An interview with Soap Co,
Since our launch in September 2015, our customers have been telling us how much they love having The Soap Co. design in their homes. So, as part of Clerkenwell Design Week, we interviewed Martin Brown, Creative Director and founding partner at Paul Belford Ltd, to hear how his team created a design that communicates exactly what The Soap Co. stands for.
SC: What were your influences and inspirations when creating Soap Co. brand?
MB: We thought the name was great first off. Names are difficult to register these days – as you know – and so owning ‘Soap Co.’ was a really good starting point for developing a brand. It's nice and straightforward. This directness informed our thinking from the beginning.
SC: The Soap Co. design has been described as minimalist. Was this a major influence on the aesthetic of the design?
MB: We needed to find a way to communicate simply and clearly what made Soap Co. special. In a world of too many products, certainly too many that are the same, Soap Co. clearly offered something different. This was the starting point for the design.
As you know, it’s a social enterprise that employs people who are blind or otherwise disabled or disadvantaged. It had a good reason for being. It also had big eco ambitions. The product was up there with the very best and so this needed to be a part of it too. It needed to communicate it was high-end, as well as having social impact.
From a design point of view, it so happened I had an interest in braille. (I know this may sound a bit geeky, but it’s part of a more general interest in alternative communication systems such as morse, the international sailors flag language and pennants etc.)
I had, coincidentally just got hold of a couple of braille publications prior to the project coming in and so it was fresh in my mind. The intrinsic power in braille to open up accessibility to reading and content to the blind is so wonderful, and as a designer, I'm also attracted to the visual qualities of the braille itself. The sequence of embossed dots, the patterns they make and the blank textured pages.
And so I was only half joking in the studio when I suggested we should do it all in braille. Of course this would have been impractical, but Bethan and Luke (two of our designers here at Paul Belford Ltd), picked up the idea and started designing with braille as a possible element. And visualising it so that it acted as a short-cut or hook to the story and uniqueness of Soap Co.
Early on Paul (Belford) loved the idea of it being a black and white brand. The understated elegance of this, along with loads of white space, positioned it right in terms of the brand’s ambitions for launch. It also helps communicate that there's no horrible stuff in the products. And so in the end it is quite minimalist, you’re right. But this is to let the visible braille do its job. Any busyness and that could have been compromised.
SC: The Soap Co. design has attracted customers from a broad range of design styles (Scandi, Minimalist, Japanese), did you expect this when you created it?
MB: I love all sorts of design, but it’s not about style. It’s driven by a desire for making things with a more timeless quality, rather than things ‘of their moment’ or overtly trendy. Simplicity does (of course), also tend to make things clearer. I also believe it’s responsible to deliver work that's going to last a long time for clients, especially with branding.
SC: How do you translate a complex idea, like Soap Co.’s social impact, into a beautiful design?
MB: We didn’t see it as complex actually. We saw it as good content to get hold of and turn into a good design idea. It’s hard to do our job when there’s nothing to differentiate something from the crowd. You’ve got something special that does.
Interview from thesoapco.org blog
Clerkenwell Design Week
Proofing photographs: Martin Brown