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HumanForest and Studio South: Connecting design with purpose

HumanForest is an e-bike venture launched in the UK that enlisted New Zealand design agency Studio South to manage its design. Here, we talk to HumanForest co-founder Caroline Seton and Founder and CCO of Studio South, Sam Southwell, about creating impactful yet simple design to cut through the noise of one of the worlds busiest metropolis.

Q&A with Caroline Seton, Co-founder HumanForest:

  • Tell me a little bit about HumanForest, what was the initial brief behind the campaign / brand?

HumanForest is a forward-thinking and inclusive travel movement, harnessing the potential of companies and people to work together to help our planet. 

By opting to ride a HumanForest e-bike, Londoners signal their commitment to reducing carbon emissions and improving our air quality. Working together they become, in essence, a Human Forest.  Not just an environmentally conscious choice, HumanForest is fun and was created specifically with Londoners in mind.  The branding needed to reflect those principles and above all, inspire people to join the movement.

  • Where did the idea for the free to run e-bikes come from? Did this plan adapt or change in any way once you got started?

Cycling has become the way to get around (shop, see friends, exercise and get to work) and HumanForest, via free mobility, connects companies with consumers at those moments.

Consumers more than ever will want to know where companies are heading and what they stand for post COVID-19. How companies communicate that vision, in a world where media consumption has changed dramatically, presents a huge opportunity. It is a chance to build emotional connections, belief and ultimately a renewed sense of purpose that consumers and employees are looking for in the brands they love. 

Founded on the promise of free mobility, we imagine a future of sustainable transport that everyone can enjoy. This will never change! It was, however, initially conceived as a ‘last mile’ solution but, with the renewed focus on improving health and the need to maintain social distancing since Covid, it is fast becoming one of the only ways to get around London.

People are doing much longer trips than we had envisaged, and it has become a leisure activity too.

  • How has this campaign been received / do you have any stats you could share on its success?

HumanForest has been welcomed with open arms! In the first two weeks of the pilot in Islington 3,000 users downloaded the App and we completed over 2,000 rides.

Following this huge demand, we have pushed forward further launches in the City. But what we are most pleased about is the level of repeat customers and engagement with the brand across all our channels.

  • Are there plans to adapt the offering as it grows? Where are you hoping to take HumanForest in the future?

1m rides over the next year in London then a European capital city. Growing but always staying true to our mission to reforest the city that means we’ll focus on e-bikes (and you get fit in the process). In fact, in London, 60 percent of car trips could be ridden in under 20 mins!

Q&A with Sam Southwell, Founder and chief creative officer of Studio South:

Sam Southwell
  • What were some of the design challenges or considerations you faced when applying this brand and campaign in the UK?

Not physically being in London or having the ability to have a face to face conversations with key stakeholders was a slight challenge, we could see this projects potential from the get go and when practicing good design and problem solving it’s highly collaborative for us, being able to read the mood or warm to the human reactions in the room from both sides in key moments is essential in unlocking the projects potential.

We collaborated with Caroline’s team completely by video and email for the duration of 6 months, both brand, campaigns and products. Partnered with not physically being there was; how can we launch a new brand in a crowded market and establish a clear point of difference – keeping in mind, we didn’t want this to be a loud brand, rather one which complements the positive planet and responsible sustainability narratives in its story.

The existing market aesthetic was loud, bright and quite corporate, so overcoming this challenge happened through clearly identifying the brands positioning within the city of London.

  • The design for the campaign is beautiful, why was this look chosen to represent such an important topic?

We wanted to put a smile on the mind of anyone who views this brands communications or products. Being a business with responsible sustainability initiatives and doing something good in this world of carbon pollution deserves a positive reaction in our opinion.

Our intentions with the behaviour of HumanForest are to reward and entertain the customer when viewing the brand or participating in the products experience. Knowing this behaviour had a point of difference was key for it to stand out in its local environment. The reaction to the brand world-wide has been enormous for its witty character, especially in these current times.

  • Tell us about how the colours and typography play into the message you’re trying to get across?

We looked to design a brand that could stand-alone first, and be a bike second.

HumanForest is a mobility company. Bikes are just the first product.

Colour represented an opportunity to capture elements of classic British culture and nostalgia and ensure the brand complemented the environment and City Of London. The resulting palette creates a definitive aesthetic point of difference to loud and bright competing brands.

The logotype and core messaging offers a charming set of letterforms to communicate the light-hearted copy. The slightly heavier weight typefaces also informs the stroke weight of the character design.

Further to this, we went about the process of distilling trees and bushes into geometry. We literally turned geometric tree drawings into humans. HumanForest.

Two trunks become two legs. We looked to find balance between fill and stroke to add contrast and variety when showing more than one character. We also explored variations in height and shape which became a key element in the differentiation of each character and hopefully relates to the many wonderful types of trees and human personalities in this world.

We intend to draw many more of these fun human trees as the brand and business evolves.

The final set of characters for launch are all moving in the same direction, creating a sense of collective effort to move forward, from one destination to another.

Rob at Parallel Teeth brought a whole new life and expressive personality to the brand’s digital presence through animation.

  • What are some of the benefits of a NZ design agency working on international design projects like Human Forrest?

At Studio South we are highly engaged in world affairs, cultures, climate crisis, and current activity that is related to business. We are thoroughly concerned with how that business activity can be transformed using better by design philosophies. Companies like HumanForest understood the value of design, and how it could unlock their business’s potential and results.

A lot of global companies actually think like this, so this is a benefit of working internationally. It’s also nice to know that the connected world we live in, can be highly collaborative from anywhere via technologies. New Zealand companies can do business with companies in all the big global centers, and that is a huge benefit for us down here in the South Pacific, to get our work out there on the world stage, make it perform and trade globally is a huge benefit.

We hope to see more of this activity in decades to come for the New Zealand design industry, it’s happening more and more which is fantastic to see, and testament to our hard working industry’s quality of work.

To find out more visit; www.studiosouth.co.nz

This story is part of a StopPress series celebrating the ever changing PR landscape. To read more on Storyteller Month, click here.

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