Case in point: Subplot & Fully Loaded Tea

Case in point: Subplot & Fully Loaded Tea

Of course we had to speak to the designers themselves. First, we asked two from hot agencies for their theories on what makes design, well, hot. Then we asked them to highlight a recent project that proves it.

Matthew Clark

Principal, Subplot Design Inc., Vancouver


Agency age: 3.5 years

Number of staff: 5 (+ freelancers as needed)

Full-time clients: 10

Select clients: FullyLoadedTea, Ryders Eyewear, Kasian Architects, Martha Sturdy, Vancouver Aquarium

Career snapshot:

Graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts from the University of British Columbia in 1992, but has run his own one-man design firm since 1989. Was ACD at Karacters Design Group, the design arm of DDB Canada, from 1995 to 2004, then launched Subplot.

Why’s design sexy?

Before we used terms like ‘branding’ and ‘marketing’ and ‘product innovation,’ we knew innovation by its ancient and original name: design. Some would be surprised that design is considered the new innovation tool; it just may be the oldest tool there is.

Make no mistake, this is not ‘small-d design’ we are talking about, the domain of aesthetic, style, surface and decoration. I am talking about ‘big-D Design,’ the force that is synonymous with invention, creation, thinking and planning. Using ‘design’ style as a starting point yields predictably shallow and superficial results. ‘Design’ as a starting point yields true attention to function, meaning and relevance.

In a consumer market, ‘Design’ combines understanding, planning and design innovation to drive brands far beyond what marketing, branding or product innovation alone can do. That’s because, unlike marketers and brand consultants, designers cast their minds forward to the eventual creative solution and the functional requirements, which lets them have a dialogue about the repercussions of positioning and marketing, rather than viewing them in isolation.

The full strength of design thinking is best expressed by the ‘Complete Identity’ project, since this allows for expression across a large number of touch-points.

Product: FullyLoadedTea


Client: FullyLoadedTea | Katya Popoff & Olga Lenova

CDs: Matthew Clark & Roy White

Designers: Matthew Clark & Steph Gibson

Writer: Matthew Clark

Product photography: Raeff Miles

Design thinking disclosed:

FullyLoadedTea had worked hard on product innovation: full-leaf teas, whole-fruit tisanes, pyramid bags and innovative blends. But they knew that without brand differentiation, the product story alone would not be enough. Design thinking here recognized the category clichés (quiet, Zen, ingredients-led, exotic origins) were out of sync with a powerful market segment (young, female-skewed, urban, premium-tea drinkers). Design thinking revealed an opportunity for a modern, outspoken and opinionated brand, and ‘FullyLoadedTea. For a watered-down world’ was born.

With a focus on opinionated storytelling and a conceptual framework rather than a ‘look’ (What’s that? Recycled beats and faux-punk-pop? Hasn’t anyone got anything original anymore?), the brand came to life. Design thinking led to everything else: the opinionated sales collateral, the bold packaging and the unusual flavour names. And it solved practical issues at retail: a tea box that has a drop-down tray instead of a messy, perforated front, and a modern display stand that disappears on the counter to display the teas, not itself.

How long from idea to fruition?

First strategy meetings were in August 2006, with initial concepts in

early September 2006, final printing in November 2006 and final product delivered by January 2007.