Embarking on a brand refresh can be a daunting process. We’ve all heard the saying ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ but there are times when a revamp is really beneficial. If your business has evolved in a new direction, or you want to create better consistency across channels, it’s a good time to think about a refresh.
Brand storytelling is a vital part of being a successful business. This is far more than just where to use your logo - it’s about knowing who your brand speaks to and how this can be expressed through even the smallest details.
Custom packaging is a tactile piece of brand collateral that helps to expand this narrative in a very interactive way. At noissue, our Creative Community is on hand to provide businesses with design expertise to bring their dream image to life.
We sat down with Hannah Soto, founder of Grey House Productions and Creative Community member Melissa Yeager to discuss their collaboration on Grey House Productions’ brand refresh.
Hannah Soto (Grey House Productions)
Q: Tell us a bit about yourself, and how/why you started Grey House Productions. What is your vision, and why is this important to you?
A: I started my first business when I was 12 years old, so it was a very natural jump for me to want to open my own production company. But I knew instinctively that I didn’t want to be “Hannah Soto Productions.” I wanted it to be about more than just me, and to create room for growth beyond a one-person shop. As I was thinking about what I valued, and why I felt the need to start a production company that “did things differently,” a phrase came during one of my many journaling sessions: “A blending of logistics and hospitality.” I kept coming back to this phrase, and as I asked myself why, I realized those ideas — of service and work ethic — weren’t just something I valued in a production, but in life.
I grew up on a farm, where I learned to work hard (and have fun doing it). That farm transitioned into a summer camp, and there I saw and learned the value of serving with a heart of hospitality. I realized these traits were innate to me as a person, and learned and valued long before my production company was born.
In fact, it was in that old grey house on the farm that I started becoming the producer I am today. That was where it all began, and everything I learned during those formative years on the farm and campground, it led me to a place to start this business.
In terms of Grey House’s vision, I like to think of ourselves as much more than a production company. Our purpose goes way beyond completing a project on time and on budget. We believe our work is an opportunity to invest in others. And by doing so, we’re raising the bar of the industry — and creating better work because of it. To get there, we live by four core values: that original idea of blending logistics and hospitality, committing to connecting good people, empowering others in their work, and always staying three steps ahead.
Q: What has been your biggest challenge as a production house? How did you overcome this?
A: It was hard to start young, without a formal (i.e., corporate) career path or someone to give me a promotion, so building trust was hard. Back then, looking at me compared to established producers, people would actively tell me that I couldn’t do it. They’d say things like, “Who do you think you are?” And without anyone’s trust, I didn’t have clients.
So, I had to build trust in creative ways. I got savvy. I earned it. And really, that just got me comfortable in breaking molds, proving I could build a successful production company at age 24. So then when it comes to breaking other molds (like leading the industry in the switch to paying crew via payroll instead of as 1099; not only recycling and eliminating plastic water bottles, but composting on set, etc.), I am very comfortable in that space!
Q: What does sustainability mean to your brand? How do you showcase this to your clients?
A: A lot! And it’s growing still. In 2018, we decided to start being intentional about sustainability on our shoots. One of the first things we did was to replace plastic water bottles with a water dispenser. Since then, we’ve been encouraging people to bring their own reusable bottles with them, though we have stainless steel bottles on hand if anyone forgets. We used to pick up so many half-empty bottles and throw them away.
Beyond this first step, we’ve been replacing on-set disposables (such as table cloths) with reusable ones, and requesting the same from our catering partners, too, for things like chafers, dishes, and serveware. The biggest sustainability move happened this past summer, when we began composting on set. People tend to be excited about working toward zero-waste, so we’re happy to lead by example!
Q: How did you decide that your brand needed custom packaging?
A: Back when I started, I just needed a “brand,” period. It wasn't super intentional, and not robust. It served me so well, and I'm grateful for the designer who did that — but as I grew the company, I needed a brand that attracted the type of clients I wanted to attract, and to be a better representation of Grey House Productions.
Investing in custom packaging was a way to take my new brand further than I’ve ever gone before. I wanted to have versatile assets that could be used in a variety of ways — icons on tissue paper, backs of cards, stickers, etc. Together, they create a cohesiveness for something intangible: a better understanding and presentation of Grey House Productions as a company. And it absolutely serves as a special surprise and delight in gift bags for our guests when they arrive to their hotels!
Q: Why did you choose Melissa Yeager to manage your custom tissue paper design and rebrand?
