Leeds creative agency Robot Food share their approach to brand design

Formed in 2009 and based in Leeds, Robot Food are a fiercely independent, strategic branding agency specialising in product innovation, brand development and cut-through design.

We spoke to Creative Director Simon Forster and Senior Designer Ben Brears about their studio ethos, creative process and their nuts and bolts approach to brand design – as they share their recent work for Vocation Brewery and a few tips for approaching your own design briefs.

Robot Food creative team

Robot Food creative team

Can you share a brief history of Robot Food and company culture – who founded the company? Is there a story behind the name?

Robot Food was started in a dining room early in 2009 by our Creative Director, Simon, who had no real experience and a lot to learn. With a career in sports and lifestyle fashion behind him, he’d never even been in a design agency, let alone worked in one. But by not knowing the rules, it was easy to break them and and by growing, learning, and challenging the established model, we’ve created an agency that truly embraces creativity. One that questions, and challenges, and works with clients to deliver solutions with real integrity, and of course one that our team are proud to be part of.

Having that challenger attitude and personality from the get-go has worked well for us in terms of attracting (and keeping) the best creative talent as well as brave clients who want genuine standout in a crowded market.

As far as the name, there’s no real story other than it’s memorable and sounds better than a couple of surnames!

Robot Food creative team

Robot Food creative team

As an agency which produces a variety of projects, what do you love most about working with brand design?

The process is always enjoyable no matter what the challenge, as great ideas give you a buzz.

Simon Forster, Robot Food

The process is always enjoyable no matter what the challenge, as great ideas give you a buzz. The execution can also be extremely rewarding, when you’re caught up in the detail for a while, then step back to see it as a whole. The best part though is seeing the effect your work has, whether it be increasing brand awareness, sales volume, or galvanising the team spirit within a company. The biggest reward is the confidence our work offers others.

Brand design for Vocation Brewery

Brand design for Vocation Brewery

Excellent craft beer alone is not enough to be successful. You need an impactful brand too. Customers love the results, and sales have exploded. I call Robot Food our fifth Beatle. Their work just goes to show what can happen when a great product is given a powerful brand.

John Hickling – Founder and Head Brewer, Vocation Brewery
Brand design for Vocation Brewery

Brand design for Vocation Brewery

Can you share a recent branding project with an overview of the client brief and how you approached it?

The project we’re most proud of is the creation of the Vocation Brewery brand. Our client, John came to us asking for an identity for a new brewery that he was starting and wanted to call ‘Brewery on the Hill’. The name was boring to us so we asked John his story and leaned forward, compelled, scribbling notes as his passion for brewing new school beers came spilling out.

Vocation crafts uncompromisingly good beer. So we gave them an uncompromisingly good name and brand identity. Each bold beer name takes centre-stage on each label.

Simon Forster, Robot Food

All we had to do was tell John’s story, which is where the name Vocation came from. We then worked on the positioning, and tone of voice with the understanding that craft beer was set to explode and that we were the target market.

Vocation crafts uncompromisingly good beer. So we gave them an uncompromisingly good name and brand identity. Each bold beer name takes centre-stage on each label.

Brand design for Vocation Brewery

Brand design for Vocation Brewery

Brand design for Vocation Brewery

The branding is iconic and has bold stand out, but the brand name is tiny and the brand mark is hidden within the illustration, making it a brand for the early adopters to talk about. It’s for those in the know who love great beer.

Vocation is now stocked in all the best independent bars and has national listings with Byron Burger and most major supermarkets.

The brand name is tiny and the brand mark is hidden within the illustration, making it a brand for the early adopters to talk about. It’s for those in the know who love great beer!

Simon Forster, Robot Food

You have to see things subjectively to create brands with impact that resonate. The process we follow goes something like this:

1) Audit and Immersion – Learn about the category and the brand and it’s history (if it’s existing), thinking of ways to provoke thoughts with the client.

2) Brand Workshop – A collaborative session to define the brand purpose, values and personality.

3) Create a blueprint for all brand activity to follow.

4) Learn from lifestyle trends outside the category and create compelling design propositions to discuss with the client.

5) Narrow the propositions to create three killer concepts that embody the strategy in a bold and brave way.

6) Develop the chosen concept through to production, ensuring every step is cared for as much as the last to deliver best results.

Packaging design for Vocation Brewery craft lager

Packaging design for Vocation Brewery craft lager

Digging deep to understand the personality of the brand – its history, function and ethos is essential for effective brand design – how much research do you undertake for your projects? 

