Case Study: Mohawk Culture of Craft Campaign
Ed. note: This case study is a selection from the 2014 “Justified” competition, for which an esteemed jury identified 19 submissions that demonstrate the value of design in a clear, compelling and accessible way. To learn more about the jury’s perspective on this selection, see the juror comments below.
Mohawk new that they needed to redefine their perspective on paper in a progressively digital world. What was briefed as a campaign for Superfine soon evolved into an investigation of Mohawk as a brand and how the company and paper itself are culturally relevant. In this process, the paper industry’s chief communication device, the paper sample, needed to be re-imagined to connect with contemporary culture.
Maker culture, placing value in details, quality, discovery and tactility, was a natural cultural connection for Mohawk. A family company for more than 80 years, Mohawk’s heart has always contained a maker’s spirit. Mohawk needed to revive awareness of their rich and authentic history and celebrate how as makers we are all connected.
To launch the campaign, Hybrid identified four brand pillars: heritage and innovation, mastery of materials, pride in the details and community. The first publication, A Declaration of Craft, as well as a brand video, laid a foundation for these core beliefs. Subsequently, we targeted the creative and print communities with a two-pronged approach: the Mohawk Maker Quarterly, designed to inspire and align the values of the maker community, and the Mohawk Craft Cooperative, designed to reengage printers with their value as craftspeople.
This video celebrates Mohawk’s core values and lays the foundation for the Culture of Craft Campaign. (credits: Dora Drimalas Design; Direction: Caleb Kozlowski; Camera: Jeff Dey; Production: Red Gate Films)
The project was originally briefed as a paper promotion for Superfine, which was to be Mohawk’s promotional focus for the year. After initial investigation, it became clear that there was a larger story to tell. We discovered that as digital commands more of the market share of communication, the perceived role of paper has evolved from ephemeral to permanent. People saved printed communication for things that were special, coveted and crafted. We needed to tell that story.
Digital has unseated print’s place in culture as the default vehicle for commodity communications. The effects have been significant. Printers and paper companies have closed their doors and those that are left are consistently pressured on price. Young designers advance in their careers with significantly less print experience than their predecessors. While print is not dead, it has become progressively more niche and less understood.
We knew from the onset that we needed to rethink the paper promotion model, as it was suited selling in an older print landscape. Four strategic pillars quickly formed:
- Connect with culture. This approach derived directly from the question: How is paper relevant today? To be successful we needed to uncover paper’s new niche in culture, and tie it directly to the Mohawk brand.
- Celebrate the brand. Craftsmanship is deeply rooted within Mohawk. It was time to tell that story and celebrate the company’s heritage and innovation.
- Cast a wider net. As designers have increasingly less print experience, they have less and less print expertise. This is true even for seasoned designers who have not kept up with changes in technology such as digital printing. Because of this, printers have become a greater resource for print expertise, and designers increasingly rely on them for recommendations.
- Fall in love. Whatever we did had to be aspirational and connect with people emotionally.
We conducted interviews across the spectrum of paper, print and design to get the lay of the land and test some of our assumptions. Through these interviews we revealed pain points that helped shape the direction of the campaign.
Paper needs to be special to be relevant today. Commodity communication is paper’s past. Paper today is suited to moments of meaning and emotional weight. While digital communication is ephemeral, paper conveys permanence. When we commit something to paper today we want to communicate significance.
This makes the details of paper and printing more important than ever. The specific texture of paper, the tactility of an embossing or the brightness of fluorescent ink are all experiences unique to paper. The scarcity of these experiences in a digital world elevates print communications, making the details more important than ever.
We brought this to life through the Declaration of Craft manifesto and video, laying out the company’s core beliefs and tying these to maker culture. From there we launched the Mohawk Maker Quarterly, designed to inspire the design community and reach out to the broader maker community. Lastly we launched the Mohawk Craft Cooperative to help printers rediscover their role as craftsmen.
All publications act as paper samples, printed on different grades using different techniques, and work together to build a narrative around the Mohawk brand.
Challenges did arise, as they always will when breaking new ground, but our collaboration and highly respectful relationship with the client resulted in a solution of which we are incredibly proud.
The response from the design and maker community has been strong. Because the campaign is open, collaborative, inclusive and ongoing, people want to find out how they can get involved.
Comments from the Jury
“There’s something wonderful and worthwhile about the effectiveness of the printed page. The designer chose to demonstrate the benefits and printability of paper through the subject of the “maker” movement. The subject matter was the perfect platform to allow the designer to incorporate all the rich element of graphic design and editorial art direction.” —Dana Arnett
“On the surface, this project is a paper promotion. You may think, “That’s easy” or ask “Should we be promoting the use of paper?” When you dig deeper, you can see the designers took these considerations to heart. By developing unique content around the use of paper and promoting the notion of craft, this project goes the distance in being something to read and keep around. I personally identify with the growing “maker” culture, as I saw the difference it made to my team at Facebook. It’s too easy these days to get sucked into our computers and forget the physical nature of design and making things.” —Kate Aronowitz
“Finally, a paper sample project that is more than aesthetics; it delivers meaningful content, too.” —Cameron Campbell
“While this project was designed for a very specific audience, we loved the craft, detail and content.” —Joe Gebbia
“Design for designers is always tough to honor, but advocates within the jury took a firm stance that the design team tasked themselves with doing more, generating content that moved the industry forward. The "Culture of Craft" also captures every popular design cliche of 2014.” —Jennifer Kinon
“No one wants to see another paper promotion win a design award. Lavishly indulgent design and unlimited production budgets represent a breed of design excess that’s largely incompatible with how we view and value design today. But this is a campaign with substance. The unbound, tabloid-format series of periodicals features interviews and articles about the many facets of ‘maker culture.’ It makes an argument for the power of printed communication not with superficial ornament, but by commissioning and delivering substantive content regarding issues of craft—and delivering it in a crafted, tangible medium. It’s a gift, not a promotion—brilliantly positioned, surprisingly restrained, thoughtfully curated and impressively designed.” —Christopher Simmons