

For the last four years, jkr have published a series of books that celebrate brands that use design for competitive advantage. Each book identifies examples of great design ideas, the people who created them, and the clients that bought them.

This year, we have focused exclusively on Asia. Champions of Design 4 places homegrown brands from India to Australia and China to Singapore in the spotlight. So, what makes an Asian Champion of Design? Is there an Asian design aesthetic, and if so what are its characteristics? What conclusions can be drawn from these twenty case studies?

The short answer, of course, is that there is no ‘Asian aesthetic’. Asia is a culturally diverse and economically divided collection of countries that happen to sit next to each other on the world map. Nevertheless, we can make a few broad observations about how design is used within the context of branding.

A ‘Champion of Design’, as we define it, is a brand that has a design spirit or idea that is distinctive and charismatic, and that is applied with skill, inventiveness, consistency or wit. Alas, finding convincing examples from this broad region is disappointingly challenging. Sure, we could look to Asian brands that have grown through canny business strategy (Alibaba, Huawei), ‘fast following’ (Samsung) product differentiators or great advertising. But visual creativity? That seems in rather short supply.

In short, Asia has plenty of brands with success stories, but only a handful that have embraced design as a credible part of the marketing mix. Why? Perhaps it’s because many Asian economies are only now emerging from years of cultural and economic suppression (China, Cambodia, Myanmar) political upheaval (Indonesia) or isolationism (India).

Perhaps it’s because branding is relatively young, and design even younger – an intangible, elusive medium that’s not on most business school curricula in Western Europe, let alone on the radar of family owned businesses in emerging economies.

The exception, of course, is Japan. Champions of Design 4 features six Japanese case studies, and could easily have included many more. Japan boasts some of the most unique, considered and well crafted brands not just in Asia, but the world. There is clearly something in the Japanese world-view and in its cultural inheritance that is a potent force for creativity.

But what about the rest of Asia? China is emerging from its love affair with Western brands to rediscover its own cultural heritage in brands like Shang Xia, Feiyue and Shanghai Tang, whilst it is also embracing product design innovation in the tech sphere, with the populace buying more Xiaomi phones this year than Samsungs. There are success stories in FMCG that stem from long established icons that continue to be sensitively evolved – Singapore’s Ayam brand and Tiger Balm, or Thailand’s Red Bull. And there are new brands, born out of a mixture of entrepreneurial flair and design sensitivity – take TWG Tea or Blunt umbrellas for example. There is a lot to be celebrated in all of these.

So what does the future hold for Asian design? I believe that in the next decade, we can count on Asia to give us stories of business success through design. As Asian economies mature, the retail sector will become ever more sophisticated, renewing pressure on brands to raise their game against the threat of own label dominance. And as Asian consumers continue to travel, they will become ever more sophisticated, ever more demanding and perhaps ever more appreciative of the rich cultural legacies at home that could become the seed for charismatic branding when they return.

Here’s to the next twenty Asian Champions of Design.

By Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore

P.S We're always on the hunt for future brands to feature so please leave any brand suggestions within the comments box below.

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OCD – Organised Creative Design

Wednesday 18 February 2015

OCD – Organised Creative Design 1

The Grand Budapest Hotel was one of the most talked about films of last year and a reminder of Wes Anderson’s genius. Or so I believe. I grew fonder and fonder of his style the more I started to dissect what makes it so distinctive.

One thing he’s been doing well is reviving the idea of authorship in the film culture, a behaviour that is being adopted faithfully by some brands as well, as they attempt to convey consistently and coherently the same message across all touchpoints using a toolkit of visual assets. Similarly, in the Andersonian film world everything tells a story and follows a formula: the plot, the narrator’s voice, the set, the costumes, the little details - you name it.

Carefully chosen and controlled colour palette
The hazy-hued lens through which you get into his world has a retro quality that casts a layer of nostalgia for a time that could have been.

OCD – Organised Creative Design 2 

Perfectly symmetrical compositions
The one-point perspective has become Anderson’s signature, carefully placing the most important element right in the centre of the scene.

Careful typographic aesthetic
Anderson’s films are a type-rich treat, combining the clean graphics of Futura with cursive handwriting and handmade type. 