We run brand workshops with clients to define their brands purpose, values and personality. This is the foundation that we use to direct the design which follows a robust process. A lot of agencies have a trademarked way of working, but ours is RAD™ (Research, Analyse, Define). Essentially it’s about taking a hard look at not just the brand and it’s immediate world, but wider lifestyle trends and influences from outside of the category. This enables us to develop some pretty unique and compelling design, that really resonates with it’s target audience. Critically this is driven and shaped by our creative team too, so that by the time we start with ‘design’ our designers are more than up to speed with the project, they’re fully invested in the client and the journey we’re taking with them.

Brand design for Mercht

Identity for social online venture Mercht

Working with clients can sometimes be challenging – how do you best approach branding briefs to meet the needs and expectations of a client?

We’re a relatively small agency, so whilst we have robust processes in place to help us develop strong creative strategy and design, we’re not wedded to some rigid formula. We’re flexible and we’ll tailor our approach to the client, often working with them to developing the brief. We’ll push back if needed and challenge expectations if required to deliver best results. We’re pretty tough on ourselves internally too; we’re very much a democracy as far as what work gets shown and progresses — It really doesn’t matter to us whether a concept comes from a Junior or a Design Director, if it’s the strongest idea and the best execution that’s what goes forward. There’s no ego at Robot Food.

Brand design for Mercht

Identity for social online venture Mercht

Do you keep digital mood boards, reference materials, books, magazines etc to inspire the creative team?

We have a ‘headphones off’ policy that helps in getting conversations going and keeping everyone present. Ultimately though, we try and let people be themselves and don’t dictate too much how or where or which way to do things.

Ben Brears, Senior Designer, Robot Food

We encourage close collaboration between our all team and for everyone to share ideas — how they do this is up to them. We have an open plan studio and the entire team communicates well with each other. We have a ‘headphones off’ policy that helps in getting conversations going and keeping everyone present. Ultimately though, we try and let people be themselves and don’t dictate too much how or where or which way to do things. If you want to surround yourselves with books and references and sketch on the dining table then great, and if you’re curated the perfect Pinterest board and want to share that with the team then that’s great too. We just try and create the right environment for people to be their best. Self expression is crucial.

Packaging design for Costello + Hellerstein

Packaging design for Costello + Hellerstein

How do you nurture your creative ideas in-between projects? Do you have a favourite place to go when you’re in need of visual stimulation / inspiration?

We’ve been very lucky recently in that there hasn’t been a lot of ‘in between’ time in the midst of projects. That can have it’s own problems though as it’s easy to develop a heads down mentality and continue to do just what you know. That’s why we build time into the schedule for non-client projects too; Whether that’s just creating new art or a neon for the studio, or developing new strands to our bow by creating brands in areas we haven’t worked before, we’re always looking for new inspiration and new things to do. Having created our own Rum and worked with Vocation Brewery, to brew our own ale in the last couple of years years, we might well be one of the only agencies where designers actually want to work on the Christmas promo. We’ve also started taking trips as a team to new and inspiring places, taking ourselves out of our comfort zone to find inspiring new visual stimulation. Last year we all decamped to Copenhagen for a few days, and we’re in the process of planning this years trip. 

We don’t need more people who do exactly what we now, we want people who can add something different and teach us something new.

Ben Brears, Senior Designer, Robot Food
Packaging design for Costello + Hellerstein

Packaging design for Costello + Hellerstein

Can you offer 2-3 tips for students / aspiring & established designers looking for a route into brand design? What are the advantages of working in-house as opposed to freelance?

Be yourself — we see a lot of folios from graduates and young designers full of work they’ve think we want to see rather than the work they want to do. Our design team are from all backgrounds and walks of life, and it’s their different interests, experiences and skill-sets that combine to deliver the best creative work. We don’t need more people who do exactly what we now, we want people who can add something different and teach us something new. 

Have an opinion — It’s easier to quietly do what you’re told, answer feedback to the letter and go home. But some of our best work has come about from raising our heads above the parapet and questioning a brief or pushing the client. Some of our projects have been made infinitely better because an intern or junior has stood up and asked questions of the senior team. By constantly challenging each other and asking questions of ourselves and our clients we ensure we’re delivering freshness and value, rather than regurgitating the same tired old work and clichés over and over. 

www.robot-food.com

 

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Posted on Jun 22nd, 17 by | Twitter: @inkygoodness

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