REKKI is the culmination of years behind the counter of an independent restaurant. The resulting core principle is that the control of raw ingredients determines a restaurant’s success.
Stepping into an independent restaurant, we get immersed in an experience that someone passionately and painstakingly curated for us. These fragile establishments facilitate the exchange of ideas by allowing their customers to communicate. Their chaotic nature demands a sensitive approach that focuses on what really matters.
To fully understand the problems we are solving, our design team needed a real understanding of the lives of the people that use REKKI. We went into kitchens, coffee shops, bars, and warehouses to experience first hand how our users spend the majority of their day and what surrounds them.
Most of the spaces were industrial with plenty of stainless steel, concrete, wood and other raw materials. On top of that, they were packed. Not just with people, but with objects. From cooking utensils and supply boxes to machines of all kinds. It was no wonder the only elements of graphic design were the signs. With their strong vibrant colours and bold typography, these are spread across kitchens, making sure the rotating staff always know how to act.
The vast majority of brands are created with the purpose of selling a product. Products are designed to stand out against the competition. Whether on your shelf, your phone or a billboard, they constantly yell at us. The moment we buy them, they don’t just disappear into the background, they keep yelling.
We were going to create a brand to serve people, not advertise to them. A brand that stands the test of time and the battering of a commercial environment. We needed to exercise a profound economy of means, rejecting formalisms and making only the truly essential stand out.
We looked at transportation systems that exist to serve people. We were inspired by how their design guided people from A to B. People of any origin. People speaking different languages. Even distracted, we all find our way home.
A big part of multitasking is the context switch. For our users this switch is not only mental but also physical — chefs and kitchen staff often hold multiple objects at once. An empty hand will probably be wet and scarred. We looked for suitable interfaces to help in this environment.
Simple phones provide a glimpse into how to effectively distill a complex set of features into one main action. They require very little training: dial, connect and receive.
With these concepts in mind, we were now ready to start the design process. Notice how these ideas flow through the work that followed on.
The best place to start is sometimes the most obvious. At its core, REKKI is about communication. It seemed natural to start with the written word and the choice of brand typeface.
Early on we fell in love with one family: Akzidenz Grotesk. Designed by unnamed punch-cutters and craftsmen during the 19th century, it remains a symbol of modernism thanks to its classic neutral and unadorned shapes. A typeface made to serve. As is common with metal period typefaces with multiple creators, Akzidenz has strong discrepancies between different sizes of the same weight, as well as between different weights.
Even though the size differences haven’t made their way into the digital versions of the typeface, there are still strong differences between some weights (e.g. Regular vs Medium). Notice how letters like the lowercase “a” change radically between weights. This makes it hard to use Akzidenz as a consistent brand typeface.
Arrows have been with us since the beginning of humankind. They are enhanced lines because they have direction. Arrows allow us to overcome our physical and ideological limitations. The physical arrow allowed us to fight, hunt and conquer; it moved us towards a goal.
The symbolic arrow allows us to represent forces in physics and vectors in mathematics. Signage arrows point us in a direction. Sometimes they serve as self fulfilling prophecies — they guide us, and we believe them.
Much like letters in a foreign language, when we can’t understand the meaning of a symbol, formal qualities take over — we do not read, we see. Symbols like the arrow have a powerful inner force beyond their external appearance that cannot be ignored. We trust arrows.
If we now analyse the REKKI ecosystem and the problems we try to solve every day, we notice the following equation:
The challenge? A buyer considers communicating with a supplier using REKKI (or vice versa). A sceptic may say: “If things have always worked for me this way, why should I introduce an intermediate layer between me and the other side? Was I doing it wrong the whole time?”.
The solution? Preserve their independent relationship and visibility towards each other. We become the common ground where both meet.
Something special emerges as we visually represent the coming together of the two sides. A symbol is conceived but it is not yet finished. REKKI is not only a way of bringing together buyers and suppliers, but also a way of making both more efficient.
Similar to what we did with Diatype REKKI, we apply the principles of efficiency to this new symbol. First we remove the excess, then we optimise the spaces where lines meet, and finally, we modify the inner proportions to perfect squares allowing easy reproduction.
In the process, we modify the weight of the strokes to match those of our brand typeface, essentially turning the symbol into an extension of the alphabet.
This is the REKKI mark. A typographic symbol capable of representing everything we do and everything we stand for. Apart from its internal value, the REKKI mark has an abstract form to the outside world, allowing it to play with the viewer’s imagination.
Next, we explore how colour lives in our world. Our research shows that colours have a primarily functional existence in the kitchen and other commercial environments.
The only way to exist next to colourful raw ingredients and supplier brands without conflicting tensions is to be colour neutral. For this reason, REKKI is black and white. This scheme suits the brand’s design philosophy and typographic nature.
When deployed, colours are used primarily as functional elements. We decided to adhere to the kitchen code — red, blue, yellow and green.
These colours can appear isolated next to black and white (achieving emphasis) or combined when necessary, generating unexpected expressions of the brand.
We took a rather different approach with photography. Instead of carefully planned photoshoots and art directed sets, we decided to hand members of our team (and some of our users) a set of disposable 35mm cameras. We wanted to remove the focus on the individual creator and place it in the hands of the community.
We document the lives of those that feed us. We hear their stories and their struggles. We hear why they work crazy hours. This is not just our responsibility but also a source of knowledge that helps us improve REKKI.
We find not only people but also their spaces and how they communicate. This has proven itself extremely valuable as countless times our design language has evolved from observation.
We intend to keep spreading our cameras in the community and maintain an archive of the service industry.
Brand Assets: Rhythm, not tempo
Repetition and routine are key graphic elements that speak directly to the life of our users. In design, repetition leads to identification. Identification leads to assimilation.
However repetitive, we don’t allow the brand language to fall into the spectrum of wallpaper, where the pattern becomes divisible and forgettable. Our language is that of the natural, of the asymmetric.
By using elements such as the line, the plane, and the bridge, we are able to construct layouts with clear and economic differentiation of values. In the event poster below, the line is employed to ground the planar structure of the large type while the bridge connects REKKI with one of our users.
On the poster for “Lights Out”, a film documentary we produced, we use the power of typographical symbols to create a mysterious union that begs the user to read after contemplation.
Though we have clear proportions and guidelines for usage of the brand, we wanted a way for anyone to be able to contribute and take part in the identity, much like our photography approach.
With four strokes, anyone can recreate the mark from memory. We’ve since collected many creative expressions of our brand in the wild.
During our research process, with the help of our friend Filipe Penajoia, we shot a documentary film on super 16mm (with an original soundtrack), capturing the lives and places of work of those that feed us. We created a website where anyone can enjoy the film and listen to podcast format interviews of the main characters.
Once we needed to build our new website the design came naturally. The “plane stack” as the natural way of organising content and allowing users to instantly scan the website. Colours are used to differentiate elements and their functions, while the arrows inform the navigation and give direction.
We used the contrast between the circular plane and the rectangular shape to further differentiate elements. We made the interface hyperbolically oversized, creating compelling graphic forms from hyper functional elements. People seemed to appreciate it.