This is a space for current work, process, opinions & explorations. You can view my full portfolio here.

Tuesday
Jul172012

New Site!

 

I have created a new site and blog over at www.hellomattstevens.com

I will keep this site up so you can browse the archives, but all current work and new posts will be going up over there. Thanks!

Friday
Jun292012

Process: JJ's Red Hots - Pt.03 / Signage & Interiors

UPDATE: Part 4 is now available on my new site/blog

If you missed them, go check out Part 1 and Part 2.

One of the greatest parts of this project has been designing the signage and interior graphics. JJ's resides on East Boulevard in Charlotte, a stretch of road populated with lots of businesses begging for attention. We knew that we wanted to make a statement with the exterior signage. Signage code in this area is pretty strict, so we were somewhat limited in what we could do. I started by exploring concepts in rough sketches and in simple elevation form. We knew we wanted to include some neon as well, so I included some day vs night studies.

 

Pretty late in the process we hit on the big red arrow concept that ended up being the final. This wrapping element creates a strong presence at the main viewing angle as people go up and down East Boulevard.

Once the files were handed off to the fabricator, we went out early in the process to review materials and colors. Sign Connection in North Carolina did the fabrication and they did an amazing job. The final arrow sign is an internally lit aluminum cabinet, with raised aluminum letters and raised neon. They also suggested a textured coating that gave it a great vintage look. The care and detail they put into making them were amazing.

Review of lit sign at the shop

Signs arrive at the site, pre-install

For the take-out area, I got this great sketch from Jon as a starting point.I explored several options that I felt captured the spirit of the sketch and eventually landed on a final. We had to simplify it a bit due to it's smaller scale, but once again, the sign fabricators nailed it.

Approved vector elevation / neon study

For the interiors, we already had a great space in process. Charlotte architects, RBA Group had created a really warm and inviting space with a great palette of colors and materials. My main charge was to create the menu boards and bring the brand inside. 

As I was working on the menu boards, we'd print out individual panels and stick them on the wall to make sure we liked how they felt in the space and that the sizes of typography was right. The menu boards were originally going to be more complex, but due to delays in having them engineered we had to just frame them individually to have them up for an event. Once we saw these simplified boards, we actually thought they worked better in the space and decided to go with them and scrap the more complex design.

Earlier menu board design mock up

Testing out viewing distances and legibility

Final menu boards

As the space was nearing completion, one of the last minute thoughts was to do a large graphic wall. The kitchen and prep area had this bright red subway tile that was a real focal point. Without detracting from that, we wanted to pull some of that red out into the space to create some balance and add an energetic element.

Graphic wall install

Approved graphic wall elevation

I measured the wall, and created a large red, tone on tone graphic inspired by our deli paper pattern that served as a backdrop for our inspiration wall. These were photos taken by Jon of places around the USA that inspired the food and the emotion of JJ's. It was a large seamed graphic printed on an adhesive 3M product that was installed just in the nick of time for our friends and family event.

Big red wall, installed

Jon Luther at VIP event / photo by Brandy Newton

The site of JJ's was built in the 40's and was a walk up restaurant called "the Drum." Later it expanded and had inside seating. After that the site has been many restaurants. As a tribute to the heritage of this site, Jon had this concept of weaving cues to the Drum and to music in general throughout. He enlisted a friend at Ludwig Metals to construct this amazing drum light fixture. You can read lots more about that here. The round soffit around this centerpiece is the shape of the Drum's original outer walls. We positioned pieces from Jon's music poster collection around this entire area. We even researched and found a good quality scan of the original drum logo, which I redrew and we had installed in this area.

Drum fixture and music posters / Photo by Brandy Newton

The run up to the Grand opening on July 4th, has been and continues to be a pretty organic process. I spent a lot of time actually working in the JJ's space. I got to experience the first day of new recruits and witness the process of refining the menu and operations. It's given me a greater understanding of the brand at it's core and all the hard work it takes to open a restaurant.

The new recruits get to sample the product for the first time

Sampling the menu while working on the menu

We are also finding ways to include little details. We are creating some graphics and simple wayfinding direct printed on wood, that I'm going to go in and add some weathering and paint details to. These will hang throughout the space.

Mock-ups of direct print wood signs

There were also opportunities to do fun, unexpected things in the most mundane of places. I brought my kids in to help me paint the table numbers. I designed a really simple bent metal system that would be inexpensive to produce and would stack for storage. We bought stencils and painted them ourselves. We don't do so well with mundane tasks so we had some fun with our numbering system, throwing in some LOL's, BRB's and, well you'll just have to come in and see for yourself. It was a real pleasure to get them involved.

Whew...thanks for hanging with all of that. I know it was a lot and I hope you'll stick around for my wrap up in part 4.

I suggested grill fork door handles in an early meeting, Jon went and had it made...unbelievable

UPDATE: Part 4 is now available on my new site/blog

 

Wednesday
Jun272012

Process: JJ's Red Hots - Pt.02 / Extending the Brand

If you missed part 01, you can go and check it out here.

One of the most satisfying aspects of the JJ's project has been all the opportunites to interpret and extend the brand into so many mediums. After the space had been selected, a VIP event was planned and we needed to create a way to get the attention of local influencers and get them to come and experience JJ's and spread the word. We decided to assemble a kit of JJ's swag into a plain metal lunchbox.

VIP invitation assembly

VIP invite sketches

By doing some basic hand work ourselves, we saved money, but the object itself had impact and encapsulated much of the hardworking and fun aspects of the brand. The invitation itself was printed on a page from a diner pad and the labels on the lunchboxes were simple vinyl graphics from a sign shop.

