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What’s the Story Behind the Branding of The Magnet?

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.

In this edition, we get a detailed story of the many people and ideas that contributed to The Magnet‘s cool, one-of-a-kind look from the two brains behind its branding, owner Nigel Springthorpe (of Brassneck Brewery and Alibi Room) and lead designer Alex Nelson, co-founder of Post Projects design studio.

First of all, where did the name “The Magnet” come from and what does it mean? Nigel: I had a different name for years, then one day I felt suddenly inspired to call the place The Magnet. I guess I always knew the location would be a little off the beaten path, and the name to me speaks of attraction and repulsion (this word doesn’t always have the most positive connotations), like-minded folks being drawn toward something by an invisible force, perpetual motion etc. (Jesus that sounds cheesy. Bet you’re sorry you asked!)

You’ve mentioned before that its building has a bit of a (sordid?) past…can you please tell me a bit about its history? N: Here’s some info on the murder of the original owner of the building.

How did the building and its past affect the overall concept of The Magnet? N: I don’t think the history of the building necessarily affected the concept, but the age of the building and the history attached to it 100% influenced our decision to make 309 West Pender the home of The Magnet.

I think that the intrinsic architectural beauty you inherit when you take a building like ours back down to the bones has a great deal of value. It’s very difficult to fake the character of an old brick building. You can find commercial spaces that have a heritage feel that can be used for a restaurant, but to be honest I think most have been revamped and renovated already, with a giant rental price tag slapped on them. We felt like we’d found a bit of a unicorn with 309 West Pender.

People seem to feel comfortable around old brick and wood, and it provides an excellent foundation on which to base other interior aesthetics as well as branding and design.

The Magnet is very different than your other projects; I don’t think that there’s anything quite like it in Vancouver. What inspired The Magnet’s colourful and personality-loaded branding? N: With a little place like The Magnet, I think the branding plays a smaller role than with, say, Brassneck. Really, it’s kinda just about having your website and social media channels emulate the feeling of being within the four walls in kind of an implicit, slightly mysterious way. We wanted to try to capture the essence of the atmosphere, without taking too much away from the experience of coming and hanging out with us for a night.

Why colourful? A lot of the colour involved in our branding is meant to reflect the bright colours we used to kinda cut through the boring monotones of the interior via Perrin Grauer’s beautiful colour study (aka “the triangle thingy” adorning our walls). The “colourful personality” of the branding definitely takes some of its cues from the interior of the space. But the bright, pastel look of the website info pages, coupled with Vishal Marapon’s candid, heavily lit, flash photography is also our way of breaking away from a distinct “classy” look of rich Royal Blues, Racing Greens and Maroons that seem to dominate the Vancouver restaurant branding landscape. Not saying there’s anything wrong with what’s already out there, but starting a place from scratch offers a unique opportunity to try something different. There’s a very enjoyable creative process that I think is a little pointless to go through if at the end of it all you just end up with a slightly honed down, refined version of something that basically already exists.

What sort of feeling do you want to impart with The Magnet’s branding? N: Honest, genuine, candidacy with a slight edge of intrigue and a side of just a little bit fuckin’ cool.

What does the branding say about the overall The Magnet experience? N: I would hope it conveys the message that if you make it over to our little off the beaten path spot that you’re in for something just a little bit more considered than your average, slightly homogenized dining experience. That there are things we care about that others may not, and that there may be a few things you have to yet to discover about us, that you’ll get the opportunity to find for yourself.

Art and artist collaborations have played a big part in your Vancouver endeavours to date…why are beer and art/artists such a good pairing, do you think? N: The Magnet’s personality comes from the input of a mini army of artist friends and peers. Whilst possessing no discernible talents myself, one of the things I’ve always been really good at is BRINGING PEOPLE TOGETHER!

I’d like to thank you for asking this question because it allows me to name the talented people who had a hand in creating the Magnet’s identity: Alex, Beau, Drew and the whole Post Projects Crew – yes, they are graphic designers but they are also so much more, and I have always felt they go above and beyond when it comes to working with us. Alex had some fantastic ideas and input on some interior details too.

