Sow

Translating the mobile home buying experience from the iPhone to Android

Role

Branding consultant

When

January 2017

Brief

  • Design a visual identity for Sow, a startup hoping to become a marketplace for locally grown food, and other renewable commodities, through direct transactions between producers and consumers.
  • Design with room to grow. As an idea-stage company, without a product, expect things to change along the way.

When

February–March 2018

For

Jason, the founder, was pitching the idea to a university pitch competition. He’d be using the potential prize money to kick off the company. Its future depended on success in the pitch!

Role

Branding consultant

Impact

Sow won the competition! The $20k prize purse was used to kickstart product development. I went on to join as a co-founder in September 2018.


It’s February. I’m home in the UK between research trips in Laos and Nepal when I get a message from a friend.

Hey! I’ve got a project I’m submitting to a pitch competition. If it wins I’ll be turning it into a company. Think you could help with a logo?

The project was Sow. An online marketplace for locally grown food. It needed a visual identity to help tell the story of the company, and to look like a thing for investors, that would eventually grow with them as they developed a product and went to market.

Discovery

We started with a bunch of ‘discovery’ calls. I would mine Jason’s mind, getting a deep dive on he idea, and its origins, ambitions, and meaning. Together we collected reference material for visual directions we liked, gathered research online, and hit the pavements–learning from farmers markets, farm shops, grocery stores, and local artisanal businesses.

https://www.figma.com/file/aU4s5Z0dNCMOjNp6l86cHDwK/References?node-id=0%3A1

https://www.figma.com/file/aU4s5Z0dNCMOjNp6l86cHDwK/References?node-id=0%3A1

On a project like this I like to do an initial ‘idea dump’. After soaking up the research, I sit with a sketchpad and draw/write whatever comes to mind. No agenda—just words, pictures, ideas, anything that comes up, goes down on paper. I’ll then typically put these to one side as I launch into a more thorough process, but I find it’s good to have in the background in case of ideas worth revisiting.

Starting with words

Exploration began with just words. Finding words that expressed different angles on what Sow was about. It’s a process picked up from Jon Patterson at NewDeal, and I find it immensely helpful in generating directions that are divergent but still relevant to the project’s aspirations.

Together we settled on 5 words that might express what Sow was about. These formed the prompts to begin sketching. Exploring visuals around these concepts.

Finding the symbol

Pages of sketches led to a few ideas per concept, which we narrowed down to a few key contendors for development. I mocked these up in context to explore how they’d hold up to real-life use.

Some, such as the marketplace route, proved too restrictive. As such an early company with only a very loosely defined product, pushing the produce box symbol may have led us mismatch down the road.

One idea stood out in particular. ‘The bud’, as we called it, came from the concept of growth. While Sow’s product was liable to change as it moved from idea to working company, the idea of Sow being a vehicle for growth was a strong one that would persist. Growth for the farmers and producers participating in the network. Growth for the local-goods economy. Growth, of-course, in the food itself that grows from the ground.

We were both set on the Bud, and so all that remained was to refine it to the strongest mark possible. I experimented with different treatments, geometries and lockups, to find the symbol that ‘sang’ the clearest.

Brand system

How to communicate Sow’s values across all its various touchpoints?

Local food is a labor of love. The people that produce it choose to go against the grain of cheap, mass-produced food. They do things the hard way, in pursuit of the highest-quality, most ethically sound food possible.

I crafted visuals with the idea of putting these people front and center. Using their stories to differentiate the product from the ordinary, anonymous fare you’d find in a supermarket. Farmers’ portraits and stories are front-and-center to reinforce the transparency of the network.

We settled on the combination of Grilli Type’s Cinetype for display use and UI elements, and Tisa for longer form copy and storytelling. The arresting, chiselled, handmade qualities of Cinetype paired nicely with the sturdy and considered qualities of Tisa. Speaking to the combination of all-natural inputs and craftsmanship that goes into local food.

Fleshing out the story

Along with the visual identity. Some quick visual-only app screens helped tell the story for the pitch, and paint the picture for the audience of what Sow might become.

The result? Sow won the pitch! Jason told a compelling story of what it could become, and took the $20k in prize money to begin work on the company. I joined Sow that September as a co-founder, and together we pursued the vision of creating a marketplace for local produce that enables local growers to find a market and thrive.