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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




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Reader Comments (7)

This is an incredible post Matt. I've been a fan of the JJs stuff since I saw it on Dribbble, and have enjoyed seeing the process through Instagram. It's great to follow the process and see how you got from the original concepts to the final product. Looking forward to round 2!

June 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEric 'WizKid' Odom

This is fantastic. Loved the direction you chose and thought the others were great as well. I look forward to seeing your part two. I've seen a couple of the items on instagram and thought they were perfect extensions of the identity you showed here. Great work all around.

June 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSean

Wow! A blog over signs, concepts, and I was glued to the screen! What a good use of words, pictures, flow to explain the direction of a company. Feel like I gained a bit of knowledge about JJ's where as before I was confused. Can't wait to eat there now.

Also excited for the next blog. Keep me in the loop.

June 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTaylor Shytle

Thank you so much for this introspective, Matt. I've always been a huge fan, and now that I'm knee deep in the freelancing business it helps to see a designer's perspective of the minutiae of the business. Starting part 2 right now!

June 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Duggan

Thank you. I just found this blog and what a great resource! It is a good blog and their posts are effective.

June 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAustin Web Designers

Simple formula. Passion + Vision + Talent + Sweat = SUCCESS!!!

June 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSumter Cox

Another creative director pointed your work out to me and we are both blown-away by how great the branding is for JJs. You are one talented individual. Hope we can use you as a freelance option in the near future.

July 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMark Sorensen

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