OCD – Organised Creative Design 3

Rectilinear décor
Once you become aware of the constant use of geometry and particularly the straight lines, it’s hard not to notice them. 

OCD – Organised Creative Design 4

Adding a final touch are the distinctively comical dialogue and naturally awkward situations that give a unique tone of voice to Anderson’s cinematic approach.

This impeccable consistency, deeply methodical and distinctive visual style makes Anderson’s film direction uniquely charismatic and idiosyncratic, a valuable lesson for brands to take in. By drawing the lines to the creative exploration in a way that is not rigid and restrictive but, on the contrary, is tight enough to create a sense of discipline, you can set free the creative expressions knowing that it won’t get out of hand. Hence creatively designing in an organised way.

Whether it’s the saturated industry of filmmaking or the supermarket aisle, the fight to stand out is the same. Therefore embrace your uniqueness and celebrate it in order to build a confident and distinctive brand. How delightful and aesthetically pleasant would the supermarket aisle or shopping centre be if brands would find their own discipline?

By Alina Pirvu, Creative Planner, jkr London 

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Packaging as media in the age of digital printing

Monday 16 February 2015

Packaging as media in the age of digital printing 1

Despite the glorious moniker ‘Fast Moving Consumer Goods’, it takes a very long time to print a bag of sugar or a bottle of beer using a conventional print process. It’s not uncommon for pack design projects to begin 12 to 18 months before launch. Partly as a result of this, packaging has been obliged to play a rather static role in the marketing mix, symbolising, reflecting, and at the most suggesting the values of the brand that are created by other more versatile and quick-footed media. The role of the pack was to remain steadfast and unchanged. Consistency was king.

But that assumption is being undone. The role of the pack within the marketing mix is profoundly changing. For the first time, the pack is now able to build the brand idea, rather than merely reflect it. For the first time, the pack is able to drive engagement in ‘real time’. For the first time, the pack is now media. And what’s enabling this shift is the advent of a new technology: digital printing. What used to take several months can now be done in a matter of days. If conventional printing is like a freighter ship—large, cumbersome and slow—then digital printing is like a speedboat. It’s fast, nimble and responsive.


So how is packaging being used as media in this brave new world? Personalisation, as ever, is a key trend. Narcissists like to feel special, which is why we all loved seeing our name on a bottle of Coke. But it also worked because it was consistent with the brand promise, and helped add another chapter onto the brand’s gleaming, beaming happiness story. But just because putting names on bottles worked for Coke, doesn’t mean it’ll work for anyone else.

There are other ways to resonate with an audience that increasingly demands fresh, new content. If you are a global or regional brand, a geo-specific strategy is one way to create tailored design content for different markets, regions or cities. Imagine coffee cups with unique designs for each outlet. Or in-room collateral tailored to each destination if you’re a hotel. As long as it fits with your brand idea, then consider your pack as a canvas, not a branded receptacle.

In December 2014 my company created an idea for Scottish carbonated beverage IRN-BRU. IRN-BRU is described as Scotland’s ‘other national drink’ (after whisky) and outsells both Coca-Cola and Pepsi in its home country. It’s a Scottish icon and a source of national pride. We proposed that the brand celebrate its heritage by changing its packaging to the tartan of (almost) every clan in Scotland. The launch saw the biggest ever week of traffic to the IRN-BRU website. We call this a ‘design campaign’—an initiative that uses packaging as media to advance the brand story.

From a cult of consistency to endless experimentation

Forget about limited editions. Digital printing allows brands to produce limitless editions. Absolut vodka combined digital print with algorithms to create its Absolut Unique range, consisting of 4 million completely individual bottle designs. For the first time, technology was being used as a creative enabler—as a vital part of the creative process—rather than simply the executor of a designer’s vision.

As the tech geek in their promo video explains (below), the project required a complete reconfiguring of the production line "to create variation and randomness, whereas they were designed to create stability and control’’. For Absolut, using the pack as a canvas for millions of original artworks underscored its positioning as a creative, design-led and innovative brand. As a result the collection is more than mere novelty;; it seems to resonate at a brand level, with technology actively building the brand story. 

