At the top end of High Street, inside an old shopfront, there is a relic from the past. Three, actually: Northcote design studio, The Hungry Workshop is home to a trio of hulking letterpress printing machines, each weighing in at well over a tonne. And while these machines aren’t exactly the latest tech, the rich, textural images they create are proving timeless.
Which is why Small Batch’s Andrew Kelly, coffee doyen behind Auction Rooms, went straight to The Hungry Workshop when he wanted a logo for his new filter coffee and smørrebrød cafe, Filter. “Andrew approached us and said, I’m doing this new cafe, and I need help with the branding and the design,” recalls Simon Hipgrave, who founded the studio along with his wife Jenna. “It didn’t have a name at this point,” she interjects. “It was just – we’re opening a cafe.”
Simon and Jenna met in design school, while Jenna was studying in Brisbane on a year abroad. When the two got together, they worked respectively at an ad agency and design firm, but when they got hitched, it was time for a change. “We’d just gotten married and we were all gung-ho about moving,” says Simon. “We’d already mentally checked out of Brisbane. We were ready to go somewhere else.”
The GFC scuttled plans for a return to Jenna’s homeland (the United States) and the couple landed in Northcote. Jenna had been experimenting with letterpress, and was getting “increasingly carried away.” And so The Hungry Workshop was born. “We just wanted this place to be an extension of the things we’re interested in,” explains Simon. “Design, letterpress, and we really like illustration.”
The Hungry Workshop began collecting machines from older printers who were downsizing, retiring, or just weren’t using the machines. “They were just out the back getting dusty and dirty, shoved in a back corner somewhere,” says Jenna. “We’ve got ones from the ’60s and ’70s that come from offset printers, but we’ve also got presses from book artists and printmakers who have collected them, kept them safe, oiled them and kept them very clean.”
The letterpress process involves making a relief plate that’s inked, then pushed onto the paper. It’s a slow process, though it makes extremely fine and detailed prints. Colour images are generally made one tone at a time. While photopolymer printing techniques basically sent the letterpress into obsolescence, artisans such as Jenna and Simon began to return to the craft because of its crisp, tactile results. Sometimes they also just like the machines themselves: “I find them less frustrating than computers. They make sense,” says Jenna. “You can fix them: they’re very mechanical, so each bit is connected to another, and if it doesn’t work you can follow the trail back.”
That artisanal ethos is where the Hungry Workshop and Small Batch Coffee found some common ground. “It’s a global trend – like slow food, there’s a return to craft furniture, and there’s a whole bunch of fashion returning to that handmade aesthetic. I think ours is a design equivalent to that,” says Simon. “What we like about the handmade is control over the process. We get to see a project all the way through.”
Together with Jenna and Simon, Kelly walked through the values he aspires to in his new cafe. By putting together mood boards and “top-level conceptual territories,” the studio helped Kelly nut out exactly what he wanted to communicate. In the end it was simple: “We finally settled on this idea that filter coffee is the simplest, purest way to experience coffee,” says Simon. “It’s uncomplicated.” And the studio came up with a way to convey that. “The design direction is also very uncomplicated. It’s about not getting in the way of the experience of coffee,” say Simon.
Integrating the company’s existing Small Batch logo, the Hungry Workshop came up with a brand that represents a coffee filter layered multiple times “It’s taking this dot graphic and extrapolating that, and then twisting it and messing with it, and seeing what kind of subtle nuances come out of that,” says Simon. You’ll get it when you see it.
When the cafe launches in April, the new logo will appear on coffee cups, menus, signage, business cards, web presence, social media, and then some sort of coffee guide. “The major goal is to educate people about filter coffee,” says Simon. “And celebrate Small Batch as a roaster,” adds Jenna, before Simon concludes, “It all makes sense in the end.”
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