Perrin Grauer – an old friend. He painted a piece on my bedroom wall 6 or so years ago. It was the foundation for the “triangle piece” he created which appears throughout the interior of the Magnet. Having him involved helped me to believe in what we were putting together (interior design wise) and instilled the confidence that I knew we were creating a special place.

Vishal Marapon – an ex alibi employee who has gone on to great things in his career as a photographer. Vishal helped us with some work on Brassneck’s visual identity. I felt so lucky he agreed to shoot photos for us at the Magnet too. He’s a rare talent behind the camera.

Dan Siney – I fell in love with the tone and language of his quirky photos from the moment Alex exposed me to them. (At the time I didn’t realize I knew Dan from years ago!) I was desperate to figure out a way for us to incorporate his photos (which are essentially visual snap shots of the absurd) into the DNA of The Magnet. Well, we blew up his cheeky “hugging (ahem) raccoons” photo to a ludicrous size for display in our waiting area, and used a blank wall toward the back of the restaurant as essentially a kind of gallery style display of his “the broccoli is delicious here” series of photos. To most people Dan’s photos make no sense as stand alone pieces but displayed together they are super fun.

Les Dyer – spent hours working on the Yarn Bombs we have strategically placed throughout the place – hidden like little Easter eggs for knitting enthusiasts!! They’re nice because they kinda defrost the coldness of the metalwork and give the place this kinda subtle feeling of cosiness and whimsy.

Going back to your original question of why artists and beer mix so well, I’m not really sure. But one of the most important things for me is to feel a personal connection to the artists involved in creating a visual identity for your business.

Post Projects played a big part in the Brassneck brand and now you’ve worked with them again with The Magnet – how did your relationship with them come about? Why did you decide to work with them again and how did you know that they were the right people for this project? N: Alex used to come into the Alibi years ago. He was good friends with a former employee. It was right around the time when Revolver was opening on Cambie Street. I think maybe they had one or two meetings at the ‘ol Alibi as they put that project together. I loved the Revolver branding (remember those cool little reusable medicine bottles they used for cold brew??) I also knew Post Projects was a young company looking to make their mark and they wouldn’t be bound by too many creative constraints. They also seemed really into using super clean typefaces and creating their own fonts. It turned into a perfect juxtaposition to Maggie Boyd’s crazy drawing style.

As far as having them involved with The Magnet, it was a total no brainer. There was no other design company I would have even considered.

There are a couple of very prominent designers in Vancouver when it comes to restaurants. The Post Projects crew seem quite determined to create their own style, carve their own path and, like I said earlier, not be pigeonholed by the norms of the restaurant industry (or any other industry they may end up doing design work for!)

Can you tell me a bit about the collaboration process? What was your initial idea and how does that differ from the final result? How much of “Nigel” is there in The Magnet brand? N: I’ve been thinking about this question a lot. Almost caused an existential crisis to be honest. Made me look kinda deep into the process. And I think I have some insight.

For me (“the client”) to believe that going through the creative branding process with Post Projects was a “collaboration” is actually a testament to them. For them to have me feel so involved that I believe I came up with a bunch of stuff all by myself shows that they not only have the creative end figured out, but they also have the client care end of running a design company figured out too.

I think it’s rare you get a client (though I’m certain this does happen!) that just throws a pile of money on the table and sez[sic], “Make me something design-y and cool”. I think most people want to feel that special feeling of integrity you get from having creative input during the process.

When you asked me this question, my initial reaction was different to the response your getting now, after I got some feedback from Alex at Post to help me quantify what my input to the Magnet branding actually was.

I think more than anything I knew what I DIDN’T WANT. For example, we went quite a long way down a certain design aesthetic path earlier on in the process. I couldn’t get my head around that first iteration. After the presentation I tried to love it. Sat on it for a few days but I realised I was trying to force myself to look for the things I liked about it rather than just friggin’ liking it, which I knew from the Brassneck work is a thing that happens. You just go, “Yup, that’s it”. We went back to the drawing board without any sign of frustration from them. Which I greatly appreciated.