Me, me, me

But of course, sometimes a more brazen appeal to your audience’s narcissism is too tempting to resist. Diet Coke repeated the Absolut stunt in Israel with 2 million unique bottles. Why? Because, according to the VP of Marketing at Coke in Israel, the company wanted to show Diet Coke drinkers that ‘they are extraordinary by creating unique one-of-a- kind extraordinary bottles’. Hmmm. For me, Diet Coke’s never been about individuality, or creativity, or art, or design, so this collection feels technology-led, rather than brand-led. Just because you can print 2 million different bottle designs, doesn’t mean you should. 

Packaging as media in the age of digital printing 2

An opportunity for more creative packaging

If you’re the owner of a big brand, you’re obliged to make big bets with any packaging change. Big bets, therefore, tend to be safe bets. Big bets make for risk-averse clients and boring, safe creative. Digital print is more cost effective for short runs, so it allows you to experiment, to test, trial, adapt, test again and perfect a design idea. That means we should see braver, more experimental work from agencies and clients alike.

Digital printing is a new technology, and like any new technology, we haven’t quite yet got to grips with it. The same timeless wisdom still applies—start with the brand, not the trend. But for clients, designers and creators who can see its potential, the size of the prize is unprecedented. 

Here are some additional examples of brands that have made use of digital printing.

Just Right by Purina creates a tailored nutrition plan for your dog and allows you to upload the dog's name and photo to a website so personalised packs can of pooch food can be delivered to your door: 

Heinz Get Well Soups allow customers to send a tin of Heinz soup with a personalised message to a friend feeling under the weather: 

Packaging as media in the age of digital printing 3

To re-engage a young audience that shuns traditional media, Japanese newspaper Manichi took to printing news stories on bottles of water, a new story every day: 

Packaging as media in the age of digital printing 4

By Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore

First published on Campaign Asia

Campaign Asia 4

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Designing identity in the digital age

Monday 16 February 2015

Designing identity in the digital age 1

Last week’s biggest identity story was about the new Sonos logo. In the unlikely instance that you missed it, here it is again. You have to scroll up or down to see it in action.

Cool, isn’t it.

Is this the first example of a logo that uses technology to create an optical illusion to express the brand idea in a way that is quite literally, dynamic? I suspect it is. Does this herald a new dawn for identity design? A future in which identities are kinetic, rather than static? A brave new world in which identities become multi-sensorial, fusing the audio with the visual, or creating new living, breathing, morphing brand worlds that redefine our understanding of identities? Let’s not get carried away.

The Sonos logo is wonderful, but it’s a rare, serendipitous confluence of events that produced it. (According to the designers it was a ‘happy accident’ which they only noticed halfway through the design process). It seems unlikely that we can all find our own ‘brand-centric’ digitally-enhanced optical illusion too.

That said, it does seem like we’re only just starting to master digital as a medium for brand expression. To state the obvious, digital screens are not the same as printed brochures; just as battling your way through the supermarket is not the same as ordering your groceries online. We’ve all been told that simplicity is an essential quality in an omni-screen world, but that doesn’t necessarily equate to the digital equivalent of rubber stamping a flat identity across banner ads, web pages and social media.

Designing identity in the digital age 2

This exercise caught my eye recently – it takes the logic of a responsive website and applies it to some big brand logos. If you reduce your browser size by dragging it, you’ll see the logos featured become increasingly simplified until just an icon remains: a Nike swoosh, a Chanel logo and the Coke icon. Click here to try it out.

For me, the digital space affords brands nothing but new opportunity: unrestricted by the restrictions of the ‘real’ physical world, (in which printing different logo variations costs money and time) we have a new playground. In this world, brands can be responsive, variable and malleable. The Sonos logo is great because it draws on an existing aspect of everyday technology to bring new dimension to the brand. Surely we have only just begun to scratch the surface of this opportunity.

To close, I love this work for the Quebec City Magic Festival by agency lg2, which beautifully fuses the physical and digital words in a rather, ahem, ‘magical’ way.

By Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore

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Champions of Design Asia - TWG Tea

Thursday 12 February 2015

Champions of Design Asia - TWG Tea 1

Having tea at TWG Tea is like stepping back in time. Everything is more sophisticated. The customers are stylish, self-assured tea connoisseurs. The staff trained at Downton Abbey. In this magical world the tablecloths are whiter, the napkins are crisper, the teapots are shinier and the crockery clinks with a more elegant timbre. TWG Tea is to tea what a bottle of Chanel No 5 is to perfumes, a Moleskine is to notebooks, or a Birkin is to handbags. In fact, ‘having tea at TWG Tea’ is a woefully inadequate description of the experience. 

