Rebranding Martha Stewart
Case Study By
Stephen Doyle

This case study was originally published in The Essential Principles of Graphic Design by Debbie Millman. Stephen Doyle and Gael Towey also gave the following presentation (see video) on the Martha Stewart brand at the “Gain: AIGA Business and Design Conference.” 

A brand value statement is a very helpful guide for shaping a new identity. The Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia statement was a little long for my taste, so I highlighted some of the words that were most helpful to us. We paid constant attention to whether or not our design was an actual embodiment and visualization of some of the words in the statement.

Here is the original:

The handmade, the homemade, the artful, the innovative, the practical, the contemporary, and the beautiful.

We are not just about lifestyle, but about essential tools for modern living. Not just about the how-to, but about the why-to. We aim to inspire the creativity that can transform homemaking into domestic arts, or a simple dinner into an occasion—filling our lives with a little more quality, a little more permanence, a little more lasting beauty. We are not just a company, but a laboratory for ideas and a community celebrating the art of the everyday.

And here is the revised version:

. . . the handmade, the homemade, the artful, the innovative, the practical, the contemporary, and the beautiful . . . a little more quality, a little more permanence, a little more lasting beauty.

There was much discussion and heated debate over whether the rebrand name should be “Martha Stewart” or “MarthaStewart.” The thinking was that the lack of a word space would help transform a person’s name into a corporation, but the argument against it lay in how it would be read in press releases and newspapers. One question was paramount: What was the overlying subject foremost in the minds of the consumer—the woman or the corporation?

Slideshow Image

Slideshow Image

Slideshow Image

Slideshow Image

Names maintain an aura; they can nurture tremendous power. We could never escape the high passion of a certain individual’s ideas concerning Martha Stewart. Those two seemingly benign words carry a lot of emotional weight. Adding anything to MARTHA and STEWART, such as a logo emblem or some kind of abstract flourish, would have diminished it. Due to Martha’s prominence in the world, and pre-eminence in her categories, we were forced to rely upon the power of her name to the exclusion of everything else—no trees, leaves, spoons, or big MS. We had to create a distinctive and proprietary way to present the words, meanwhile dodging the word space bullet, whose differing camps were quickly polarizing. I kept thinking of my favorite photograph of Martha. She is out by her barn wearing a barn jacket, and she is walking with a handmade wreath of orange, yellow and red maple leaves. The movement and color bring this image to life, and I can recall the pleasant surprise of seeing the wreath in motion, swinging actually, blurry and bright and joyful. It seemed natural to transform the Martha Stewart name into a wreath and, naturally, it was difficult to pull off.

I struggled with a condensed sans serif in Illustrator, searching for a contemporary feel, and I got the words to work beautifully in a circle. Twice. It looked great, but it said, “Martha Stewart Martha Stewart.” This reminded me of the 1970s sitcom Mary Hartman Mary Hartman, which was about a dimwitted young woman with red hair in two enormous braids—and this was not the proper frame of reference. After days of finger-gnawing frustration, trying to convince myself that this wreath thing was on the right track, I attempted a pencil drawing with wide letters, the “Martha” swinging around on the tip of a circle, and the “Stewart” swinging around on the bottom. The visual reference altered immediately from a wreath to a coin. This new idea hit upon the “quality, permanence and lasting beauty” part of the equation, subtly suggesting that this public company was valuable, dependable, and bankable. After all, nothing suggests “worth” like currency and coins. The Greeks were minting coins with arcs of type around the edges as early as fourth century BC. That’s what I call long-lasting!

Now that the idea consisted of carved or minted letters in a coin/wreath form, I began by hand-drawing the letters in order to get a better sense of the character and the radial stems. We began with the letterforms of Trajan, but this quickly evolved into a version of Optima due to our rigorous research. We wanted the letterforms to reproduce in miniscule applications, like buttons or tacks, which would maintain its handsomeness when shown either carved or embossed. Based on this font, we drew it repeatedly in order to grow away from a rigidity, adding an organic sense of “handmade, homemade and artful” to the letterforms themselves.

Time and again I’ve seen this logo criticized on design blogs due to its imperfections. My reaction is, “Yes, exactly! It is not meant to be perfect.” In order to discern whether or not the letters were exactly imperfect in a correct manner, I actually carved the type into a disk of plaster. I imagined plaques that could be used in-store as disks, incised with these 13 important letters.

After reading the brand statement for the millionth time, it occurred to me that our goal as craftsmen was for this logo to be seen as equally Arts & Crafts movement (20th century: the handmade and artful) and Wedgewood (mid-18th century: lasting beauty). The circular configuration offered the idea of community—a group of 13 come together, circle-shaped, conjoined, providing energy and movement as they coalesce into something bigger than they could ever be individually.


This article was originally published in The Essential Principles of Graphic Design by Debbie Millman.

Tags Case study graphic design design research Cased Justified