Branding for tiles. Tiles for Branding.
We were intro’d to Protz through our bud Brad Baer over at Bluecadet (lots of B’s there) who said, “It’s a fun project…and they’re willing to be a bit playful.” SOLD! Anyone who’s looking to get a little weird, I can get down with.
So we’ll start you off with a little background on Protz Studio. It’s a husband and wife architecture firm/custom tile maker out in Tucson, AZ. On our first call we talked about wabi-sabi, Luis Barragán, and the standard vanilla typography of most architecture studios. It was love at first phone call.
The mark we ended up going with is this personable, slightly wonky, modular system. The letterforms are vaguely based on the abstract tiles that Protz creates. We spent some time going through their catalog and came across this squiggle pattern. We wondered, okay, what if we try to tie that wavy arch into the Z shape?
The reason we wanted to start with the Z was because we knew it would be the most expressive of the bunch and it could set the tone of the rest of the wordmark.
The Z came together fairly quickly and I was like hell yeah this is going to be dope! I went on blasting through the other letters; the O is a little wobbly and “natural-feeling”, the T is verrrrry loosely tied to another tile design of theirs, the R is based on some typography from Othmar Motter in 1976 to give it that transient, not old but not quite new vibe. Then came the P and it all went to shit. I spent days bashing my head against my desk. I could NOT figure out the right way to approach that stupid P. I worked and worked and worked and nothing worked.
It got so bad I had to start randomly messaging people on Twitter for help. God bless Twitter. Huge shout out to Kyle Letendre for helping me out in my time of need. He was like oh, you’re just trying too hard to relate the P to the R when really you should be focusing on its relationship to the T…and then everything changed.
The mark started to fall into place, and I could finally move forward with executing the rest of the modular concept without feeling like something was slightlyyy off. You know that terrible feeling when you’re trying to be responsible and move a project forward but you KNOW something is wrong with the foundation and it just bothers you so much that you have a breakdown and think you’re a worthless piece of trash and you should go work at Denny’s instead of pretending to be a designer. No? Me either, I was just joking. Heh.
The Modular System
The tile part of the business was was really exciting to us. It’s unique, it’s fresh, it’s a little weird, so why not tie the logo to the tiles?
We designed each letter to fit into a box that can shift or move to wherever it wants, as long as one corner or side is touching the corner or side of another box. This opened the logo up to endless variations and even led to some fun Instagram executions.
Big bold colors play a huge part in this brand. Working with architects and like-minded creative people on this project was fun because they really helped shape this palette. Most architecture firms try to sit back and let their identities blend in, but Protz wanted color to help them stand out. They wanted to show that they aren’t afraid to be bold and embrace that Barragán influence. When we first presented this concept there was a lot of green. Like it was only green. Really bright green. Then we went a little wild…maybe a little too wild.
The Protz folks came back and were like hmmmm we were thinking maybe like three colors instead of 11. So we met in the middle and presented four with a few metallics to keep it interesting. In the end we ended up choosing a deep blue as their primary color, and it adds a seriousness to the logo that helps ground the personality of the typography.
I know in the digital age we live in, business cards are like fine wine: expensive and for special occasions only. But to that I say, fuck it, get blasted on a Tuesday afternoon with a $100 bottle.
Having someone hand you a designed, foiled, letterpressed card in 2017 shows that you really care. And hopefully that little bit of extra care will help the person you’re handing it to remember you, because…holy shit, is that copper foil on bubble gum pink french? Why, yes, yes it is Thomas, now how about that massive tile order?
Anytime I have a letterpress business card order I go directly to my guy Scott at Paper Meets Press. You know how Joanna Gaines always goes to Clint Harper for all of her wood tables and whatnot? (RIP Fixer Upper.) It’s kinda like that, but less cute. So I asked Scott, “When you have this on the press would you mind running it through random scraps of paper you have around the studio just so we can see how the copper foil interacts with a bunch of different colors?” He said, “Say no more fam.” Just kidding I think he was just like, “Yes.” Either way I was blown away by how awesome some of these color combos came out. The copper temperature changed on each card, really beautiful and helpful test.
I don’t know much about websites, but I do know that Semplice is my best friend. I’ve been using Semplice for the Smith & Diction site for about two years now and they just released V4 which is even better than the original. It’s simple, elegant, and perfect for making a templated site not feel like it’s a templated site.
Sometimes I present website mockups in my branding docs and to be real most times I’m just like yeah, there’s no way they’re going for this, but it’s my job to push them so here we go. In this case I presented a landing page that just had two tile graphics and nothing else.
And they loved it…sooo I was like um I’m not sure if this will work at all but OKAY, COOL! We ended up moving the tile header to the About Page because they wanted to showcase some of their architecture work first and foremost, which I totally get. Still pretty pleased that they went for it. A+ client.
Since the studio is just getting off of the ground, they’re spending most of their time working on new projects and new business, which means they haven’t had time to get professional photos taken of some of their completed projects. To address that, we stuck to a one-page minimalist layout that nods to the modular language of the logo. We want the photographs they do have to really make an impact, rather than being tucked away inside a “project” tab or something like that. We created a sort of waterfall hype montage of their best pieces, keeping it short and sweet to give people a quick overview of what they do…Architecture & Tiles. Yet we still wanted to leave the flexibility to grow into the grid in the future.
Hopefully some day they will be stamping this logo into their ceramic tiles or something of that nature, so I mocked up a little something to show what that might look like. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that this actually happens. 🤞
You’re Dead to Me
Now it’s time for everyone’s favorite segment: The logos that tried hard but didn’t quite cut it but I really liked them so now they’ll live on in this Medium post.
Direction One — Diamonds are Forever
On our first phone call, we also talked a little bit about the possibly introducing ancient Roman vibes into the brand. Something that felt classic with a little bit of punk. So this was our stab at that concept. I really loved the interactions between the letters within the diamond shape, but in the end it felt slightly too buttoned up for them. Missed out on the punk-y-ness and it didn’t quite represent the playfulness of the tile business.
We had some fun here using close crops of textures throughout the brand to tie into their devotion to materials. One of my favorite lines from this direction was: Protz Studio…cares so much about materials, we make our own.
Direction Two — Slab the Bass
This next direction was another one that came out of our original phone call. The Protz peeps were really in love with the idea of using a slab serif. They were attracted to Irma Slab in particular. (Irma has an absolutely fantastic W if you’re wondering.) The mark ended up being a mash up of Irma and Rockwell because I was really put off by the S in the Irma Slab Family. Felt unbalanced, too teeter-y. But all was not lost because we made this fun Architecture and Custom Tile lockup for the business cards in this direction. You will not be forgotten young star.
We had a great time with this project, from start to finish. It’s so rare that a client selects a logo with literally no changes, so you have to celebrate those kinds of victories with an over the top 10 minute-read blog post about a wordmark and a business card project. Embrace the wonk. Celebrate the simple. It’s more fun that way.
Hope you dig the work and if you are someone or you know someone who is looking to get some beautiful custom tiles made, don’t hesitate to hit these folks up. They are extremely nice and also super creative.
If you’re looking to make a weird and fun brand like this, don’t hesitate to send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to hear your ideas.
Business Cards: Paper Meets Press
Tile Photos: Kristen Brockel
Interior Photos: Laure Joliet