Clever branding for new coffee company leans into Aussies' criminal pasts

You'd expect Australians to take umbrage at people, dubbing them the descendants of criminals. But for one founder of a coffee brand headquartered in the Big Apple, it's the exact opposite.

Making jokes about Australians being descended from convicts is an age-old trope that can get quite tiresome. But in some cases, it is actually true. And so when it came to branding Bruhn Coffee co, a boutique coffee brand in Brooklyn, this was a story that London-based Intertype Studio leaned into in full effect.

The project is the brainchild of Matt Bruhn, who hails from Sydney and is best known as having been global brand director of Smirnoff Vodka. He then moved to Pabst and has worked for Craft Standard since 2021, as well as being an advisor and investor.

The design system is inspired by the founder's distant family connections to criminals in the Sydney underworld in Australia through a man named Norman Bruhn.

"We created a brand identity concept about living on your wits and doing whatever it takes to get ahead day by day," explains Intertype's founder and creative director, Asa Cook. "The criminal lifestyle serves as a metaphor for the mentality required to make it in modern-day New York, with the coffee itself being a much-needed boost in that equally competitive world, and a reward for a hustler's accomplishments."

In other words, the brand idea is a tongue-in-cheek reference to Matt Bruhn's determination to make great coffee available to regular folk and a playful reminder of the intensity of the New York scene. And the graphic elements of the identity go all-in on this concept.

Visual elements

The packaging designs play on the criminal inspiration in a multitude of ways. When clasped in the hand, a bag of coffee beans looks like a knuckle duster. The boxes of baked goods sold in-store resemble stacks of cash (i.e., gangsters' loot). The on-pack copy plays on the parallels in language between criminal life and the coffee itself: a 'hit', a 'shot', and getting 'made' are key examples.

The logo lock-up was inspired by the markings on bullet shell casings, and iconography referencing the concept of luck is hidden throughout the branding system and illustration palette to reflect the family's superstitions around their life of crime. For instance, the 'B' of the brand icon reads as a '13' (unlucky for some) on closer inspection.

Elsewhere, the cold brew coffee cans feature secret messages to those 'in the know' that are revealed under UV light. The store's loyalty card uses a fingerprint collection system to reward frequent visits, and the exterior signage encourages customers to 'reload' or 'take a hit'.

Crafted quality

Importantly, this extensive brand world design system uses a palette of hand-carved, linocut illustrations, emphasising the coffee's crafted quality. Sitting down with a brew gives customers the time to appreciate hidden details, at which point the design provides layers of discovery to those who wish to seek it out.

Overall, this is an excellent example of taking a clear concept and following it through to its logical conclusion. As such, it serves as a valuable conversation starter for a niche local business looking to make a big noise in a crowded New York coffee scene.

Don't go hunting for the coffee shop yet, though. Asa explains, "Matt is doing it from his basement in Brooklyn initially and hoping to expand from there. He commissioned us on the project a couple of years ago, and it's just starting to get off the ground now."


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