As the menu was developed, owner Jon Luther came up with amazing names for each of the featured dogs. These menu items were carefuly curated and crafted as a best of the best from around the USA. The names were inspiring and I began to explore badging these items and creating a little mini identity for each.

As a team we saw opportunities with this. They became physical buttons, and also made their way onto the menu, both printed and physical in the space.

 

These badges also became the basis for our rewards program. We invited guests to take a Tour of USA courtesy of JJ's. Every time a signature dog is purchased you get a punch in your card and if you get them all, you get a limited edition T-shirt, created just for this program.

 

To keep the serving and presentation of the food inexpensive and functional, we dressed up simple serving pieces with a custom deli paper.

Deli paper mock up / study

We generated tons of ideas for apparel right out of the gate and eventually decided to keep our options to around 4 or 5 shirts. We created simple shirts for the staff and classic kitchen shirts for the back of house, that could be paired with trucker style hats. 

Apparel and Headwer Explorations

We knew that drawing families in was a huge part of what would make the restaurant work. We produced lots of items that would be fun for kids to receive but were very basic and evoked an earlier era, so the parents would be jazzed too.

Overall, we just tried to create items that added to the overall experience and supported the message of the brand. "Considered" was a word that Jon and I both latched onto very early on. Every aspect is considered and thought out and creates pleasant surprises around every corner for those that come in the door.

In part 03, I'll share the process of creating the signage & environmental graphics. Thanks for following along.

UPDATE: Part 3 is up

Wednesday
Jun272012

Process: JJ's Red Hots - pt.01 / Identity

I am newly out on my own since early 2012 after over 15 years in small shops and agencies, and this is by far the most comprehensive project I've taken on as an individual, so I thought it would be a great project to dissect and take a look at some process and behind the scenes. This is part one of four, so I hope you stick with me and enjoy following along.

Details matter / Sketch from client of grill fork

JJ's Red Hots is a restaurant concept, created by proprietor, Jon Luther. I was brought in at the very early stages to develop the brand along with Jon and his core team. At that point there was no building, no staff and no logo. What there was though was a great concept, passion and a clear direction for what JJ's was all about and who it would serve. Jon was inspired by his roots in Buffalo, NY and the "red hots" that were a staple there. We first met in October of 2011 and even at that stage there was real clarity about the tone and voice of JJ's.

 

Jon had done extensive research and captured lots of visuals of classic, time tested hot dog joints all over the country. JJ's was about making the perfect Red Hot, but also curating the best dogs from around the USA. After a few great discussions, I had a really good feel for things and already lots of visuals swirling around in my head. Those early meetings are key for me to hear the vision straight from the creator. There are so many little things in those early discussions that end up showing up in the work.

My first round presentation was 3 general directions. I presented mood boards for each, with separate logos within each of those directions. I don't always do formal, customer-facing mood boards, but if the budget and schedule allow, it really helps me as a designer to explore and shape direction, but more importantly, can give the client a view into the larger world that I envision, versus just a single mark.

The mascot felt like a great direction and would allow us to exude the fun and irreverence that we felt so strongly about, but our current guy was a bit too evil, pitchfork and all. There was also interest in the more classic typography of the second direction diner sign/badge, so round two would be an attempt to refine the mascot and bring in a more symmetrical and classic typographic lock up. 

We created a refined moodboard, losing a bit of the sexy devil stuff shown on the round one version (this was a family place after all). We were all really sold on the mascot at this point as well, and didn't want to completely lose the mischieviousness, but didn't want to scare small children either. 

There were lots of explorations of the mascot; grill marks versus highlight, different facial expressions, heat lines off of his head, or a hat. In the end, we included the grill marks because they communicated an important quality of the product itself and lost the heat lines, because many interpreted that as spicy instead of hot off the grill. After all of those refinements, we built our final family of marks. We included a sign paint style typeface to pull in a bit of the funky roadside / city street dog stand feel that was a big part of the inspiration for the brand. This also set the stage to allow us to be much more playful, typographically throughout the entire project.

In part 02, I'll dive into how we expanded the visual palette of JJ's and all the other fun brand elements, as well as all the collateral.

UPDATE: Part 2 is up

UPDATE: Part 3 is up

 

 

 

Saturday
May262012

What I've been up to & What's Next

Just wanted to take a few minutes to give a quick update on what I've been doing and what's next. The comment spambots have been quiet lately, so I need to give them some fresh meat...anybody want a good deal on a watch?

My 3 months in California was a blur, but an amazing blur

After leaving Hawse, I was engaged by Facebook to come out and work on-site in California with the Communication Design team. My 3 month contract ends a week from today. I feel so fortunate to have been able to work in such a unique and amazing environment. As part of the CommD team I've gotten to work on a wide variety of things. I collaborated on some motion projects, helped build the new brand for the AppCenter and did some illustration work as well. I have learned something new from these guys everyday and I am grateful to have been welcomed onto the team.

Right after I get back to Charlotte, I'll be heading out the Weapons of Mass Creation Fest in Cleveland Ohio as a speaker. Can't wait to meet some other designers and creatives that I've long admired and see some amazing speakers. My 30 minute talk will be called "Subject to Change without notice" and I will share about the last few years of my life and how things have changed as a result of pursuing new kinds of work. Come out to the event if you can and say hi.

Once back in Charlotte I'll be devoting myself to client work and pursuing new projects. I have been working on a long term restaurant project that has been one of the best experiences of my design life. JJ's Red Hots will be opening on East Boulevard this summer and it's so fun to be a part of the team bringing this place to life. Keep your eyes open for much more on this one.

Thanks for taking a minute to catch up. Hope to have a new site up this summer, so keep an eye out.