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Pack of the Month: Aja Marie Johnson Builds A Bolder Brew

by Bill McCool on 04/30/2021 | 5 Minute Read

I’m going to let you in on some insider information.

The most searched projects on Dieline are coffees. And, if you happened to search coffee this past month, you likely came across multidisciplinary creative director and graphic designer Aja Marie Johnson’s Better Coffee Co. With its aggressively bold and playful type, it won readers over and was one of the most viewed projects across April. While the coffee brand will launch its packaging this summer, they ultimately decided to go with a different iteration from Aja, but this is the original mock-up from the project (and we're promised the first peak when that officially gets unveiled).

We asked Aja about the inspiration for the packaging design and how she dreamed up this typographic dream of a coffee brand. 

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Walk us through the design process that you went through for this project.

I’m always excited to start from a blank canvas. The client needed both branding and packaging. There is a ton of work I do before I enter the artboard, and as a general practice, I start with a visual, competitive analysis Through research, pulling references of competitors, and inspiration, I’m able to see gaps to fill in the category, i.e., marking the colors to avoid or steering clear from typography that’s overused—then, I can map out or narrow down the baseline direction. This part is key; without this prep work, I’m designing blind.

To follow this, I move into mood boarding — creating abstract boards to represent the brand beyond the logo: tone, mood, personality, and color palettes. The boards get based on the direction set by the client, usually discussed on several calls. Before I share, I always make sure it's category-appropriate. For example, “does this look edible, or "is it leaning fashion-centric?” Based on a review of the boards, I move forward.

I do a quick sweep online of any new typography that has launched that is inspiring, and then (finally), I open Illustrator. Because this project had a tight timeline, I decided to design the logo in tandem with the packaging.

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What was one of the biggest goals you set out to achieve with Bold Brew packaging, and how did you accomplish it? 

We had one major "problem." We were competing in a super fast-growing, oversaturated DTC market. We needed to find a corner in which to stand tall on the ever-expanding World Wide Web. Consumers today are too savvy, and they can tell when a brand is trying too hard to make friends. I wanted to design something that went beyond being aesthetically pleasing or a package that posed well in photos. I set to achieve this by (hopefully) evoking emotion through every visual touchpoint. So every element in the Bold Brew design has a purpose; the backsplash, bold font was retro in style and, in turn, familiar, trusted, and friendly.

The bold font pattern played well into the product being full of only the boldest of beans. And to not overwhelm, I paired the exciting background with clean, straightforward messaging, which surrounded a minimal sun illustration to wake up the design even more. It also pointed back to when you consume coffee in the morning. New bean types will have alternate color combos, but this electric lavender blue and Hermosa worked well for Espresso. The big “coffee” inverted on the side was a bit of an exciting reveal and surprise too.

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The surface-level goal was to design a packaged coffee bean for those that get put to sleep by the coffee at Dunkin. We needed to push fresh, bold, and strong coffee to the mass market, and what better way to do this than by being bold with the design?

We chose to put the logo in the "back seat" on the packaging, so to speak, and let the bean type be the diva. Nothing is more frustrating than searching for more than three seconds looking for the bean or roast type when shopping.

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You went with a bold, aggressive type choice—what was your decision-making process on this?

I’m not an illustrator by trade, and when the client is on a budget, I usually lead with type. I think there is such a range to explore with typography leading the design. I always include a type-heavy option when in the mock-up phase. There were other illustration-focused versions in the exploration, but this iteration's simplicity and power called out to the client.

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What was the most challenging part of this project?

It was quite enjoyable. I think coffee is such a fun category for design. Consumers appreciate the niche, which really opens up directions and options, allowing you to push it to a hyper-creative space.

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If you could pick one aspect of the finished design that you like the most or feel proud of, what would it be, and why?

I love the type. I know retro-modern is big now, but these particular fonts I used for this marry the two in a really balanced way that doesn’t push it to the "70s BMW bus going to camp" vibes. 

Also, the coffee type reveal on the inner gusset; I don’t know how I stumbled onto this, but I love this little detail.

Share one lesson that you learned while developing the finished product.

The coffee industry is hilariously massive with so many moving parts. I really underestimated its expanse. The start of this project was daunting, and I learned too much about coffee, which I guess I can use in life moving forward. I now will only buy freshly roasted beans!

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