| 22 January, 2019

Looking to the Past to Design the Future: Designing International Paper's New Accent Brand


What makes a good logo? The logo needs to be immediately recognizable, for one. Look at the MTV logo and its original design, for example. It could have been made out of clay, brought to life with animation, have an animal print background — it was always the MTV logo.

When International Paper asked Trekk to work on the evolution of their Accent Opaque brand, I couldn’t have been more excited. The project included a website redesign and production of the newest Accent Opaque swatchbook. It also meant developing a brand identity.

Accent Opaque is a truly premium paper. We use it for our own high-end print jobs. Ogilvy even did a blind test and chose Accent for its classic Best of Ogilvy series. Given this and International Paper’s rich company history, I knew that in order to create an original concept that felt true to the brand, I would need to look to what inspired the great designers of the past. Brilliant industrial designers, mid-century designers who defined branding. Designers like Lester Beall, who created International Paper’s iconic corporate identity in the 1960s.

International Paper Brand Guideline

Lester Beall believed in simple design, form following function. His original International Paper brand guide is a work of art in and of itself. It has the beauty of an architectural drawing — every element is purposeful. There are some brand guides that are highly sought after by mid-century design geeks like me, and this is one of them. 

Before Lester Beall came along, the International Paper logo was a drawing of a tree in a circle. He paid homage to the tree, but he worked in an I and a P.

International Paper Logo Design

The I and the P not only form a tree, but they also form an arrow. The logo suggests movement, an upward trajectory. It’s subtle, yet meaningful.

When designing their logo, I wanted to take inspiration from their rich history. I didn't look at what was on trend; I looked to their past. A logo needs to be timeless.

I scoured the library, searched the internet, and scrolled through eBay. I bought what I could from that period: company history books, a Pocket Pal with the original shipping label, beautiful sell sheets, a patch from a security guard, and an awesome snapback trucker hat. (Sadly, I lost the auction for an International Paper "Dolls Alive!" 33 1/3 record album from 1969.)

Wherever their logo was used, however it was used, it worked beautifully.

International Paper Sell Sheets

For the Accent Opaque rebrand, I began by thinking about the versatility of the International Paper mark. I wanted to create an Accent logo with the same structure and strength, qualities that make a logo recognizable in any context.

Wearable Logo Marks

I began by looking at the International Paper brand manual and the brand font, Venus Medium Extended. I took the capital letter A and started to dissect it.

Accent Logo Beginnings

I sketched many ideas but brought few over to the computer. Ultimately, they missed the mark (pun intended).

I stepped away from it for a moment and thought of how Lester Beall took his inspiration from the tree.

To me, the standout thing about Accent Opaque is its exceptional quality. There is a time and place for every paper within International Paper's product line, but any designer will tell you that Accent is the paper you use when you want to leave an impression. It's the star. 

I started to examine the form of the star, to work with the shape and its angles. Once I transposed the A onto a star, the mark started to come together.

The Accent A is Born

The proportions felt right, solid. I could already envision this A in many different contexts.  

Accent A LogoAccent Neon A

My hope is that it endures in the way that the 1960s International Paper brand has — only time will tell.

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