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Branding Case Study: Charlie’s Corner


Charlie’s Corner is a children’s literacy program in San Francisco’s Noe Valley – a bookstore, reading hour, and classes all aimed at the mission of encouraging love of reading from a young age.

Charlie’s Corner approached me as they were starting from scratch. They needed a new concept, storefront, and brand, with the big challenges that every new venture and start up faces: How do we communicate who we are? What is the magic potion that will excite our audience? With a seemingly unlimited list of to-dos to get started, what are the first and most important steps?

After a few in-depth conversations, I became connected with their vision – Charlie’s Corner would be an inviting space for parents, caregivers, and children. A cozy nook away from electronic devices to connect with classic stories and their own imaginations, to plant the seeds for a lifetime love of reading. The creative brief was to convey this exciting and valuable project into a brand mark and supporting materials that would raise awareness of their program and engage the community.

using pinterest for the design process

The client’s pinterest board, a collection images that resonate with her about the new store.

Using Pinterest to get on the same page

This was the client’s first experience with brand development, so it was a top priority to make sure we were speaking the same language throughout the entire process. To begin building the bridge between the technical speak of the designer and the vision of the client, I assigned homework – create an inspiration board on Pinterest reflecting the goals, values, and feelings they hoped to convey. This not only allowed the client to be an active participant, but prioritizing ease of communication allowed them to become informed and comfortable with an otherwise foreign process.

Pinterest is a tool that is incredibly effective at sharing visual ideas, and easing communication barriers. Easy for clients to engage and use; they can pin images and concepts, allow team members access and the ability to comment, while still keeping their brainstorming hidden from public view. During this process, I comment and ask questions directly to the relevant pins, and begin to add my own as a response. In the case of Charlie’s Corner, the romantic, nostalgic, and literary influences of the client’s pins reminded me of the many beautiful Ex Libris book plates I’ve seen. I was inspired to start a new Pinterest board exclusively for these Ex Libris images so I could have all this inspiration in one place; not only for this project, but as a stored source of inspiration to revisit in the future.

Pinterest design inspiration

My pinned inspiration – samples of vintage Ex Libris book plates – click on the images to see them larger.

The client agreed the Ex Libris concept was the mood and feeling that reflected their vision. Hooray! High five.

What comes next?

Having a general understanding of the client’s visual atmosphere, the next step was to look at the project from all viewpoints, consider the long-term potential for the brand, and envision what the community audience would have the most instinctive response to. In our early talks, the client had mentioned including a dachshund, a personal symbol that could potentially work as a brand mascot. This was a great starting point for initial sketches, allowing me a firm launch pad and the room to create some unexpected solutions in the process.

early logo sketches

Early logo sketches

Diving in to explore these concepts and translate them into a visual brand mark, I used the dog as a design element in various combinations; alongside a reading child, alone, and reading with the child. Even though the client can be very clear on their visual inspiration, it is the challenge of the designer to consider an approach that is unexpected, yet still successful in achieving the design brief. In this example, I decided to pursue a contemporary flat illustration style. Experimenting with how the body of a dog could be illustrated as a cozy reading nook (with corners!), I found a playful solution with a dog and book only.  Exciting, because it wasn’t tethered to a historical style, time or gender, but still reflecting, in a very deconstructed fashion, the general square-stamp style of an Ex Libris plate.

Design work begins…

From there, I moved to create two concepts with the more traditional and nostalgic feel of the Ex Libris plates, and finally, a more mid-century illustrative style that included a gender-neutral child and the dog reading together.

logo and branding design concepts presented to client

4 logo options presented to the client

Sharing concepts with the client

When the initial sketches were presented to the client, they were wowed with the uniqueness of each design. Like all things, a visual brand can not thrive in a vacuum. Only in application does the brand mark come to life, and mockups of the brand in practice take the image off the page, and place it into reality to demonstrate to the client how the designs translate into actual use. In this case, showing the four concepts on a storefront window helped the the client visualize the logo in context.

Logo design mockups

Logo design mockups

Logo Mockup

Charlies Corner Logo Mock

Logo Design Mockup

Bookstore logo and branding mockup

Bookstore logo and branding mockup

Getting approval

After seeing the storefront mockups, the client was drawn to Option D, the girl reading with a dog at her feet, and we worked together developing that concept; adding a tree for the girl to lean on (reflecting the tree in the storefront reading nook), as well as selecting fonts and pantone colors. She loved it. It perfectly reflected her vision of the imagery she had in mind. We were almost there. The end was in sight. Right?

logo design concepts

Logo concepts round 2 with font and color selection

Not so fast

While it felt like everything was moving towards finalization, it’s important to take a second look for a fresh perspective. Brand development is not always a linear process, and analysis bears evolution. Taking some extra time to consider the options, the client gave a fresh set of eyes to Option A, realizing the Ex Libris mark was a romantic vision, which failed to communicate across gender and race, conflicting with the goals of the project. Charlie’s Corner deserved its own unique visual language, and our dachshund was formally and officially born.

logo and identity design - stationery package

The printed stationery set – click to get a closer look

Wrapping up

Through this process, Charlie’s Corner not only received a brand mark and supporting materials, but developed their vision, gained a greater understanding of their own mission, and had the opportunity to see their business from the outside-in. Today, Charlie’s Corner is open, connecting with their community, and getting ready to launch their website. They now have a realized brand, more than an image –  an understanding of what the purpose of the business is, and a communication tool to tell that story.

Charlie's Corner website's coming soon splash page

Charlie’s Corner website’s coming soon splash page

Ready to create a great looking brand that your audience loves? Contact me today and let’s have a free call to discuss how to make it happen.

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