Bar SZ Ranch is a family-operated business outside of Pinnacles National Park in California. Tim and Michelle Borland first moved to the area with their three young children in 2009 when Michelle was hired to break, train, and sell 120 feral and severely neglected horses. They were only supposed to be there five months. Instead, they were able to secure a lease on the property. Twelve years later, they've endured many ups and downs, and have built a profitable hospitality business. Now, on the brink of their lease ending in September 2021, they decided to invest in a brand guide to help them steer into a new era for their business.
For this project, I worked under the business Creatiful, a boutique creative agency owned by my friends, Evan and Elexa Henderson. To kick off the project, I interviewed Tim Borland, the owner. I soon became aware of the business's 2021 goals: Relocate, Reset, Refocus. I also learned that their brand was more than just the ranch: It was the family themselves. The brand guide needed to be flexible enough to meet their long-term aspirations, which extended beyond the ranch. Just like any good brand guide, theirs is intended to serve as a living document that can mature as needs change.
The following is an abbreviated version of the brand guide, with commentary. I've left out some of the early pages that contain internal information about the business that's intended for employees, investors, and partners.
I've found brand words to be incredibly useful in the past and wanted to uncover brand words for Bar SZ that would give us an anchor point and foundation for the brand. These words, while they won't be used publicly much, help set the tone for everything the brand is, from the way it communicates to the more visual aspects like fonts, colors, and imagery.
Deciding on these words took time. They are the result of many conversations within Creatiful, as well as my interview with Tim Borland. I also watched a dozen testimonial videos from ranch guests and read through countless reviews on their Hipcamp page. I captured a bunch of soundbites, details, and reviews in a Miro board and arranged them into identifiable groups:
Central concepts emerged from this exercise, including family values, repeat visits (loyalty), hospitality, a feeling of being in a different world, etc. After further workshopping with the Creatiful team, I landed on three words that tied the concepts together: Rooted, Relational, and Traditional.
I crafted the qualities of the brand voice by using the brand words as the core characteristics. On this overview page, I've given a description for how each characteristic applies to the voice and some general advice on what to do and not do.
To better explain how the voice should be used in action, I developed a system for each of the characteristics. The goal isn't to limit the team's creativity, but to establish guard rails that help ensure the brand remains true to itself across its various contexts and mediums.
I first learned the value of a table like this from Torrey Podmajersky's book Strategic Writing for UX.
In the full brand guide, this page is followed by examples of how to use the voice in emails and social media. I've omitted those here for proprietary reasons.
The SZ cattle brand logomark already existed, but I further fleshed out the logo by defining a wordmark and bringing the logomark and wordmark together. The wordmark font, Rokkitt, clearly articulates the qualities of the ranch. Additionally, I defined a minimum clear space for the logomark.
To kickoff the project with Creatiful, I put together a fun activity in which the three of us came up with our own moodboards for the brand. Quincy, a font by Connary Fagen, was one item that I put on my moodboard. It had instant appeal to me, and the moment Evan and Elexa saw it, they agreed it just felt right for the brand. While I did try a few other fonts, nothing else felt quite right, so I stuck with it and developed the rest of the font library in relation to it. The other two fonts include Zilla Slab and Open Sans.
Keeping in mind that the brand needed a new layer of flexibility, I moved away from the existing limited color palette, which was white, black, and bright red, and moved toward something that felt warmer and spoke to the brand words (Rooted, Relational, Traditional). The result is a color palette that's more subdued and possesses warm tones across the board (even the blues have some warmth to them). Tim liked how they had a bit of a southwestern feel.
Since the color palette has been greatly expanded from what the business previously had, they now have the flexibility to use each one as a primary color for different areas of the business.
Aside from the gray palette, which I named Alloy, the colors were given seasonal names and were inspired by the way those colors manifest on the ranch property.
I'm always open to consulting and collaborating, so don't hesitate to send me your project details. Want to take your business to the next level?