Branding Vancouver looks at some of the more interesting logos and icons that appear in Vancouver’s food and beverage scene, and cultural landscape. Some of the explanations will be long and others short, but the goal of deeper understanding will be constant. If you want the backstory of a particularly compelling local brand revealed, let us know via @scoutmagazine and we’ll try to figure it out.
Today we head out to Kits’ most eclectic cafe, their there, to get the first-hand story from owner, chef and conceptual designer, Michael Robbins. From its space-themed artwork to its quirky tag-like logo and milk crate seats, every element of this brand has a unique story and thought process. Get inside Robbins’ head by reading on…
First of all: your logo. It’s an incredibly low-key, almost street tag-like look yet it carries a great deal of humour and cleverness in its design. In a couple of sentences tell me how you came up with it and what inspired it. Once I came up with the name of the cafe, I spent a lot of time with my iPad pro thinking through potential names and the ideal way to express the experience within our current vision. The logo cycles through 4 different expressions/emotions which lends itself well to today’s emoji-centred culture and leveraging our social media presence. However, it was important to me to include a human element, which is why the emoji’s are hand drawn.
Were there any other potentials that got tossed along the way? There are ALWAYS others that get tossed along the way, but there is a reason they get tossed, so I’m not sure I save space in my brain for those that don’t make the cut.
What is your education and/or background in art and design? I have no formal education in art or design. I just really like it. I grew up in a creative house that sparked a certain way of thinking and seeing the world from a young age. This influenced my career in that I have always wanted to be my own boss to ensure that I would always have creative freedom with my work. As long as I can remember I’ve been playing with creative concepts for clothing stores, restaurants, hotels, furniture, lighting…basically everything. So from a young age I have always played with ideas of concepts I would like to open and the creative details I would want to apply to them. For example, when I was building AnnaLena in 2014, I was really into Lego because the element of childhood playfulness was central to the concept – and so, there was Lego lighting and decor touches throughout. But that’s specific to a time, place, energy and aesthetic. Since then, people have come to associate me with Lego. I’m often tagged in lego-themed Instaposts and have received more than my share of Lego boxed sets, Lego earrings, even a Lego Nike shoe. For the record, I’m not a Lego guy. I’m a Nike guy.
Space is the theme behind their there’s to-go cup artwork and merchandise. Where does this fascination for space come from? Why did you choose to work it into their there’s branding? It’s not that I’m specifically fascinated with outer space. Like the Lego example above, it’s representative of a creative concept or moment in time. The direction with the cups was the integration of something other-worldly with something from nature. Most of all, I wanted something playful and original for the cups. I didn’t want the cups to say ‘their there’ on them. If people in the know saw the cups, they would recognize where they came from, and if people weren’t familiar with their there the cups would be intriguing enough to pique curiosity enough to come and find us. I have many more space/earth collabs in the works for ‘their their’ in the future.
Here’s a line of thought process: their there = “our” there = something different = space is different = different = not fitting in = space on earth = space man with flowers.
In addition to coffee, pastries and a food & drink menu, you also sell branded merchandise such as stickers and socks. Why does a cafe need merchandise? Why did you choose to branch out into the wearable and stick-able directions? What are your plans for merchandise in the future? Between their there, Hundy, and AnnaLena, I’m open to making any type of merchandise that works for the brand. A cafe doesn’t ’need’ merchandise; I don’t think any food service needs merchandise to be successful, but we enjoy making it, and it definitely doesn’t hurt.
Your branding makes it so compelling NOT to get rid of an otherwise disposable to-go cup because it feels so special and valuable like a piece of art (to me, at least). The line between art and packaging is so wavy…was that intentional? I’m very much into fashion and believe that the quality and perception of what the product comes in sets the tone for the quality of the product itself. It’s a bit more difficult at their there, or any food service brand, to use the same quality level as a clothing line. We also need to ensure things are compostable and recyclable on a mass scale. For us though, the challenge is worth the effort when the outcome matches our original vision.
What are the stand out elements that compel you as a consumer to become interested in a brand? Presentation, or how they got my attention in the first place, whether it be through clever/creative branding, marketing campaigns, or social media. But more importantly, the branding only works if the quality of the actual product is there.
Besides their there, what other brands are you currently digging around the city? How about internationally? I like St Marie/Glasfurd Walker. They have a major influence on restaurant design in the city. I love what Rhek did with the DL chicken logo, smashed it. Reigning Champ and Herschel have had worldwide impacts for local brands, and are beyond inspirational. I could go on and on, locally alone, and don’t want to fall down the rabbit hole of international brands, it’s endless.
Walking into their there you feel as though you are walking into something very unique, niche and thought out with a lot of personality. There are a lot of little personal touches – such as toys, milk crate seating and sneakers. What was your overall approach to the space? How do you want customers to feel when they enter and spend time hanging out in the cafe? What sort of conversations do you hope to spark with your design elements? I chip away at concepts. I started with the name, and then completed the graphics for the coffee cups. After that, I moved onto broad strokes of the design. I knew I wanted to plywood wrap the space, and the milk crate seats are one of my all time favourite design ideas. They stem from a lifetime of sitting on them as a chef drinking – a coffee before service, a beer after. Mixed marble tables were a cost effective choice that turned out to be one that added a lot of character. I could go on and on with all the details, but basically I wanted a warm, clean, interesting space with lots of touches worthy of conversation.