Champions of Design Asia - TWG Tea 2

TWG Tea sells ‘the finest teas of the world’ from glimmering gold teapots amidst beautifully constructed table settings and in lovely little tea rituals. It sells a vast range of packaged teas, limited editions and gift sets in old-fashioned caddies, each with their own graphic personality. It sells loose teas from a wall of big tins that look like they just got loaded off this morning’s clipper from Ceylon. The brand has a string of elegant tea-houses throughout Asia and concessions in Harrods of London and Dean & Deluca in NYC. High tea in any of them will make you feel like a colonial memsahib in old Singapore. 

So what’s the story behind this heritage brand? How did its Raffles-era sense of nostalgia suddenly eclipse Raffles hotel itself? Where has it been hiding since 1837? 

The truth is, ‘TWG Tea’ was only established in 2007 in Singapore by 3 entrepreneurs who saw the Asian nostalgia wave coming long before the rest of us, and also managed to tie it cleverly to our thirst for luxury living. Abroad, in markets like the UK, the brand’s colonial vibe seems to appeal to consumers with Fortnum’s fatigue. 

Champions of Design Asia - TWG Tea 3

Have we been duped? Does it matter? Do we even care? I have a hunch we care less about it here in Asia than we would in a mature Western market. In Asia, we still trust brands, and even those that dissemble don’t seem to faze us. Faux authenticity isn’t such a bad thing when authenticity itself is in such short supply. Ultimately, Asians are extremely pragmatic, and if a pot of tea and a macaron at TWG Tea is a supremely enjoyable throwback to colonial splendour, then what’s the problem? 

TWG Tea’s brand story is a splendid mirage, made persuasive and convincing by the fluency of its design language – old fashioned of course, but also not too slick or ‘designed’. The role of design is to give visual expression to intangible ideas – as it has done for this brand-new old-fashioned brand. I for one, am willing to suspend my disbelief in return for ‘a pot of tea at TWG’. 

By Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore

First published on Campaign Asia

Campaign Asia 3

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The new whisky codes

Tuesday 10 February 2015

A couple of years ago, this was the prevailing category language for single malt whiskies.

The new whisky codes 1

Now, it seems that single malts are starting to look a bit more like the ones below.

The new whisky codes 2

Crikey! What’s that all about?! That feels like a significant shift to me. Whisky’s always been a ‘manly’ category’, but with this development, it seems to be finally sloughing off its pipe and slippers image and embracing a new kind of masculinity. The sepia tones, heavily typographic labels, scripts, signatures, ink etchings, watermarks, crests and stags seem to be falling out of favour. This new whisky vision is bold, confident, uncompromising – whisky is no longer just for those in the know, these packs seem to be saying – it’s for those bold enough to choose a new whisky path! Or something.

The truth is, of course, that the category is in the middle of exchanging one set of generic category conventions for another. Out with one kind of typography (italicised, scripty, frills and bells); and in with another kind (letterpress and sans serif: brave and modern). Out with accents of gold, and in with accents of lime green and teal. It all looks exciting and new and on trend.

But that’s kind of the problem.

Trends come and go, and they can’t be ignored – not even by packaging, which has traditionally occupied a very static role in the marketing mix. But nor should they be embraced at the cost of brand distinctiveness. This bold reimagining of the whisky category is a welcome breath of fresh air, but the bottom line is that a sans serif caps type on clear PSL labels is neither unique nor ownable. The trick with trends is to own them, rather than letting the trend own you – in knowing what your brand stands for, and aligning its visual expression with its inner spirit.


By Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore

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Champions of Design Asia - Suntory

Sunday 08 February 2015

Champions of Design Asia - Suntory 1

‘Wabi-Sabi’ is the Japanese world view that prizes the beauty of transience and imperfection. It has no direct translation in English, but it connotes ideas of isolation, simplicity, longing and a closeness to the natural world. It explains the Japanese aesthetic: understated, contemplative and elegant. According to Suntory’s chief bartender, Takayuki Suzuki, it also explains his company’s approach to whisky manufacturing. 

