Branding Tips from the Creative Director of Papier Stationery

Branding Tips from the Creative Director of Papier Stationery

Looking for inspiration? Allow creative director James Mackenzie to help.

James Mackenzie has only been creative director of Papier for about two months, but he’s already overseen a company rebrand. “There was a photoshoot on, I think, the Monday of my second week,” he says, zooming from his flat in London. “It was definitely a baptism of fire when I first joined.”

Papier, a chic stationery company founded in 2015 by Taymoor Atighetchi, offers notepads, planners, cards—you name it—in a range of delightful colors and patterns: Bright pinks and oranges. Delicate florals. Tropical birds. The sort of designs you might dream of one day wallpapering your house in. 

Of course, many stationery companies sell designs that would make a pied-à-terre powder room pop. But, what sets Papier apart, among other things, is that it uses a print-on-demand business model. “We don’t hold inventory,” Mackenzie says. Their products can be personalized and made-to-order.

Papier ProductsPapier ProductsImages courtesy of Papier.

In the six years since Papier launched, the company’s tech-forward approach has been front-and-center in its marketing. But, according to Mackenzie, “there hasn’t been that much investment in branding.”

“That’s going to be a big thing for us over the next few years,” he says.

Here’s more about what Mackenzie has been up to, and what others can learn from his experience.

Feeling Inspired? Check Out These Tropical Seamless Patterns From Shutterstock.

Exotic FlowersParrot AccentsTropical AccentsFloral-Theme-1.jpg?w=750" alt="Toucan Floral Theme " data-id="185972" data-full-url="" data-link="" class="wp-image-185972" />Palm Tree Leaves Floral Pattern Images via Tanya SyrytsynaD-sign Studio 10Daria KubrakAlfmalerberry2046, and berry2046.


Customers can see that Papier products are beautiful, but do they know that the brand’s academic diaries have a space for tracking finances and grades? Or that its wellness journals include prompts for users to reflect on their mental health?

“A lot of that is kind of hidden,” Mackenzie says. That’s in part because, until recently, most of Papier’s brand imagery has focused on product shots rather than people. 

“Who’s using our product?” Mackenzie asks. “Why are they using it? The focus for me is to build that storytelling piece. How do we evolve the narrative of our brand?”

To that end, Papier is rolling out a campaign that features real customers—a gardener, a journalist, a chef—engaging with the product. “We’re essentially pivoting away from just that still-life aesthetic,” Mackenzie says. “We’re bringing the community in.”

The community, of course, is passionate about stationery. “They call themselves ‘stationery addicts,’” Mackenzie says. (He refers to them as “paper people.”)

For many of them, there’s something almost magical about putting pen to paper. “Essentially, you can become anything,” Mackenzie says. “You can study to become a poet.”

Or, so, that’s the story he’s looking to tell.

Feeling Inspired? Check Out These Floral Seamless Patterns From Shutterstock.

Vintage Botanical Vintage Pattern Modern Garden Autumn Pattern Floral Pattern Tropical Pattern For the poet in all of us. Images via Mnsty studioXLislaMnsty studioXMnsty studioXMinna-Marie, and Ola-la.

Creating a Clean Logo 

Mackenzie has a rule when it comes to logo design: “Simplicity is key,” he says. For the Papier rebrand, he added a slight flair to the logo font, just enough to evoke handwriting. “It feels relevant to the brand and will hold the test of time,” he says.

He also added a logomark. “A mark has become such an important part of design,” he says. “You can look at the Nike swoosh, for example, by Carolyn Davidson, and you don’t need to see ‘Nike’ written. The brand has so much authority.”

Papier’s new mark, inspired by a printer’s mark, looks like two open journals with the pages curled. “For us, the mark has been a big part of the rebrand,” Mackenzie says. “We had to do it simultaneously—and not just as an afterthought.”

Ink_RGB-1-1.png?w=750" alt="Papier Logo" class="wp-image-186007" />Logo image courtesy of Papier.

Dreaming up the Perfect Color Palette 

Papier’s new color palette is built around the idea of paper and ink. “Two things that are obviously related to the product,” Mackenzie says. The background for the website is an ecru to match the color of the brand’s paper. And, the font is in black, although not quite a true black, to reference ink.

“The previous design, from my own perspective, used more of a gray and a navy blue, like a blue pen rather than a black pen,” Mackenzie says. “And, to me, that came across slightly cold. What I like about the off-white, the paper color, is it instantly gives you a warm feeling on the site.”

The palette’s secondary colors include a duck egg, a pistachio, and a shell pink. “It’s this softer palette,” Mackenzie says. “A lot of brands can go wild with color, but the main thing for me was that the palette give us a bit of focus without distracting from the product.”

Feeling Inspired? Check Out These Colorful Seamless Patterns From Shutterstock.

Wall DécorColor BlocksGeometric PatternGeometric CollageRectangle BlocksHexagon TextureImages via ngupakarti, Ayla_ZOlgaKlyushina, Nicetoseeyafunkyplayer, and Manilow.

Much of Papier’s initial design rounds were focused on greens, Mackenzie says. “I wasn’t a fan of it. I think it was too one-directional.” He also worried that it could come across as greenwashing.

That’s not to say that Papier isn’t an eco-conscious brand (again, it uses a print-on-demand model). It’s just that Mackenzie, who spent years in the decidedly ungreen fashion industry, bristles at marketing tactics meant to oversell sustainability.

“[They] essentially make us feel guilty about what we do [as individuals], when actually, the biggest pollutants are the bigger companies,” he says.

Still, there is a forest-green in the palette to add some depth to it. And, on the other end, for a higher note, is a bold apricot. “That’s more of a fun color,” Mackenzie says. It’s used on the sticker of Papier’s new packaging, for instance, which is rolling out this year. (Mackenzie, whose personal palette revolves around orange and cobalt blue, is a fan of the color pop.)

“I think the secondary colors will last a while,” Mackenzie says. “But they will eventually evolve.” And, in the meantime, they may be swapped for colors that compliment, say, the holiday season or a brand partnership.

“But, the base for us will always be the paper and the ink,” he says. “That is the core of our brand.”

A few more design tips for you:

The Designer’s Toolbox: Use Color to Evoke Emotion in DesignHow to Elevate a Typeface Logo in Adobe IllustratorHow We Show It: MasculinityWhen Less Is More: A Guide to Minimalist PhotographyFREE Spinnable, Transparent 3D Florals: In the Garden with PixelSquid

Cover image via ngupakarti.

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