For Alvin, one of the founders of art and design collective, PHUNK Studio, and Justin, from creative agency Black Design, the Seeds café was a chance for different people from different areas of expertise to come together to bring a shared vision to life. The duo were roped into the project by Rainbow Centre, who were already working with LAANK, an interior design firm which Alvin and Justin were actually quite close to. The school had been looking for different creatives and partners to collaborate on the project, and so Alvin & Justin joined forces to create the unique branding for what they say has been a meaningful, enriching project. We speak with them to find out more.
Can you share about the concept behind the branding for Seeds? What inspired you?
Justin (J): When we think about sowing seeds we always wonder about growth, and its potential to evolve into something mature. Growth is a concept that we explored throughout the branding work for Seeds and one of the ideas was to show how seeds grow into strong trees. We used this as a metaphor to echo the good work done at Rainbow Centre. We drew elements from nature and incorporated its nuances into the brand. We also referenced to a lot of Japanese cafés.
Alvin (A): The mood here is very similar to a MUJI café and during discussion, we also talked about how, if you look at certain brands, they don’t plaster logos around the whole space but they make use of little illustrations. If you notice, the MUJI cup has a small little bird. The logo is somewhere but it’s very small. I think it’s things like that which bring out the personality of the café.
What were your roles in the project?
A: I did more client liaising and project management, and also discussed the concepts with Justin. Justin was the sole designer for the project. He worked on the creatives, logo design, and everything related to design.
J: I bounced ideas with Alvin and we tweaked the different designs that we liked. The experience was great and interesting. We were trying to balance between a café and non-profit initiative. Finding that balance was new and it wasn’t very standard.
How was this project different from/similar to other projects you’ve done before?
A: We’ve done projects like this before but not on this scale of collaboration, together with an interior design company and coffee bean makers. I think it’s different—a real collaborative project which involved different people who all contributed. It wasn’t just a branding project. It’s fun! It’s nice to see how the jigsaw comes together.
J: The project is familiar in a way that it is essentially an F&B concept, but it’s different in that there’s a social conscience tied to it. There’s a lot of heart and soul put into Seeds; you can feel it from the hand-planted leaves in the signage to the art created by the students used in the furnishing. I’d say there’s a personal touch in the space which is quite hard to come by.
What have you discovered since being a part of this project?
A: For me, it’s very simple. I didn’t even know that there was a school which caters to children with multiple disabilities. I always thought they went to a school specialising in that particular disability. It was an eye-opener. I think it’s great that they have the Seeds café to spread awareness. Also, you can see that something good ultimately emerges if every individual shares the same vision on the project.
J: Although every collaborator worked quite independently, from coffee making, branding, interior design, and art, the project was completed in unison. It’s kind of like everyone had the answer to a clue and we all came together and solved the mystery. The biggest takeaway for me is that there’s a space like this. Sometimes you might want artistic clients but you don’t really think that there’s a place that will need your help. I find it quite enriching.
What are your hopes for Seeds?
J: I hope the students that work here really get to grow and that this place will be a nice space for the community. There’s a church nearby and it’s a residential area so it’d be nice if people can hear about the place, and come by and support it.
A: It’s a small cosy corner tucked away which is quite nice to come by during your own private time to chill, look at art, and have coffee. I hope that the café will grow and truly embrace its name; that it’ll be a seed which will pave the way for similar establishments to come.
What do you think is the importance of projects like Seeds?
A: Through a common love for coffee, Seeds encourages social integration and interaction for its students, and spreads awareness and education about disabilities to the public. It’s a savvy way of reaching out to communities, and more immediately the Queenstown neighbourhood, by the way of a lifestyle. It’s great that projects like Seeds exist because we can’t count on places like Starbucks to do that!
J: I think, in the most simple way, projects like this bring about awareness and it also helps other studios see opportunities for these type of projects. Previously, when I was freelancing, I worked on quite a number of these kind of projects, and Alvin knew that so he roped me in for this project. I prefer more initiative-driven, public service projects as I feel they’re more meaningful—design that helps people.
What’s a dream project you’d like to work on, and why?
J: If I could redesign the whole way-finding system in Singapore, like road signs, I think that’ll be fantastic. I consider that a dream because it’s so far out. I’d also like to work on and brand dyslexic or ADHD institutions, I think that’ll be quite meaningful.
A: I’ve always loved concert halls and admired the thought process behind designing with sound in mind. If I can fantasise, it’ll be to construct a retro-futuristic concert hall with light installations by (Icelandic-Danish artist) Olafur Eliasson. I’d be thrilled to design its brand identity. That’ll be my dream project!
What’s your favourite part of this café?
A: I like the stand in the middle because I think it’s very easy to communicate and have conversations with somebody, even when you don’t know them. It’s quite hard to point out just one part of the café because it’s the little things that make up the café, especially the hidden parts like the art underneath the shelves or the stools. These are the small touches that bring out the space.
J: One favourite is the logo because it brings different dynamics. What I like is the openness of the space—once you walk in, you can see the start and end.
What were some of the challenges you faced in this project?
J: One of the challenges was for the logo to be able to represent the ethos of the café without being overly literal about it. We questioned the complexity of the initial proposal and ended up simplifying the logo, but expanded the secondary graphics instead, which worked out well.
A: Another fun challenge was choosing the coffee cups for the café—whether to be idealistic or realistic, and at the same time being budget-conscious. We managed to find the middle ground so you’ll have to visit for a cuppa to find out!
What do you think makes Seeds Café special?
J: What’s very personal and tangible about Seeds is that you can enjoy a cup of coffee and the art made by the students and have a conversation with them at the same time. It’s a brilliant way to encourage interaction and to spread awareness.
A: I think what truly sets Seeds apart is that it’s created by the caregivers of people with special needs, serving a good cause.
This is a special Shentonista project for Rainbow Centre and the Seeds café, run by the school. Artwork from the students have been incorporated into and are showcased in the space; the café also provides students with disabilities or special needs the training and experience in skills that can serve them after they graduate.
Seeds café is located in Rainbow Centre, 501 Margaret Drive, S(149306), and opens from Mondays to Fridays from 07:30AM to 4:00PM, and Saturdays & Public Holidays from 08:30AM to 5:00PM.