Stories of design across all media


Turning the Clock Back in Style

In the right hands, a cross-media campaign does far more than create a bridge between print and digital – it weaves an entirely different world around its target audience.

  • branding
  • website
  • packaging
  • print collateral

And if it’s Chen Design Associates’ identity for The Brownie and Madam Optical Co., it’s a world that harkens back to a gentler, more stylish time.

The Client
If you’re tired of coughing up a small fortune at your local same-day glasses-making chain, then you’ve spotted the same niche in the marketplace that Menlo Park, Calif. optometrist Alpa Shroff and her husband, Nik, discovered early in 2013.


Aiming to eliminate the middle man, the couple created a business that was also designed specifically to help mothers support their families by selling “finely crafted and fashionable” glasses.

It’s a long tradition they honored by naming their new Brownie and Madam Optical Co. after 1950s Tupperware home parties pioneer Brownie Wise, and Madam CJ Walker, who amassed a fortune selling hair-care products to African Americans in the 1900s.

A Certain Nostalgia
When it came time to craft an identity for Brownie and Madam, Chen Design Associates used that company’s historic namesakes as a jumping off point – to associate the brand with the quality and workmanship many associate with the “good old days.”

“We naturally built off of their vintage-inspired business name and rich background story,” explains CDA Public Relations Manager Kathryn Hoffman. “In concert with this, we provide a visual language that expresses a refined, cohesive identity and message that’s authentic to them.”


In this case, the visual language is a series of design cues that call to mind early editions of the Sears & Roebuck catalog and letterpress cards and brochures from the turn of the last century. Take the B&M logo:

“Inspired by a vintage 1890s-1900s aesthetic but with a modern perspective, the logo for Brownie and Madam illustrates two inviting, vintage-style wooden chairs, mirroring the personal relationship between company representative and customer,” explains the design firm’s website.

It pursued a similar vibe with the printed collateral: business cards, product catalog, carbonless triplicate order forms (themselves a nostalgic callback to the simpler days of door-to-door sales), and even thank-you cards.

Moving Nostalgia Online
Reproducing the lure of early 20th century aesthetics in print is one thing; it’s quite another to successfully continue that atmosphere on the Web.

It’s a challenge CDA rose to by choosing to avoid graphics beyond the company’s logo, instead leaning heavily on the same period typeface that adorns B&M’s real-world products. Ironically, the spell of nostalgia is only broken on those pages that display images of the company’s eyewear.

“Thankfully we were not trying to recreate a bygone era online but rather reference, honor and expand our contemporary take on their vintage inspiration,” says Hoffman. “We enjoyed a lot of play developing a visual vocabulary through every detail, including typography choices, color palette, patterns and proportion, to create a virtual world unique to Brownie and Madam.”


The Cross-Media Touch
Yet it was the way that CDA transferred this “good old days” feel to other media that really helped Brownie and Madam seem a cut above:

Eyeglasses sample case and tote:  This beautiful box (some made of leather, others supple pleather) holds 18 pairs of glasses, and features the B&M logo printed in gold foil on the lid. The case neatly fits inside a matching brown leather (or canvas) tote boasting the same logo.

Glasses mailer: Orders arrive in a simple brown cardboard box boasting the B&M logo and name on the outside, and the legend “Beauty, Quality, Integrity” (separated by cameo-like silhouettes) on the inside.

“On the shipping box, we had to let go of an all-black flooded interior—an aspect of the original design that the client really loved—and went with a 1-color matte foil, saving several thousand dollars,” explains Hoffman. “The main challenge was staying within budget, especially given the client’s desire for fun and unexpected packaging solutions. We worked closely with them to discuss the trade-offs of what they thought they could afford with what the brand was calling out to be.”

Distinctive, playful eyeglass cases: There’s no mistaking these cases with those you receive from the glasses maker at the mall. One version features the B&M logo and name, and could easily be mistaken for grandma’s cigarette purse from back in the day. The other is awash with floral prints and profile silhouettes. Says Hoffman, “Both eyeglass cases were printed digitally – the soft case on canvas and the hard case on silk. We provided all the artwork for our client who sourced both fabrics.”


Cleaning cloths: Perhaps the most inspired piece of the Brownie and Madam identity, CDA racked up a new personal first when it printed on an ink-jet friendly lens-cleaning cloth material. On one side, a quote in the form of an eye chart: “Well behaved women seldom make history.” On the other, the same quote over a delightful photograph of four ’20s-era women waist-deep in a body of water enjoying a spot of tea.

“Every digital press is a little bit different,” says Hoffman. “And we didn’t have the opportunity to check it on press, so we mostly had to make sure the files were set up cleanly and hope for the best!”

Never mind that…where on earth did they dig up that wonderful photograph?

“Isn’t that fun,” says Hoffman. But “We’re not telling you all our secrets!”



April 2013: Logo identity finalized

June: Website development begins

August: Multiple packaging pieces (cases, tote, cards, etc.) rolled out through the end of this month

Oct. 1: Website launched after all products have been photographed, three rounds of approvals and testing; the print catalog was produced simultaneously.



Creative Director: Joshua C. Chen
Art Directors: Joshua C. Chen, Max Spector
Designers: Max Spector, Wes Mitchell, Kimberly Low, Michael Ater
Product Photography: Wes Mitchell

Author: Aaron Berman

A former writer and editor for USA Today, Aaron Berman is also the editor of PaperSpecs, and covered the newspaper industry for the Newspaper Association of America’s monthly magazine, Presstime.


  1. Great story and transformation of vintage to cross-media design. Well done!

    Post a Reply
    • Many thanks for the kind words, Sandra :-)

      Post a Reply

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