When Conrad Chu needed a logo for his same-day food delivery startup Munchery, he drew it while riding in the back of a bus. That was in 2010, when he was still doing programming contract work and commuting to San Francisco from the East Bay. "I had a lot of moonlighting time," he tells Inc.

Customers found the green logo playful and cute. But as the company evolved, Chu wondered if the logo was sending the right message. Its Archer font, so ubiquitous in Silicon Valley, belied how out-of-the-ordinary Munchery's all-natural chef-crafted food was. 

By February of last year, Chu was ready to overhaul everything, from Munchery's packaging to its mobile app. "We wanted to elevate the brand and the experience so customers would feel like, 'Wow, I’m getting a premium product but at an affordable cost,'" he says. He also knew a company "can only do a rebranding once," and whatever it did needed to move business forward, as the two-year-old startup was wooing investors. 

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Michael Schaecher, the company’s director of marketing at the time, tapped Kelli Anderson, whom he had worked with at Airbnb. "He basically said, 'I’m working at this new company, and their branding is kind of meaningless and isn't connecting with consumers,'" the designer recalls. "He proceeded to tell me everything about how their operations work, who their customers are, and what kind of problem they're solving for people. It really wasn't presented to me as, 'We're trying to feel like X.' It was more, 'We do X.' I had to figure out what was appropriate for that." 

Starting From Scratch

In learning about Munchery's customers, Anderson also got a sense of the values the company hoped to convey. The executives "spoke a lot about people who are single and really busy and come home from work and don’t want to make another decision about anything," she recalls. "They just want to eat food that’s healthy and not made by a giant corporation." To her, the customer base fell into two categories: young, overworked professionals and young families making decisions on what to eat.

Schaecher had done a fair amount of research before Anderson came aboard, assembling a Pinterest board of logos and food photography that moved him in the way he hoped customers would be moved by Munchery's redesign. Anderson used this as a jumping-off point, and incorporated other elements for inspiration, including Italian food packaging from the 1920s and 1950s, Steven Heller books on food packaging, and old canned-goods labels she found through Flickr searches.

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Above all, her guiding mantra was to keep Munchery's new logo from falling into the Silicon Valley or Brooklyn artisanal traps. It had to be simple enough to evolve with the company and flexible enough to be altered. "If we were going for the artisanal look, it would have been covered with filigree circles," Anderson says. "And that would be really hard if everyone hates that in five years or if they want to take the company in a slightly different direction. It would anchor them in a specificity that isn't, I feel, very pragmatic for a logo." 

'A Shot in the Dark'

The first logo Anderson tried was "a shot in the dark," she says, just "dropping an M and scaling things around." She made the M red, because the color signifies food; "also, we were going for this transparency thing, and it looks like the M was stamped over their logo." For a startup trying to position itself as food made by a real person, the handmade feel was a step in the right direction.  

Another logo Anderson came up with looked like a baseball team's, with a "hat" on the M and swoopy lettering. But it didn't quite work. "It's one thing to have a letter painted on a storefront," she says, "but when you're talking about having things on an app and stamped on a package and website, you just need something that's a little more clear and easier to read." 

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Anderson continued to play around with typefaces, but she and the Munchery team kept returning to her first design. "You immediately know you can have that tonight for dinner" when you look at it, says Moises Urrutia, one of the designers who joined to help finish the project after Anderson left in the summer. 

The designers expanded the M, dropped the .com, and added the tag line "Eat Better." "It can mean eating better in terms of convenience [and] in terms of better ingredients," Chu explains. "It's a very flexible tag line." Meanwhile, Munchery's name got the 1920s treatment, which harked back to classier times. The fork and knife--which initially felt like "overused symbols" to Anderson--were also made prominent. "I flipped the spoon upside down, turned it to outline view, and just realized that it looked pretty cool if I stretched it out and made it the handle instead," she says. "It's more proportionally weighted." Once everything was set, the designers showed the work to a small subset of customers to get reactions and feedback, and tweaked a few elements in response. 

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The announcement sent out in October was just as unique: Munchery fired off a teaser tweet reading  "Munchery 2.0 is coming. Get ready." About three weeks later, the company revealed the new packaging, iOS app, and website, and gave away free canvas bags, coasters, and "all kinds of swag," says Chu. The customers loved it. "I've done a lot of rebrands, and I know the customers will rage against the brand," he says. But no one "said anything to us. I ultimately knew what the customer knew and felt about our company."