In the foreword to the gorgeous new book Start Me Up!: New Branding for Businesses, from Gestalten, designer Anna Sinofzika mentions of the idea of a “curator-consumer.” You’re likely familiar with this type of shopper (heck, in some form or another you probably are one): A curator-consumer is someone who prefers Marvis toothpaste over Crest, Mast Brothers chocolate to Hershey’s, and Mrs. Meyers to Dawn.
It’s a great time to be a curator-consumer, because never before have so many aesthetically neglected industries been given branding and packaging makeovers. It’s not just bougie chocolates and cleaning products either. As the book shows, these days, you can also pick a roofing company that has a well-designed logo and business card, or a dermatologist with smart branding and great-looking forms for you to fill out.
Back in the day, editor Robert Klanten says, “If you’re a roofer, a barber, a nail bar, or you produce wooden toys, your visual output may be very, very sad and sort of low key, or based on stock photography.” That’s changed over the last 10 years, as people have left office jobs to pursue smaller, more personal businesses. And when they do, “they want to express themselves,” Klanten says. “They may not make as much money, but they’re devoted to what they do.”
Start Me Up! is a sign of the times. The book covers small businesses all over the world, and in all manner of trades. There’s a bakery in London, a kitchen knife company in Tel Aviv, an acupuncture and homeotherapy practice in Barcelona, and a cotton handkerchief seller in Nara, Japan (among many others).
It doesn’t matter how niche the micro-industry—it’s clear that the ballooning number of entrepreneurial projects in the world make for fierce competition. Businesses need to speak to customers holistically, and one way to do that is through notepads and gift boxes. These types of branded materials even show up in non-creative fields, like physical therapy or head hunting. There are plenty of cleverness and visual puns to be had, but a lot of the companies seem to share a spare, squeaky-clean aesthetic, which Klanten says might be part of creating a sustainable business: “People tend to create something that seems to guarantee visual longevity. Whatever they do, they try to be authentic, reliable.”