Studio Ostendo operates in multiple creative fields including photography, design, and education.
I’ve been a fan of Thirst since I was a young design student in Chicago. They were the first studio I was able to point to and say, “I want to be doing that kind of work.” More than 12 years later and a transition to Span Studio, the release of the Copi brand identity project makes me utter the phrase again.
This brand by Span has danced around my new feeds for a while and it wasn’t until after the Society of Typographic Arts talk with lead designer Nick Adam did I feel I needed to write about this brand. At first glance, it was simple: filled with the principles of graphic design, the wordmark hides a fish among its blocky letters. The colors were immediately reminiscent of water, but were more approachable than the standing Midwestern pools I’ve become accustomed to. Overall, bright, fresh, and encouraged me to try the fish next time I found myself in Chicago.
However, upon further investigation, I found more beautiful aspects of the project and the underpinnings of why we distinguish the difference between “branding” and “identity design.” The fish being branded are referred to in the United States as “Asian Carp,” which isn’t a name used anywhere else and is offensive to a large group of people. In Nick’s talk, he also revealed that the project was actually to identity four different breeds of carp, all of which had poor connotations in large news articles and imagery despite the fact that they are the cleanest fish in the midwest, feed at the top of the water, and a are global delicacy. The project wasn’t just about building a brand, but turning an offensive slur, “Asian Carp,” into a desirable consumable that would ignite an industry.
“We realized that we weren’t just designing an identity for fish, we were creating an industry.”
The scope of work quickly changed from designing a marketing campaign for fish to galvanizing fisher-people, fresh markets, chefs, and ultimately consumers. Therefore all of the visuals had to be designed in line with the mission to get people to eat this incredible fish. Span took every detail into consideration during their identity design process. Details such as the logo never being placed on a dark blue background which could symbolize the fish is a bottom feeding breed and therefore undesirable are details only the best design studios consider and implement.
My only quarrel with the new Copi brand is the lack of video saying the word, “Copi.” While the first way I read it, “coe-pee”, is in fact how it is pronounced, there are a number of other ways I imagined it could be pronounced from “cah-pee” to “coe-pie” to “cah-pie”. (Admittedly, I still read "vinyl" with a short 'i' sound on occasion). I needed to hear it pronounced and I imagine others might need the same. For some, that’s a major flaw unless they trust their pronunciation instincts more than me.
Much of the work that Span did to identify this group of fish and push it into the mainstream, pun intended, has become fruitfully accepted by the most important audience—consumers. With a launch event that included brand signage, packaging for supermarkets, and Copi on the menus of dozens of local eateries, the new Copi brand is quickly finding its way into the midwest vernacular.