Behind The Design Of The BioLite Brand Refresh
Seth Chinnis, Creative Director at BioLite
When the first BioLite product came to market in 2012, we were a stove company. We made two products: the CampStove, a portable wood-burning stove that turned fire into electricity, and the HomeStove, a large format biomass cookstove that cuts fuel consumption in half and reduces toxic emissions by ninety percent, all while charging mobile phones or LED lights.
Over the next 8 years, BioLite would expand our line of cooking products and introduce two new product verticals: charging and lighting. So while our product portfolio grew, so did the BioLite brand.
At the beginning of 2020, our in-house design team set out on an ambitious project to refresh and revitalize the BioLite brand to better reflect the company we had become: a 100+ person team split between two headquarters in Brooklyn, NY and Nairobi, Kenya that makes gear to power life outside and off-grid through renewable energy.
The BioLite Brand Book
In the early years of BioLite, we produced a set of Brand Guidelines - a document that specified the proper logo usage, color palette and basic visual specifications. However, we decided early on in our brand refresh that we wanted something more. We wanted to produce a document that rallied all BioLite employees and partners around a common refrain. A document that answered big, bold questions like "why do we exist, what do we believe in, who do we serve, how do we work and how do we express ourselves."
A spread from the "Beliefs" section of the BioLite Brand Book.
That's how the first ever BioLite Brand Book was born. The end result was a 116-page document that answered these important questions while also diving deep into the visual character of the BioLite brand.
It was important to our team to not only create a reference tool for the visual design team, but to provide a north star for all BioLite team members and our extended network of agency and creative partners. While BioLite has always been a mission-driven organization, this document also provided a platform to publicize our long-term vision for the company. That vision is to provide 20 million people with access to clean energy and avoid 3 million tons of CO2e by 2025. At the time of publication in early 2021, we had already reached well over one million people and offset over 450,000 tons of CO2e (head over to our Mission page to see the most current figures).
"Our Mission and Vision" from the BioLite Brand Book.
Thoughtful design and practical engineering have always been central to how BioLite approaches bringing products to market. So we wanted the Brand Book to not only reflect our visual design ethos, but also reflect the principles embodied by our industrial design team. Our brand team spent a lot of time distilling the complexities of our product development process into 3 Product Principles and 3 Design Mindsets.
This methodical approach to product design also goes a long way to informing how the visual design team brings our core technologies to life. As illustration has always been core to the BioLite visual identity, we leaned into this heritage by combining technical diagrams with a pattern library that embodied thematic elements of technologies from each one of our product verticals.
"Product Principles" from the BioLite Brand Book.
Tech Feature from the BioLite Brand Book.
Along side the day-to-day use cases of the brand like logos, colors and fonts, we wanted to develop a guiding framework for approaching new additions to the BioLite visual library. This framework took the form of developing a position statement and a set of 3 character traits. And lastly, identifying our Brand Persona wraps up our Brand Character traits into a more relatable personality while providing the distinctive voice and tone that sets us apart from competitive brands.
Positioning Statement from the BioLite Brand Book
Brand Character excerpt from the BioLite Brand Book
Brand Persona excerpt from the BioLite Brand Book
Once the framework of the Brand Book was complete, it was time to put our hypotheticals into practice. BioLite shows up in a variety of mediums - from retail and environmental applications, to the a host of digital applications across our website, social platforms and iOS app. So it was important for us to stress test the scalability of our proposals before the ink was dry on the Brand Book.
The design team produced concepts and real-world applications of the direction we outlined in the Brand Book. This exercise helped us identify constraints that, in hindsight, were actually too restrictive. While these constraints helped promote consistency across our brand touchpoints, going through this exercise and actually putting the brand rules to work helped us identify areas that actually benefitted from rules that were less rigid.
Out Of Home Concept
Field kit for BioLite Sales Agents in Kenya
BioLite Mission Page Redesign
In the early winter months of 2020, BioLite embarked on an ambitious project to redesign every SKU in our product portfolio. In-house. During a pandemic. The last part wasn’t part of the project plan of course but made an inherently physical endeavor all the more challenging as the entirety of the BioLite design team moved remote.
We had three primary goals for the redesign. (1) Dedicate real estate on the outside and inside of our packaging to communicate BioLite’s Mission: bringing safe, affordable energy to millions of people in Africa and beyond. (2) Honor BioLite’s belief that energy, environment and climate are a single sustainability story and drastically reduce the amount of non-renewable materials in our packaging. (3) Unite our product portfolio that was developed throughout the first nine years of the company under a single, visually cohesive brand - in tandem with a broader brand refresh and the release of BioLite’s first Brand Book.
