Bean to Bar: Branding and Design for Madécasse

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Most of us know that 70% of the world’s cocoa comes from Africa, but few are aware that less than 1% of chocolate is actually made in Africa. Madagascar-based Madécasse chocolate changes that—they’re a direct-trade company which partners with small, independent farmers on-ground across Africa.

Recognized in the Southwest region in the 2017 PRINT Regional Design Awards, the branding and design for Madécasse has been transformed by Austin-based design firm, Ptarmak, which helped develop the “bean to bar” company.

The project come about for Ptarmak (pronounced “tar-mack”) when Madécasse was referred to the design firm by a former partner. “We originally started talking about working together over a year before work actually began,” says Zach Ferguson, design director of Ptarmak, who worked with a team of in-house designers on the project. “We took our time getting to know each other, building trust and familiarity before kicking off the project.”

Madécasse uses Madagascar cocoa to produce flavorful chocolate that is unmatched by the mass market, so the design had to also match; Ptarmak developed the branding, packaging, strategy and positioning. “After hearing their story and sampling the goodness, we were ready to do our part to make a difference, differently,” said Ferguson. “Through positioning to final packaging, we created a brand that captures the revolutionary vision and optimistic outlook of Madécasse and crafted a system that reflects the bright flavors and rare quality of the best chocolate you’ve never tasted.”

It came down to visual telling the brand’s story. “We were working together to help clarify Madécasse’s point of difference and synthesize the brand’s amazing story,” Ferguson says. “Visually, our goal was to create a brand and package architecture that bolstered the strategic work through a design that would rock on shelf.”

The design firm’s biggest influences were the brand’s vision and tapping into the lives of the people of Madagascar. “Madécasse is a brand that is working to transform how chocolate business is structured in service to the people who grow and farm the cacao,” Ferguson says. “The cacao in Madagascar is distinct, as well.”

Madecasse branding and design

Being true to Madagascar and Africa was key for Ptarmak, but they wanted to portray it unconventionally. “In America, Africa is usually portrayed through pics of dusty farmers with hand-me-down clothes carrying baskets on their heads,” said Ferguson. “While not inaccurate, this portrayal often casts Africans as a lowly, down-trodden people that desperately need help; it can be humiliating & dehumanizing.”

So the firm chose to empower the continuent. “We wanted to look at Africa’s future as a bright, culturally rich place that can be vibrant, bold, contemporary—and stylish,” Ferguson says.

“The inspiration for the Madecasse logo came from the need to create a strong, recognizable symbol that would stand to represent the brands vivacity & spirit,” Ferguson continues. “Having the lemur be in a crosslegged position while making eye contact with the consumer gives the lemur a laid back and inviting demeanor. Our style goal at Ptarmak was to have the illustration emulate a screen-printed quality, and to strike a balance between the negative spaces of each component of the lemur.”

Madecasse branding and design

Another objective was to keep it simple, avoid the use of any shadows, and for it to work in a single color. “To obtain this style required many rounds of drawing and inking the lemur by hand until we found the balance we were looking for, and from there we would vectorize it and edit it in illustrator,” Ferguson says. “A few brands that we were inspired by include Lacoste, for its ability to create a iconic brand with minimal use of shapes and colors; Kipling for using a primate that is bold, simple and also interacts with the brand; and WWF’s Panda with its use of negative spacing and simple shapes. The illustration were created by one of our young talented designers in-house.”

There are several chocolate bars in the series (some have less cocoa percentage than others), and they each have different colors in their packaging. Overall, the brand message is meant to honor the vision of celebrating Madagascar values. “By centering the rebrand around the lemur, we anchored our designs to an identifiable representation of place,” Ferguson says. “The use of color and pattern represent the vibrancy of the locals, as well as the ‘bean to bar’ value of the company, both of which tie to the actual experience of eating the food—the heirloom cacao is a much brighter and fruitier cacao than what the west typically finds in its chocolate bars.”

Madecasse branding and design

Some of the fonts used on the packaging include a modified version of Interstate, which is used primarily as a flavor indicator and a header; Verlag, which is used as a secondary font for flavor names, sub-headlines and callouts; and Local Brewery, which is used sparingly. “Almost all the fonts are modified and drawn by hand to create a similar appearance as the logo,” Ferguson says. “The ‘Madecasse’ font itself is custom; drawn and painted by hand and edited in illustrator.”

But what was the biggest challenge? The illustrations required the most work. “We wanted to imbue whim with a deep personality that could see the brand through many years of growth,” Ferguson says.