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In Partnership with Arjo Wiggins

Case Study: Printed by Somerset

AgencyLeo Burnett, Toronto
Brand:  Somerset Graphics
Award: Yellow Pencil / Graphic Design / Direct Mail (Graphic Design)
AwardGraphite Pencil / Digital Design / Websites
Award: Wood Pencil / Graphic Design / Stationery 


Printed by Somerset had pedigree as Canada’s go-to printers for complex, precise and detailed prints. But their identity didn’t reflect the modern world, and new generations of designers were going elsewhere. The family-run company knew they had to do something that made an impact, and demonstrated their printing ability.

It was Leo Burnett’s Lisa Greenberg who was instrumental in convincing the printers that it was time to bring perceptions of them into the 21st century. But she didn’t know she was in for a three-year journey which would stretch the limits of printing and digital technology.

The first stage of the project would be to create a completely new identity. Leo Burnett Toronto is part of global network of advertising agencies. Under creative leadership from CEO / CCO Judy John and SVP Creative Director / Head of Art Lisa Greenberg, the Canadian office has carved a niche for themselves as design specialists. Greenberg is proud of this reputation “We’ve made a real decision to get the best designers in the city and show the world that we can do amazing design, all in an ad agency.”

Watch the Printed by Somerset Case Study Film

The identity

After a tour of Somerset’s printing press, Greenberg and John were captivated by the stacks of paper on the floor. It would turn out to be the key inspiration for the new logo mark. Greenberg remembers those initial conversations “We said to them – if you guys can print an even border around a piece of card then every designer in the world will know you’re the best… you won’t need to say anything else.”

By demonstrating that the toughest printing task – an accurate border – was part of their DNA, the brand would align themselves with the idea of meticulous execution. The business cards and other brand assets were then printed in every type of finish they could imagine – using foils, multiple coloured papers and special inks. But it wasn’t easy, “For them to figure out how to do it was a big feat. Each time they did a process they had to figure out how to make the die work.” Explains Greenberg. It took an arduous six-months to completed printing each of the variations.

The cards looked stunning, and motivated client and agency to take their relationship to the next stage. “They were totally obsessed with getting a website” remembers Greenberg. And rightfully so, according to John, “Their website didn’t reflect the craftsmanship of what they did. It was old-school.”

Case Study: Printed by Somerset
Case Study: Printed by Somerset

The Website

Then Leo Burnett Toronto's creative department went away to come up with digital ideas. Greenberg felt that the main function of the website should be to hold contact details, “The web is such a weird place to show printing. So we went round and asked ‘how do we show printing on the web, how do we show something tactile in a space that’s so flat’”

Finally her creatives came to her and John with the idea of a website that could be printed, demonstrating difficult techniques on-and-off-line. “When we hit on that we knew that was the idea. And then it was relentless”

From the outset they were conscious that, given their design audience, they should maintain simplicity. They wanted it to be functional, yet memorable, with the simple aim of getting customers to speak to the Somerset sales team about their printing needs.

They brainstormed ideas that could work on and offline, and developed a host of different techniques: a scratch-off URL bar, a scanimation GIF, and perforations that would tear off to reveal more information.

To make the website look tactile, it was to be printed and then photographed. Moving parts would be shot in stop-motion animation. But this approach made the production process logistically difficult; every time there was an adjustment, their client would be asked to re-print. The result was that the agency became the client, awaiting new versions of prints, and putting pressure on Somerset to deliver. All the while, the printers had existing clients to service.

Case Study: Printed by Somerset

The nature of the project meant that both Leo Burnett’s print and digital teams would need to be working together. So the agency made sure they were working in close proximity to each other, and that there were regular meetings. As Greenberg explains, “We had a really strong digital team and a very very strong design team. As we were designing we had Somerset here too. We were just figuring out what was possible with printing tech and what was going to mimic the experience from print to digital and back again.”

During development problems came from all sides. For example, printing the tear-off heads of the Somerset team became a nightmare, as glue positioning and perforation strength were constantly being tweaked “It was figuring out how far can we push it without compromising the quality. It was down to millimetres.”

From the digital point of view one key challenge came from getting the site’s size reduced. As Greenberg puts it, “It was about figuring out the exact right amount of technology to deliver the idea, so the idea didn’t get taken over” With so much stop motion animation embedded within core aspects of the experience, there was a danger of a long load time. So the animator, reduced the frames down to the strictly necessary. Still, it required 100 versions of the printed website to get the filming right.

The Leo Burnett team also had to learn when to let an idea go. Originally eight different colours were proposed, so customers could order their colour choice of printed website. “It was unnecessary,” concedes John, “but it was one of those things when you’re in the middle of the creative part and you’re thinking ‘what’s possible? let’s do that…’ not thinking  ‘do we need to do that’.” In the end it was deemed that one colour was sufficient.

Case Study: Printed by Somerset
Case Study: Printed by Somerset

Eventually, after three years of back-and-forth, the website was completed. In preparation, Somerset printed 2,000 of the physical versions ready to send out to those who requested them.

The website was launched at the Design Thinkers conference in 2015 and was an immediate hit. Without a wider attention-grabbing launch plan, Somerset and Leo Burnett let word quietly spread about their project. This was a sensible decision, “If we’d have done a giant campaign around it we would have been toasted because they would have met any of the demands” laughs Greenberg.

And it worked. Somerset have been so inundated with work that their printers have been running seven days a week, they’ve even had to invest in a new machine. The initial 2,000 website print run have all been delivered, and they now have a backlog stretching to over 5,000.

The project’s place in history was cemented when it won three Pencils at D&AD 2016 in categories for Direct Mail, Stationery and Websites. Greenberg maintains that for a team that had invested three years into the project, it was fitting reward “That’s everything. That’s the show that every person in the world wants to win. We were blown away.”

From being well-respected yet out-of-touch, Printed by Somerset now have a contemporary identity, and a website which has pushed new boundaries. Meanwhile Leo Burnett have proved that for an agency to be at the top of their game, investing in design know-how is a wise move.

Case Study: Printed by Somerset

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