Suntory has been making whisky in Japan since 1924 when Shinjiro Torii (aka ‘the nose of Osaka’) built the first Japanese whisky distillery outside of Kyoto. Japanese people laughed at his vision to sell Scotch whisky in the domestic market, whilst single malt connoisseurs in the West sniggered into their crystal tumblers. But he persisted and his blended whiskies finally came of age – both in terms of product taste and design aesthetic. 

In the Scotch whisky category, there is a set of visual signifiers we intuitively ‘read’ to infer notions of authenticity, heritage, complexity, strength and so on. Hibiki and Yamazaki share none of these established category codes. And yet, we don’t doubt that similar notions are suggested by this very different style of packaging. They feel credible, but they also feel quintessentially Japanese. 

Champions of Design Asia - Suntory 2

The Hibiki bottle design in particular, with its distinctive 24-faceted profile, is inspired by the 24 hours in a day but also the 24 segments in the Japanese lunar calendar. The label is made from traditional hand-crafted paper called washi, whilst the name ‘Hibiki’ means ‘resonance’. It’s potent, poetic stuff. And it’s a million miles away from images of highland glens and silhouettes of stag heads. 

It wasn’t always like this. When Suntory started out, the company clearly looked to Scotch whisky for inspiration and direction. The original bottle, dating from 1929, apes the conventions of the Scotch whisky category: big label, centred composition, gothic type and quasi-Christian symbolism. But eventually Suntory whisky brands found their voice. 

Which just goes to show. If you can’t join ‘em, beat ‘em. 

By Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore

First published on Campaign Asia

Campaign Asia 2

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Champions of Design Asia - Asahi

Tuesday 03 February 2015

Champions of Design Asia - Asahi 1

There’s something about the combination of bold calligraphic black type against raw, shiny aluminium on the Asahi beer can that feels quintessentially Japanese.

Ancient tradition and futuristic optimism: these contradictions seem elegantly resolved in its design. The logo alludes to the kind of craftsmanship we expect from Japan, whilst the can feels unequivocally urban. The success of the design is that it speaks to heritage and to newness in one breath.

The design has become a visual shorthand for Japanese beer, yet the identity as we know it has only been with us since 1987. The story of its introduction is a fable of brand rebirth.

For decades until this point, Asahi’s logo consisted of a rising sun framed by Hokusai-inspired waves (‘Asahi’ means ‘rising sun’ in Japanese). It’s hard to conceive of a more authentic, nationalistic piece of brand iconography. I would like to have been a fly on the boardroom wall when company president Tsutomu Murai tabled the idea of throwing the whole lot in the bin and starting again.

Why? In 1982 Asahi beer was in a seemingly unstoppable spiral of decline. From the number two beer in Japan, its share had dwindled over time to just a little over 10%. Tsutomu Murai instructed the company’s R&D team to do something revolutionary: to really listen to the market. They came up with a new, light and refreshing style of beer they called ‘Super Dry’.

The new design broke the rules of beer branding. It rejected the vernacular of the category, with no conventional ‘racetrack’ device (the oval shape and cross-bar that signifies most European style beers) or star symbol in sight. In trying to express the idea of ‘newness’, Asahi found its own voice – one that is modern, urban and sharp. Somehow the elegant, strong brushstrokes of the logo manage to conjure a feeling of strength, dynamism and opportunity, without relying on the more literal rising sun icon to do it.

In the year of its launch, the brand’s growth outpaced that of the category threefold, and the redesign, along with the Super Dry innovation, received credit for reversing the brand’s fortunes. It’s now the biggest beer brand in Japan and one of the top 10 beer brands in the world.

Champions of Design Asia - Asahi 2

Would Asahi have achieved the same result with a Super Dry variant of its rising sun label? I doubt it. Murai knew that kind of superficial tinkering would have been a case of ‘rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic’. Sometimes, when a company or product undergoes fundamental change, the role of design is to shout it from the rooftops. Nothing says ‘we really mean it’ better than a visual promise that you do.

By Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore

First published on Campaign Asia

Campaign Asia 1

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