A STEP FORWARD
Jo Graham Consulting and Studio Sutherl& explain how they breathed new life into a 226-year-old footwear brand
Jo Graham Consulting and Studio Sutherl& on breathing new life into a 226-year-old footwear brand
INITIAL BRIEF Jo Graham
Believed to be Britain’s oldest shoemakers, Start-rite is a family business that was established by James Smith in Norwich in 1792. It became well known during the 20th century for supplying shoes to the Royal Family, as well as for its iconic posters, with the tagline ‘Children’s shoes have far to go’.
In 2016, Start-rite appointed Ian Watson as its first non-family CEO. I’d consulted for one of Ian’s previous businesses, and he got in touch. After a strategic review of the business, we identified the need for Start-rite to redefine its relevance for today’s families.
The 226-year-old brand is known for having pioneered the development of fitted shoes, to conform to the unique and changing shape of children’s feet. But today’s landscape is very different, from lifestyles and environments to materials and manufacturing methods.
To make the brand relevant for a new generation of families, we needed to build on Start-rite’s expert understanding of feet, and look to the ways kids live and move today. This subtle but fundamental shift helped us to clearly define the brand’s new centre of gravity. We wanted to go beyond ‘shoes that fit the foot’ to ‘shoes that fit the child’.
The brand creates shoes that help every child move their own way; whatever their age, whatever the occasion. We wanted to drive this new brand purpose through every touchpoint – from business culture to product strategy – and of course, the brand identity.
MARKET RESEARCH Jo Graham
We held focus groups, carried out online quantitative research with thousands of parents, and conducted ethnographic studies, where we literally followed families over several days. We also consulted with internal stakeholders and retailers. From a design perspective, we looked specifically at brands aimed at children, to try and understand how to ‘speak’ to them.
The brief for Studio Sutherl& was to inject a spirit of exploration and discovery into the brand. Core to the challenge was striking the right balance between embracing the new and being respectful to the equity built up over more than two centuries.
Studio Sutherl& was responsible for the overarching identity and creative direction, working with Jo Graham Consulting on communication ideas – such as films, digital ads, brochures, and all copy – and rolling out the new tone of voice alongside the identity.
WORDMARK AND TYPOGRAPHY Jim Sutherland
We started with the most iconic part of the visual identity: the twins. These were problematic in their current form. They reproduced badly, they’d been badly redrawn over time, and they also looked awkward moving away.
We decided to make them move left to right, in a much simpler silhouette. The iconic characters were beautifully redrawn by Rebecca Sutherland, who has worked on a number
of children’s projects and books. She literally drew hundreds of variations of the twins for us to review and discuss.
We also wanted to set the twins free, outside of the logotype itself, to go exploring. So we allowed them to wander off the signs, off the email footer, around a giant ‘S’, and so on.
This then left us with the wordmark, to which I wanted add some personality and charm. When I started to see that we had a pair of ‘R’s to play with – a pair of ‘typographic twins’ – was the moment it all started to work together.
HONING THE IDENTITY Jim Sutherland
Honing the identity was about making sure we had all of the small details right, for example, by making the ‘1792’ date the hyphen, instead of a separate element. Many of these decisions were about simplification and stripping various elements down to a minimum.
Once we had the walking ‘R’s, it was obvious we could turn this into a headline font, which we called ‘Typefeet’. The key then was working out which letters worked as characters with feet, and which we should leave simpler.
It’s so lovely how adding serif feet to some characters – the ‘A’, ‘X’, and especially the ‘4’ – completely transforms them into little people walking, standing and running around. But it was important to use this technique judiciously. So we limited it to only two characters per headline ideally. We then drew up ‘TypeSansFeet’ to work with the main font.
It was important to us that the logotypes and symbols would render at small sizes, so that all elements would appear clearly on a rubber sole, or an insole screenprinted small – not to mention anywhere in the digital world.
We initially did work with Jay Dingle animating the logotype and the Typefeet face, and then we developed this with Shoot Media as we put the film together (see A Step Ahead on page 85 for more on the making of the film). You only have to tap the feet to really bring the typographic characters to life. As with most design, it took a lot of work and experimentation in order to make the end product look simple.
01 01-02 03 Start-rite is known for its classic posters, which were on the Underground in the ’30s and ’40s. Studio Sutherl& wanted to harness their sense of exploration while bringing the look up to date. The twins’ spirit of adventure has been...
04-05 06 07-08 The simplified design of the characters has made them much easier to apply to a range of packaging, such as shoeboxes. The team created a bespoke typeface, called Typefeet, which features tiny serifs that are reminiscent of kids’...