Designing with Story: Q&A with Ritual Creative Director, Michelle Mattar

Designing with Story: Q&A with Ritual Creative Director, Michelle Mattar

It’s our feeling that excellent design need not steal the limelight from a product. But what it should definitely do is make said subject shine. You know, the “Dang, that’s [good looking/interesting/pretty]... What is it?” shine. That’s the shine we’re always looking for. When it comes to designing with timelessness, longevity, and curiosity in mind, that edict tends to be the goal around these parts.

When we came across Ritual, the vitamin industry disruptor for the millennial set, this thought came to mind. Here was a seemingly ordinary product—the everyday multivitamin—with a peppy, modern feel that immediately made us want to know more. And so we investigated. Turns out, Ritual was created with learning more very much in mind. Company founder Kat Schneider launched Ritual after searching, fruitlessly, for a prenatal vitamin that didn’t contain scary ingredients like food coloring. With Ritual, she sought to demystify the world of vitamins while also nodding to the ever-burgeoning popularity of green juices, Moon Juices, and more. It’s a good time to be innovating in the world of wellness, after all.

To learn a bit more about Ritual’s unique and memorable vision, we sat down with Creative Director Michelle Mattar. Read on.

Hi Michelle! Tell us a little bit about yourself.

These days, I’m splitting my time between Los Angeles and New York, and between my role as Creative Director for Ritual and designing brands. I have a strong love for design and language, and brand is a beautiful marriage of that.

 
 

How did you find your way to Ritual?

I had been working as a freelance consultant building plans for pre-launch startups. I’ve always been a strategic designer, a bit more interested in business development, and working conversations. I was freelancing at the time that I met Kat (Ritual’s founder), and we really hit it off.

Walk us through the process of branding Ritual.

Branding, to me, is a careful practice of observation, conversation, and collaboration. When I was first introduced to Kat, the founder, I explained to her that branding is a challenge that benefits profoundly from dialogue. I brought in my close friend Jess Yan so that we could also have a conversation around the design. That dialogue ended up being a big part of the process — We were inspired by the story behind the product, and the product itself.

 
 

What was the biggest challenge you encountered?

Representing science in a manner that was approachable, rather than scary or complicated. The 3 directions we presented each carefully played with that balance.

 
 

How do you see Ritual’s brand visual language growing or evolving over the next few years?

I think the best approach to creating a brand that resonates is to start a conversation that’s worth continuing. This is part of why so much of the branding relates back to the product philosophy, and how the multivitamin has actually created itself. You can really champion that ethos, and continue to tell that story in everything you create and share. I’m excited to keep building the conversation and see where that takes us.

More strategically, we definitely did think about future products down the line and imagining a future of the brand that’s even bigger than it is now. Now that I’m Creative Director, I’m excited to work towards continuing to shape that vision.

What’s the story behind the Ritual brand and symbol?

So, of course, a ritual is a thing that we practice every day and I think starting each day with Ritual is a really bright way to ground yourself in better health. So, the logomark is a cheerful sun grounded by a sure-footed, confident horizon. It’s an optimistic icon that speaks to putting your best foot forward and it’s meant to give people a sense of optimism and daily well-being every time they see it.

 
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We love a “less is more” minimalism of Ritual.

A big part of starting a new ritual is simply starting a new daily habit. It’s not a hugely complicated thing. So we definitely wanted the product to feel friendly, easy, and accessible. And the simple nine ingredients in the Essential for Women vitamin are really just filling in the gaps. There’s nothing more, nothing less--which is the total opposite of how most multivitamins have approached things with their “everything but the kitchen sink” ingredient lists. With Ritual, we wanted to represent that philosophy in everything to do. The simplicity and thoughtfulness of the design helps translate the same exact philosophy of the vitamin itself.

 
 

How did you approach the at-times unwieldy wellness space?

Just as an example, it was my personal experience that in wellness it can be really frustrating to know where to find the right answers. I was always cross-referencing things and getting lost in the information. So, we wanted to keep things simple and straightforward. We wanted to empower people to look under the hood and see for themselves.

One of the bigger story elements of the brand that isn’t entirely obvious is that we really set out to give people a sense of empowerment. So, not just the fact that you’re making a good decision for your health, but also that you’re able to understand where things come from. The skeptics were the audience I was the most excited to start a conversation with. We definitely wanted people to feel empowered to learn and investigate for themselves and decide that Ritual was something they wanted to be a part of. If you look at the Ritual ingredient database, it was designed with this challenge very much in mind.

 
 

What does strategic design mean to you?

I think it’s design for a reason. Really, in order to design something strategically you need to put yourself in the shoes of a potential customer--you need to know what frustrates them, what they love, you need to know the full story. Once you’re armed and equipped with that insight and understanding, you’re going to have a much better footing for starting a conversation with them that’s valuable. I definitely seek to create work that has value and that people want to continue to have a conversation with and about.

 
 

Beyond the brand story, where do you tend to find your inspiration?

Personally, my love for language is as deeply rooted as my love for design. So, inspiration tends to come from both of those worlds for me. Remy Charlip, a late children’s book author, is a source of inspiration I find myself revisiting. His books are equal parts playful and intellectual--it’s a joy to see how he articulates his ideas. Walking that line is hard, and it’s inspiring to see how other people do it.

Also, I’m pretty new to LA in the last year, and I went to college and lived in New York for a long time. Being in a new place is really inspiring. I find LA very inspiring as a graphic designer, maybe not in the ways you would expect. In the little moments--there’s so many interesting little bits, even in naive graphic design, the colors, it’s pretty special.

What about when you’re feeling stumped? Who or what is inspiring you right now?

The easiest way for me to find clarity is to write. Scrutinizing and analyzing and getting to the heart of things is probably the most important part of my design process--and it’s probably the hardest part, too! Writing is a really good place to practice and spend time in that ideation space.

Can you tell us a bit about your process for selecting colors for brands?

I find it a really emotional process to select color. Colors mean such different things to each of us, so, having a color relate directly back to a value or point of communication in the company is really helpful in making sure I keep my own personal feelings out of the process. In the case of Ritual, you can take the vitamin morning or night, it’s a practice that is with you throughout the day. So, the warm, optimistic yellow relates to morning, while a very calming, dark blue is there to balance it as the nighttime counterpart. Having that point of reference related to the product and the brand story helped me to clear anything that might be too personal.

What would be your dream branding project or collaboration to be a part of?

This isn’t a branding project, but it’s always been a big dream of mine to design a playground.

What is exciting to you in the world of art/design/branding right now?

Something that’s motivating me is the fact that entrepreneurs are really passionate people. It’s really rewarding to  dive into someone’s passion project as a creative collaborator. As a brand designer, every year I become a second-hand expert on a new topic and I get inspired by watching clients tackle problems with a really strong resolve. I also think in recent years branding has become really valued as it relates to business. It’s really cool to see designers in board rooms and to see designers be a part of these big conversations early on.

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