Graceful branding: A look at Studio MPLS identity for River St. Joe

Agatha and Wanda, yellow penguins, Bimini Bon Boulash and more

I decided to mix things up a little this week, to focus on one larger piece, with some fun things to read afterward. It was fun to be able to expound on one topic, in this case, an amazing branding project from Studio MPLS, that I felt hadn’t really been explored yet. Hope your week is going well so far!

<3 Bobby


Having not written for so long, I feel like I keep looking back to things that inspired me, especially over quarantine, as things I should be sharing. Like having no voice and yearning to speak. One project I keep coming back to is the incredible branding created by Studio MPLS for River St. Joe, a farmstead brewery found in Buchanan, Michigan. As far as I can tell, the folks at Studio MPLS haven't spoken to anyone about the project, and info on their website is super limited to only photos so I'll put on my creative director hat and give you my take on the project.

First, they've designed three unique marks: the bird mark, the name mark, and the letter mark. These three marks seem to be the foundation of the brand and they're used together and interchangeably in interesting ways, and none seem to be the primary mark.

The bird is a beautiful little mark, lots of great curves that pair well with some some bold angles in the wing, all coalesce to create a nice contrast of shapes. If I had to guess (which I do) the bird carries a sprig of wheat or hops, to represent the brewing of beer, and an apple blossom, which is the state flower of Michigan. To literally round out the bird mark they've included what I assume to be the sun as well as the letter mark, which when all of these are combined together, give the bird mark an overall balanced feeling. Without the sun and the letter mark the bird would probably feel unfinished.

For the name mark they’ve done the thing where you take all the information of a business and smash it all into a well-designed and ornamental shape. I love how the information has been laid out here into blocks of info as you read from top to bottom, a great use of hierarchy. For the letter mark they’ve built out some custom shapes here to make a shield-esque container, which also acts as the letter J. It’s cheeky and not quite something you get on first read which is why I like it so much. Paired with that is the lowercase R, which has a roundness that is similar to the O of the typeface they’re using across the brand, and a lowercase S that fills the negative space leftover quite nicely and manages not look generic. RSJ = River St. Joe.

Pulling the rest of the identity together is a Copperplate-esque typeface that looks like it comes in a regular and a wide, as well as lighter and bolder versions. The typeface does well at making the brand feel like it has history to it without feeling old, a key distinction. Additionally, there’s this fantastic color palette comprised of muted tones that feel like they’re inspired by nature. A warm copper brown, a dusky salmon or terra cotta tone, a slight but bright pink, a sage green color, a green so dark it’s nearly black, and a nearly bright white that has the faintest tint of green to it. It’s a very smart palette of colors because of the way they can all be used tougher without anything feeling off, as you can see in the pattern above, which looks entirely harmonious.

All of these elements combine to create some beautiful brand expressions. There are custom-sized growler bottles with marks screen-printed onto them. If that wasn’t enough they even made a series of charming stickers that allow you to customize them to your liking. And of course there are designer dream objects like bent steel signing and neon versions of the logos which illustrate how great the marks look in three dimensions. The ultimate sign of great branding work is when it look like there isn no design involved, like it was formed one day from nothing, and this has that natural feeling. If you can describe branding as graceful, this is the pinnacle.

To see lots more of the this project, be sure to visit Studio MPLS’ case study.


  • We finished watching Wandavision on Friday and I have to say, it was refreshing to see a Marvel tale told this way. One of the highlights without a doubt is Kathryn Hahn’s camp, over-the-top performance. She was already a favorite in this household and it was fantastic to see her bring her special blend of acting to the screen. Dave Itzkoff recently interviewed Hahn who had this to say about Agatha’s relationship with Wanda, which is such a deeper read than I had thought of:

    We talked a lot about Amadeus and Salieri, in terms of their relationship — Agatha wishes that she could make the kind of music that the Scarlet Witch just had naturally. For someone that has spent centuries studying this, to meet a young person to whom it comes completely naturally, it’s maddening and you want to know why.