During the episode entitled “The Second Coming,” in the final season of the Sopranos, Anthony Jr., deep in the throws of depression and disaffected with the world, rants to his family at dinner about the food being unsafe because the FDA is allowing companies to spray viruses onto food to combat bacteria.
While much of the sopranos was fictional, AJ’s outburst was actually founded on semi-recent developments. Earlier that year, Intralytix, a Baltimore company that manufactures phage-based products to kill bacteria on food, had been given the green light by the FDA for one of their lines of phage-based food safety products.
I was approached by Intralytix because they had decided it was time to attend to their brand, which had been pretty much an afterthought up until that point. There was no clear visual identity. Employees had home-made business cards with different iterations of logos and colors. It was clear that given the public scrutiny they were receiving coupled with the desire to grow, they needed to develop a viable brand.
The widespread use of antibiotics has caused certain strains of bacteria to mutate into drug-resistant horrors like MRSA—which kills more people in the us every year than AIDS. Likewise, there have shown to be health problems associated with the consumption of poultry and livestock that have been given a diet including antibiotics.
Antibiotics work by poisoning bacteria. Often times, however, they leave the strongest bacteria alive and able to breed even more resistant bacteria. Also, antibiotics are unable to discern between bad (E. Coli) and good bacteria (probiotics).
Bacteriophages are naturally occurring predators of bacteria. In fact, if you consume almost any type of food, you have already eaten them. Almost everywhere bacteria is present, bacteriophages are found. Unlike antibiotics, bacteriophages kill bacteria by destroying them from the inside out on the cellular level. Besides being tenacious predators, bacteriophages are also selective killers. A certain bacteriophage is only effective against a certain strain of bacteria—it leaves others unharmed. You can get some more info about the science behind it all here.
A rendering and line drawing of a typical bacteriophage
In our initial meeting, I walked them through another rebrand I had recently completed that was similar in scope so they had an idea of the process, as they had no prior experience working with a designer. We then discussed what some of the problems were. We agreed they were facing a perception problem—some people were scared of what Intralytix was doing. Often, fear is based on a lack of understanding.
We agreed the best course was to present the brand in a simple and straightforward way that made the process easy to understand. In lieu of a formal creative brief, we created a measuring stick to make sure we were expressing the intentions and tone of the new brand correctly: if a box of phage solution was to fall off a truck, how would the average person who happened upon the box react? We were obviously looking for a positive reaction, rather than running in fear of what was inside the box.
We further discussed ideas and themes we wanted to explore in the four concepts I would design. I had them work with me in identifying some keywords that differentiated their brand. When working with most clients the first three words I get are “quality, service, and value.” Unfortunately, these words are throwaways—they are too abstract and really don’t mean anything. They are the price of doing business now and are expected. After some prodding we started getting into what they really felt strongly about—such as helping people stay healthy naturally.
I like to treat the concept stage as an exploratory exercise to showcase a narrative that will ultimately have to be refined and reworked to be viable in the market. Even though the deliverable for this job was a corporate identity, I always try to show how the brand will live in different situations. More often than not, the consumer will meet and interact with the brand in some form other than just a logo on a slide. I try to make sure the client understands this as well. In this particular case, because they had mentioned they needed packaging for their product as well, i decided to use a hypothetical box design as an application of the visual identity. I developed the initial concepts over the next couple weeks and we met again to review and discuss what was working and what wasn’t.
The four initial concepts
Concept A: “Safety by Nature”
As I said, I try to develop a concept from the top down. This particular direction was born out of the phrase, “Safety by Nature.” This tag worked well as the term nature had dual meaning as in “natural” as well as “intrinsic.” Visually, this direction incorporated the only request from the client—to include the hexagonal element into the mark on at least one concept. I began working with the hexagon shape and started trying to work the silhouette of a bacteriophage into it. The result began to look like as if a lowercase “i” had been extruded in 3D form. Seeing this relationship was one of those happy accidents that happens when sketching ideas. I then knocked the abstracted “i” out of the hexagon shape which began to read as a shield or crest. The relation to an element of safety—a shield—was welcome and helped to serve as a basis for the supporting visual program. Bold, clinical typography with a limited color palette imparted cleanliness and sterility—obviously important concepts in food safety. The repeating shield motif—this time in a subtle relief form—helped to give the appearance of interlocking plates in armor signifying safety and protection.
