Crit* Hot Bread Kitchen

by Richard Baird on 12/12/2012 | 6 Minute Read

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Hot Bread Kitchen is a non-profit bakery - producing regional and ethnic bread products - and social enterprise that delivers paid, on-the-job training and lessons in English and entrepreneurship to immigrant and low-income women of New York. The bakery’s visual identity and packaging solution, created by international design agency Pentagram - led by partner Abbott Miller, is a simple but expanding illustrative combination of implements and ingredients alongside bold typography and a light, bright and contemporary colour palette that together brings out the earthy organic textures and warmth of the bread while subtly conveying the diverse cultural backgrounds of the bakers.

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“Hot Bread Kitchen’s unique program of “breaducation” transforms the lives of everyone who comes in contact with it. Central to the undertaking is creating amazing artisanal bread that people first want to buy for its quality, and secondarily to support the mission. The bakery is based at La Marqueta, the historic market in Harlem, and its breads are sold at New York’s Greenmarkets and other grocery stores, including Whole Foods. The bakery is also an incubator for food startups, with an on-site kitchen that is rented out to small entrepreneurs. Hot Bread Kitchen has grown quickly since it was founded in 2007 and many of its bakers have gone on to work at top restaurants or to successfully start their own businesses. From its small roots, Hot Bread Kitchen is now reaching a pivot point of beginning national distribution and setting up kitchens in other parts of the country.”

“Abbott Miller and his team collaborated with Hot Bread Kitchen on a pro-bono basis, seeing in the project an inspiring combination of education, activism, and the revitalization of bread traditions. The design had to establish a distinctive visual identity for the bakery and accommodate a variety of different formats and languages.”

“A simple, scalable system of pre-printed and clear bags and stickers allows Hot Bread Kitchen to create their small-batch runs. The design is meant to impart a sense of the care and detail of making bread, as well as the vernacular and ethnic traditions. The logo is set in Wilma, a typeface influenced by American vernacular, and the round seal incorporates Hot Bread Kitchen’s motto, “Preserving Traditions/Rising Expectations.” When applicable, the label may display the name of the bread in its native language, including Hebrew, Farsi, Spanish, Arabic and Armenian.”

“The branding features a pattern comprised of 28 classic ingredients and tools used in bread production, from wheat, water, rye and eggs, to butter, spoons and whisks. The pattern evokes the decorative traditions that can be seen across the many different cultures that make bread, and the icons may be selected to reflect the ingredients used in specific kinds of bread. A color palette of contemporary shades of eggplant, blue, gold and green completes the artisanal look and feel.”

- Pentagram

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Made up of 28 individual vector illustrations, the pattern at the centre of Pentagram’s packaging solution delivers the obvious baking cues but with the warmth and comfort of a knitted woolen jumper or crafted rug - a detail that resonates well with the handmade theme. It is a distinctive and very well executed combination of fills and light strokes, a clever juxtaposition of detail and appropriate abstraction, changes in orientation - introducing a sense of motion - and space that, from a distance, creates interest through a variation in density. The collective composition and repetition of ingredients and tools neatly reflects both the physical texture of the bread, the diversity of the bakers and the process of learning. A clear plastic window provides the sharp vector line work with a significant and organic contrast to the finer organic qualities of the bread inside.

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A bold uppercase sans serif typographical choice introduces significant contrast to the very fine detail of the pattern work. The white fills of the characters look great with light strokes and heavy purple shadows, lifting the type and giving it more of a proprietary character. Inside the roundel a lighter uppercase sans serif - executed across curved base-lines - ample spacing, iconography and an all lowercase italic with a tall ascender height introduces a more traditional, agricultural, crest-like, craft sensibility and humanistic touch bound by a contemporary and on-trend eye for layout.

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The modular and practical combination of stickers across a standardised material choice builds on the local industry and artisan authenticity established by the graphic design and suitably reflects the batch-led and handmade nature of production. The sticker’s large geometric shapes, solid, single colour fills are used to great effect, cutting horizontally across the length of the pattern and the bread.

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A bright and pastel spot colour palette shuns the conventions of the category and instead cleverly amplifies, through a light background, the natural warmth and earthy qualities of the bread. Like the sticker and bag material choices the spots are practical and consistent, providing an affordable and manageable route into expansion and variation. The brighter highlights work really well in conjunction with the pastels, look sharp (without appearing synthetic), unusual and enhanced by a straightforward flat application across the stickers. 

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There is a bold uniformity to this project that relates really well to the idea of quality and constancy, this is appropriately underpinned by a practical and craft-based utilisation of modular material and print choices, while its finer illustrative detail introduces a lighter contrast and a sense of 'diverse unity'. A combination that achieves a unique practical, natural, and a people-centric triality that infuses what could be perceived as a familiar aesthetic with a conceptual richness and originality.

Thank you to Kurt Koepfle at Pentagram for providing the images.

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Richard Baird

Richard is a British freelance design consultant and writer who specialises in logos, branding and packaging. He has written for Brand New and Design Week, featured in Computer Arts magazine, Logology, Los Logos, Logolounge, The Big Book of Packaging and runs the blogs BP&O and Design Survival.

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