CLEARER MISSION STORY
Our team decided early in the design process that we would dedicate significant real estate to communicating our mission. However, this is easier said than done in retail packaging where every square inch is typically dedicated to product features to convert browsers into customers.
After exploring placements on the back and bottom of the package, we made the bold decision to reserve an entire side panel to tell our Mission story. And on many of our SKUs, this would be supplemented by deeper dive on the inside of the box. This story changes based on the product. Our cooking products profile one of our HomeStove customers in Kenya, who replaced her dirty, open cooking fire with a clean cooking HomeStove that also produces electricity from the heat of the fire. Our lighting and solar products tell the story of a customer who uses one of BioLite’s SolarHome 620 to light her household and charge her mobile phone. We designed these stories to emulate our ideal customer journey - previewing a portfio of our Mission story on the outer panel and then getting a more thorough immersion once you have officially become a customer and begin the unboxing process. These panels featured the headline “One Million People Living Safer, Brighter Lives.” At the time of this submission in early 2022, the number has already risen to three million people.
A MORE ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY PACKAGING LINE
One of BioLite’s six promises to ourselves and our customers is to “solve big problems without creating new ones for the environment.” And given that we distribute hundreds of thousands of products every year, our packaging material composition was a major focus for this redesign.
Additionally, BioLite is one of the co-founders of Climate Neutral - a non-profit organization committed to helping brands of all sizes measure, reduce and offset their carbon footprint. Climate Neutral’s process makes it easy for brands to zero out their carbon footprint and reduce future emissions, while our Climate Neutral label helps consumers quickly identify those brands who have done so. So impact is at the heart of everything we do, both for people and planet.
From the beginning of this project, we were committed to drastically reducing the amount of plastic in our packaging and increasing the use of recycled materials. We redesigned 9 SKUs that previously used plastic blisters to be paper only. In the 2 products that still use a blister since no other option could be identified, we reduced the amount of plastic used by over 50%. Our “premium” packaging now uses greyboard made from 100% recycled material and water-based coating that can be recycled anywhere. Paper sleeves are coated in a plastic lamination (like milk cartons) that can be recycled in most municipalities. BioLite’s “basic” packaging uses standard corrugated cardboard, with a mix of water-based and plastic coating depending on the application. We are currently stress testing the water-based coating in an effort to eliminate more of the plastic coating in the future.
Overall, this packaging redesign led to a 93% reduction in plastic while avoiding 2.9 tons of plastic that would have hit the waste stream in 2021. Our aggregate material composition across all 53 SKUs now contains 22% recycled materials.
UNIFIED BRAND VISUALS
While BioLite’s product portfolio fits squarely inside of the outdoor recreation market, the design and engineering behind our products has always made us feel closer to a technology brand than an outdoor one. This heritage was a cornerstone in our brand refresh and packaging was the anchor to the public reveal.
Over the course of our nine-year history, BioLite’s original line of portable cooking products expanded into charging and lighting. Hitting the reset on a visual language that had evolved over nine years allowed us to design a more cohesive experience across our product portfolio.
AlpenGlow 500 Package
HeadLamp 750 Package
We began with a unified front facing that animated our products through beautiful, dynamic product imagery. A new typography family, Reader, was introduced to our visual toolkit. The varying weights of Reader allowed us to emphasize critical specs through striking, bold typography while also accommodating the more practical requirement of bilingual messaging.
One side panel was dedicated to the aforementioned Impact messaging. The opposite panel was reserved for a deep dive into the product’s core technology. Simple explanations combined with illustrations that are part infographic, part diagram helped reinforce our inventive heritage.
AlpenGlow Family Packaging
CampStove 2+ Unboxing
While the two side panels featured different types of messaging, they were united in visual language through the introduction of patterns created to represent BioLite’s core product technologies. BioLite products exist to make energy, a powerful but invisible force, tangible and practical. So we use these patterns to create a similar effect; the feeling that the precision engineering behind our products is weaved into moments of wonder and enthusiasm.
This redesign took over 10 months and the combined efforts of BioLite’s design, marketing, sales and engineering teams to complete. The initial wave of 53 SKUs paved the way for future additions to the BioLite product portfolio to be added in a more efficient, more cohesive exercise.