Rob Patterson calls himself a visual strategist. The Chicago illustrator, current owner of the Ratiofarm, and former in-house creative for Intelligentsia Coffee finds inspiration in non-traditional ways to inform his non-traditional brand design. His abstract poster series for Kilogram Tea is a perfect case in point.
Intelligentsia is known for its coffee sourced directly from farmers and growers, less so for its line of teas. When Intelligentsia spun off its tea business into a separate company, Kilogram, the brand took on a voice of its own. To market Kilogram, Intelligentsia charged Patterson with creating a poster series to send out to shops and distributors.
“The owner, Doug Palas, called me in and said he wanted a promotional piece that clients would want to keep, even hang.” Hoping for a little more direction, Patterson asked him if he had something specific in mind. “ I’ll never forget his answer,” Patterson continued. “He said, “Just do something cool.”
Drawing Out The Flavor
“When I first got the assignment, I thought ‘Wow, what do I do. What do I wanna do?’ Rob said. “The project was so open-ended.” After some initial sketches that were too close to the Intelligentsia brand, Palas told Patterson to take another run at the project. “Initially, I was crushed but, luckily, I got another month to work on it, so I started over,” Rob recalled.
Patterson deliberately took time to learn everything he could about the tea. “Drinking it, talking to the farmer to find out where it’s grown and how it’s processed,” he recalls. “One day, I was mulling over things and I spotted these tea leaves in the bottom of a cup and I knew I was onto something.”
Patterson also found inspiration in the Kilogram Tea packaging. “There’s a very specific color scheme, three colors for each type of tea. Together they form this abstract landscape that’s interesting.” He says. For the posters, “I wanted to make it more abstract and fun.”
“I had no color training in college, I never took color theory,” he continues. With each poster’s many objects, layers, and transparencies, it was a challenge translating from screen to print. “I tried a whole bunch of different ways to deal with it, but ultimately it was the prepress team that figured it out.”
Steeped In The Abstract
Not long after, an installation of his tea studies was unveiled at the company’s Millennium Park coffee shop to enthusiastic reviews. “It wasn’t always the plan,” Rob said. ”But, our Millennium Park coffee bar is really close to the Art Institute and the manager likes to feature up and coming artists in the area on the walls.
The manager reached out and asked if Patterson had anything. “Well yeah, I’ve got this whole series,” he said.”It’d be really cool if we enlarged them, and they’ll also draw focus to Kilogram Tea.” Soon after, eight oversized prints of Patterson’s original 25 Kilogram Tea posters were hung at the shop.
Drinking It in
“Intelligentsia has always believed part of its mission was to elevate and enhance the craft,” Patterson said. “It’s one of the reasons they’ve been such strong advocates and supporters of direct trade.” That spirit of elevating and enhancing craft has motivated Patterson’s approach to the limited edition artworks he creates for the brand. “As a former barista, I know firsthand that the more you know about a particular coffee bean, the better you can connect. It’s why I like to spend time researching first before I ever pick up a sketchbook. I think the future of any design should begin with its past.”