‘Predictable’, ‘inside the comfortzonebox[sic]’, ‘monotone’, ‘unimaginative’, and ‘over familiar’ (usually with specifics) are a few examples of the things I didn’t want. I think I kept using the phrase “kinda badass” which is, at best, EXTREMELY VAGUE! – (Alex will have to confirm that). And to be honest I did have a picture in my mind of what that meant, or rather several incomplete mish-mashy floating dream sequence like pictures of what that meant. However, never in a month of Sundays would I have been able to properly create a tangible end product without the Post Projects crew giving those thoughts meaning by putting their own creativity and skills into play and giving a clear visual identity to all those disjointed thoughts that we’d just been talking about and having meetings about. Does that make sense?

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Hey, Alex. To start, what was your role in The Magnet project? Alex: Post Projects was hired to develop the visual identity for the restaurant and produce a series of materials including signage, artwork and objects for the space, as well as the website. As a creative director at Post, I led that process.

What made The Magnet branding project special? A: Working with Nigel is always some brand of special. He has a very unique point of view and sense of humour. I think what made this project uniquely so was it was the first time Nigel and his team had created a restaurant from the ground up.

What is your favourite element of the branding and why? A: As with a lot of brands, the identity elements really shine in the context of some application. So in that sense I really like how the website turned out. It feels fresh and direct to me. It also serves an important function as the source of truth for the menus at the restaurant — they are printed directly from the site and distributed to the guests. I’m also quite pleased with the glassware. We needed to mark a 5 and 8 ounce fill line on the glasses. We ended up scaling down a few of the lozenge shapes from Perrin Grauer’s mural so that the top of the shape marks the 8oz line and the bottom marks the 5oz line. It’s always nice when you can combine form and function in such a seamless way.

Who came up with that clever little self-pouring beer glass logo?

A: Nigel brought the idea of perpetual motion devices to the table and took particular interest in Robert Boyle’s self-pouring flask. We proceeded to find a few other interesting permutations of such devices with the intent of using them in the identity. Ultimately, we re-drew Boyle’s flask as containing foamy beer, animated it, and used it as the loading gif for the website and the profile pic of the instagram account. There’s also an homage to perpetual motion devices that takes the form of Google image search results as wallpaper in one of the bathrooms. You’ll have to visit Magnet to see it for yourself.

What was the most challenging aspect of this project in particular? A: Probably the fact we started our engagement really early in the process. When opening day is way out in the distance, you have a lot of time to question what you’re doing, which is a blessing and a curse I guess. We like deadlines. They help decisions get made.

How would you personally describe the overall branding image, in a nutshell? A: I think it has the confidence to believe in where it stands and isn’t afraid to take the piss. There’s a humility and a warmth to it I think.

You and Nigel have accrued a bit of a past as collaborators…why do you think you work so well together? I think that Nigel is a really creative person. And I think it’s important that his often good (and sometimes eccentric) ideas get a fair shake when we’re working on something. My hope is that we’ve created a dynamic where he knows and feels he’s being listened to. Personally, I enjoy our collaborations because I believe in his projects. I know that when Nigel sets out to do something it’s going to be great.

What is the key to a successful client-designer collaboration, do you think? Trust.

How long did it take to produce the final product? A: What we ultimately landed on didn’t take long at all. But the entire process involved going down some paths that, while totally valid and interesting, ultimately weren’t quite right.

What is your overall design ethos and approach? A: As a graphic designer, I’m either trying to make something that creates desire and intrigue or gives clarity to something complex. Sometimes both. I believe in making a meaningful contribution to culture. I think if you can do that the project will be a success.

How does Post Projects stand out from other designers in Vancouver? A: I think there are some fantastic designers in the city doing great work. Each one has a voice and their own point of view. We have ours. It’s not necessarily better, just different. We pride ourselves on having a rigorous process. But whether or not what we do stands out is for the people that see the work to decide.

What sort of impact do you hope to have on Vancouver with projects like this one? A: Our hope is simply that people enjoy and continue to patronize The Magnet. If our contribution can play a role in that, we’re satisfied.

Neighbourhood: Gastown
309 West Pender St.

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