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The Brief

Founded in 1885, London paper merchant G . F Smith has a long history of working with paper suppliers and graphic designers, over the years playing a vital part in educating its marketplace in evolving print technologies. In 2012, G . F Smith began working with design agency Made Thought on a number of smaller projects. Though already familiar with G . F Smith by being a customer, the design team only began to fully appreciate the company’s rich history by working with it as a supplier.

“What became clear was that though people outside the company knew of them they did not know much, if anything, about them,” Made Thought Director and co-founder Ben Parker explains.“We felt that as a business the company was far more amazing than its old brand identity conveyed, and that with the amazing legacy it had given the company’s history and also its distinctive approach to the people it employs and with whom it works, a powerful story remained untold.”

Made Thought shared this view with G . F Smith’s senior management who agreed to consider a more detailed proposal, so long as it did not involve rebranding.The designers then put together a presentation, including a new identity. After three months deliberating every aspect of the proposal, G . F Smith’s management bought into the idea, including the rebranding.

The Creative Idea

Made Thought proposed repositioning G . F Smith around a new story about its heritage, its products and services, and its vision for the future. “The whole company is threaded through with amazing stories,” says Parker. “We set out to bring these to life in a contemporary way. G . F Smith’s history and its heritage are both important, but we needed to ensure we presented as forward-looking.”

At the heart of the approach was redefining G . F Smith’s role as custodian and curator of the products it suppliers and the people it works with. A new brand identity would combine a sense of history and Englishness with a contemporary style and feel. The company name would be presented simply and clearly – as ‘G . F Smith’ - accompanied by the strapline ‘1885 Onwards’ to underline the business is forward thinking, and a watermark would be used across the range of papers, cards and envelopes as a commitment to quality.

The final project component was a brand book in which colourful, real life stories from the company’s history would be captured to convey to a wider audience than just those working directly with and within the business.

The Execution

Design development began nine months ahead of the proposed launch. Different design elements were developed in tandem, and the designers and senior directors from G . F Smith met monthly to review progress.

An important first step was identifying a font that would convey the right mix of history and modernity. Unable to find an existing one that met all of their needs, Colophon Foundry was approached to create a bespoke solution. 

A major challenge was translating the tactile quality of G . F Smith’s products onto the digital screen, something that the company’s old website, which had simply been an editorial showcase of different products’ uses, had not attempted.

“An important consideration was ensuring the online experience would enable graphic designers to find what they want and access it quickly,” says Parker. “Navigation and designing a way to order and buy online was key.”

The brand book provided a powerful opportunity to bring hidden stories from the archive to a wider audience and showcase 18 varying paper stocks and numerous print techniques to show how different papers work. 

The Response

“The work on our brand has had a significant impact,” says G . F Smith Joint Managing Director John Haslam. “Not only has it helped to reaffirm our standing and our position in the UK market, it has opened new doors and unexpected opportunities internationally.”

Better encapsulating and communicating the G . F Smith story has also given the company a renewed energy and sense of focus, he believes. 

“Our success in drawing out the brand’s story comes from the vast array of untapped content within the brand and the brand’s heritage, and the client’s trust in letting us in to fully explore it,” Parker adds. “For me, the project’s beauty is in the real authenticity we hope was achieved.”

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