Concept B: “A Fresh Approach”
Most of the applications of Intralytix’s products are very specific. The goal of “A Fresh Approach” was to demonstrate exactly what it was that the product and brand did: to make food safe, fresh, and healthy in a simple and natural way. The focus of this direction was the photography, or more specifically, bright, fresh-looking photography of product applications (the example showcased was for salmon farmers who would buy the product). The constant of the identity would be the typography program—strict, clean, accessible—while other components such as color and the subject of the photography would change based on the application or client. This reflects how specific Intralytix’s product are and communicates how the firm does business.
Concept C: “Nature Made Smarter”
While working with the abstracted 3D “i” form in concept A, an offshoot of that sketching session was a slab-serifed lowercase “i” that had a very interesting geometric form. Looking at the 3D renderings of bacteriophages I had been given, I saw an interesting correlation in the dimensionality of both and I wanted to work that into the mark.
As I said, bacteriophages are selective about what they kill. This is helpful for certain food manufacturers that rely on the presence of “good” bacteria, but are looking for ways to inhibit bacteria that are harmful to humans. The idea of a “smart” solution had been discussed earlier and I wanted to incorporate that aspect into a concept. Courtesy of Apple’s hard work, the letter “i” has come to signify a built in intelligence. I do not believe brands exist in a vacuum, and saw this as an opportunity to leverage the existing vernacular. To take it a step further, I made it “bright,” literally. Loud colors help to differentiate the product from anything else on the market, as it is truly unique.
Concept D: “Let’s Eat!”
People are taking a more active role and interest in where their food comes from. We wanted to present the product for what it was: an all natural product to keep food safe and clean. I introduced a color palette of varying shades of lively greens and a predominate use of hand-drawn type and elements to give it a natural feel. Because sanitation was another key them in this concept I contrasted the organic elements with a lot of whitespace and straightforward typography, to give it a clean feeling.
After reviewing the concepts, the consensus was that the overall tone of Concept D was most appropriate and did the best job of visually expressing the values and aspirations of the company. If this box fell off a truck in the middle of america, it would elicit the type of reaction the company wanted.
However, the actual logo itself was deemed a little too playful. They felt most comfortable with the logo and tag from Concept A. Specifically, they liked that the mark could stand alone, and also that “it would look nice embroidered on a golf shirt.” I had to agree. While Concept D’s logo was well integrated with the rest of the visual design, it was just not as flexible. My goal now was to better integrate the chosen logo and tag with the visual language.
I began by reworking the mark around an isometric grid. I wanted to make sure the proportions were in harmony and that it would reproduce well at smaller sizes. I also slightly rounded the mark so it was not as sharp and worked with the more natural hand-drawn elements.
The type being employed on the initial logo was too clinical for this direction. I looked for a typeface that shared some of the roundness of the mark, yet was still somewhat corporate looking. I decided Monotype’s Neo Sans would be a good fit. It had recently been employed in the Intel rebrand a few years back and I remember noticing how much I liked it at the time.
The name Intralytix, typographically speaking, presented a lot of challenges just because of the unusual character combinations. To alleviate some of the unsightly gaps and spacing issues I removed the left arm of the “t’s”, slightly altered the descender of the lowercase “y”, and shortened the ascenders on the “i’s” and “l” so the entire name fit within the isometric grid I had developed in conjunction with the mark.
The tag worked verbally with the new direction and the client was enamored with it. I wanted to work it into the visual language so it wasn’t so much as an afterthought just being plopped on a logo. I began working with some of the hand-drawn type I employed in the original Concept D logo and developed a solution where the tag could be separated from the logo for other applications where a logo/tag lockup was not desirable.
I presented the revised solutions to the client and they were pleased with the outcome. A week later, I delivered the logo files to them on disc in various formats for their own internal uses. This was only the beginning of a much larger endeavor that saw the redesign of a host of corporate collateral and packaging and, much like the company itself, is still evolving to this day.