A: Because she is magical? Ha! Really, though, she was so thorough, and not only did I love her work, but I loved her process. She pulled inspiration out of me, and cared about the why as much as the what. Working with Melissa on our branding was like working with a smarter and fresher version of my heart. She took all of my ramblings and tangents and not only helped me to define the brand’s voice so clearly, but time and time again she pulls out these beautifully magical expressions of the brand in the collateral she continues to create for us. She took the brand to a place I didn't even know existed. And now, I get weekly comments on my new brand (even 6 months after the launch).
Q: Why did you choose noissue? How has noissue packaging helped your brand to thrive?
A: I knew I wanted custom tissue for gifts, but I loved that it was sustainable. That is why I choose noissue. I want our partners (on and off-set) to share our heart for hospitality and sustainability. noissue has met and exceeded those both!
Q: As a designer, what does visual storytelling mean to you?
A: A lot of times when people think of designers, they assume our job is just to make things look pretty. While that's true in some ways, what matters most for me as a brand designer is the strategy and thought behind the designs. That's visual storytelling means to me — the fact that the designs are grounded in meaning that causes them to look the way they do. Even the tiniest details can have significance and those details make all the difference. Every facet of a brand is an opportunity to tell a story, which is why I focus on crafting brands from the ground up that are both strategic and stunning.
Q: What is your creative process for doing design work for clients? What is your starting point?
A: I take a holistic approach to identity design, crafting my clients' brands from the ground up. My starting point for clients is my Signature Brand Identity package. Once I know the client and I are a good fit for one another, I take them through an in-depth discovery phase where I learn everything I can about their brand, vision, dream customers, and big goals. I then distill all this information down into a concise brand strategy that will guide the rest of our work together.
It's very important to note that this discovery and strategy work happens before I begin designing anything. This part of the process is essential since it acts as the guiding light as we move forward with crafting the brand identity and bringing the brand to life.
Next we move on to the identity design phase, where I translate the brand strategy into a cohesive, versatile, and timeless brand identity. This includes a primary logo, secondary logo, and brand mark, along with other accompanying marks and a custom design motif or seamless pattern. My clients and I work together to refine the brand designs to make sure they're a perfect fit, and once approved I create three (or more) collateral items of my client's choice such as a set of custom icons, business cards, stationery pieces, or social media templates.
Grey House Productions is a wonderful example of a brand with a custom set of icons, and we even expanded the set to include a total of eight 17 in both single and full-color styles. I then transformed the set of icons into a seamless pattern that is one of my favorite parts of the GHP brand.
Q: How did you connect with Grey House Productions? What was it about their brand that stood out to you?
A: Hannah of Grey House Productions was chatting with a web agency I'd collaborated with in the past and loved the brand I'd created for that project, so they referred her to me. Pricing is a bit of a taboo topic for designers, and I take a unique approach where I'm completely transparent and share my pricing directly on my website. As a one-woman branding business, this saves me time and weeds out anyone who's not seriously ready to invest in their brand.
When Hannah contacted me, I could tell we'd be amazing brand partners. She even shared that my transparent approach was something that drew her to me. It definitely helped that I'd worked as a designer and creative director at a production company in the past — so I was familiar with and interested in her industry — but what really stood out to me most was Hannah's passion, positivity, heart, and our shared love of details and systems.
We immediately hit it off getting to know one another and sharing ideas, while also nerding out over file naming conventions and project management techniques. Hannah is a rare gem of a client in that she really appreciates the thought behind the designs, the technical skill to create them, and the process used to make it all work and deliver everything along the way. I'm so thankful to have Grey House Productions as a client, and feel blessed that I get to continue partnering with Hannah and creating new designs for the brand.
Q: What was the inspiration for Grey House Productions' tissue paper design?
A: As a brand strategist and identity designer, it's very important to me that I create unique brand elements and templates that are very versatile for my clients and can be used countless times in a variety of contexts. Custom icons are one of my favorite ways to deliver on this, since they add so much depth and interest to a brand and my clients get so much mileage from them. In my opinion, they're as great of an investment as the logo and branding itself.
Custom icons can represent brand values, speak to services, or illustrate a process. Better yet, many times I can combine a set of icons into a custom seamless pattern, which is the case in the Grey House Productions brand. We've used variations of the GHP pattern on business cards, thank you cards, in their custom Capabilities Book, and more!
Branded tissue paper is such a fun addition to branded packaging, and with Hannah's generous spirit and frequent gift-giving, it just made sense for her to have custom tissue paper to jazz up her gifting and mailing game. We both loved that noissue's tissue paper is sustainable and high-quality, and the rest is history!
Q: How did you find the online design process? Was using noissue’s tool straightforward?
A: Since I give my clients high-resolution versions of their brand patterns, Hannah was able to order the tissue paper herself and from what I've seen it turned out amazing! I love that noissue has a creative community and helps brands find the right designers, and I can't wait to work with their tools for my future clients and brand needs!