Headwater sources good food from over 200 regional family farms and businesses and distributes throughout the state of New York. We built them a new brand system from the ground up that will support them as they grow and expand into new product lines and services.

woman holding a beet

The Beginning

Headwater Food Hub approached us at a critical moment: they were expanding and tapping into new audience segments, and knew it was time for a fresh look at their brand. While their previous visual identity had served them well, they wanted something more versatile and durable to underpin their position as an established purpose-driven, values-oriented leader in our regional food system.

a carrot

Weeks 01-03

We started with an in-depth Discovery process, meeting with company leadership and surveying employees to get familiar with Headwater’s services, products, audience, and culture. We worked together to define Headwater’s personality and brand architecture, and set the stage for the new brand system.

a strategic chart

Headwater is... forward-thinking, positive, collaborative, thoughtful, adept, resourceful, friendly, fulfilling

  • first person / inclusive
  • “We, ours, us”
  • avoiding “you”
  • TONE
  • positive
  • thoughtful
  • approachable
  • concise

From there, we took the opportunity to reflect on the mission, vision, and goals of the company and unify the voice of the brand. We built a new tagline and reworked these statements to be concise and aligned with the brand personality.


We empower producers
by offering flexibility and finding opportunities for growth and distribution that support their best practices and way of life.

We enable sustainable choices
by collaborating closely with our producer and customer partners in order to make good food viable, convenient, and inclusive, no matter the circumstance.

We grow our good food community
by cultivating an accessible and vibrant regional network that integrates ecological, commercial, and social systems for the common good.

design sketches

Design Time

Great! A solid foundation. Now, on to visual identity. Their fresh look needed to represent them as an established distributor rooted in their good food values, but not venture into the kitschy tropes of hand-drawn vegetable illustrations and vintage lettering of the local food movement.

Logo to be retired

Weeks 04-09

After a few rounds of exploration we developed a wordmark utilizing custom type in a strong “house”. The letterforms are friendly, balanced with a sturdy and established shape. It reflects the fundamental values of utility and usefulness without being flashy or boastful.

But what’s most important about the logo is that it’s flexible. It can house images, serving as a window to represent Headwater’s core value of transparency and source identification.

The icon can also be duplicated and modified to build a vast network of components of different colors, shapes, and sizes, of which the logo is just one element. This is much like Headwater’s place in our regional food system: they recognize that they are just one piece of the puzzle, and can only create the positive outcomes they strive for by uniting with their producers, customers, and community to build a future in which good food is commonplace.

the logo as a grid fonts we used

We continued to expand the design system, building a versatile type pairings with open-source fonts and a color palette that’s bright and bold: saturated versions of food colors, including beets, peas, carrots, milk, and corn.

logo palette

Even though the system is bright and colorful, the shapes are still a little mechanical, by design. So we began integrating images of Headwater’s partners and team, weaving in authentic and empathetic storytelling with the structure of an organized design system. We also created a set of storytelling strategy recommendations that spell out how to integrate partner stories and data-based outcomes into successful copywriting.

On to implementation! It’s time to stress-test our new design system by applying it to real-world needs. In addition to packaging, truck decals, and graphics for social media and web, we created a set of easy-to-use branded deck and document templates in their preferred document system: Google Drive.

slides and document design

Plus… a sub-brand! Throughout this entire process, we were exploring how our strategy and design choices would apply to a new line of retail products. We collaborated with Headwater to name the sub-brand, then conceptualized packaging for several distinct product lines from frozen vegetables to grass-fed, organic beef.

Headwater Origins Packaging

The Origins sub-brand is a distinct design system in itself. For labels, boxes, and packaging, we built a simple, minimal design convention in which the Headwater Origins logo and the product name are given equal weight, and additional product attributes and images are housed in other elements of the pattern.

Headwater Origins Box

We also designed and developed a brand new brochure-style site that serves as a high-level introduction to Headwater’s products, services, and values. From language to typography, from image content to image treatment, this website is the culmination of their new brand.

Experience it for yourself:

a poster for headwaters, by relays

Part of our approach is that this whole process is iterative– we’re learning more about our clients as we work through the project, and we’re stress-testing our own system of recommendations throughout the implementation phase. One of the things that came to light during implementation is that we decided to drop the words “Food Hub” completely. Are they still a food hub? Totally. But as they create new product lines and expand services to reach new audiences, it was time to prune off those extra words to help nurture that new growth.

We wrapped up the project by compiling a brand guide. This comes last, because it’s the culmination of everything we’ve built and learned along the way. It offers guidelines for strategy, messaging, copywriting, design, and photography, though it’s not meant to be overly restrictive or even prescriptive: the system is structured to function through the inevitable evolution of Headwater’s programs, services, and products, and leaves space for flexibility as new ideas blossom and grow.

brand guide for headwater by relays a headwater hoodie by relays

Lastly, we didn’t just leave them high and dry. A series of trainings helped get their internal team up to speed so they can carry what we built into the future. We also developed a series of launch materials, including a video introduction to the new brand for Headwater employees, a rebrand launch letter for external partners and customers, and a sequenced launch plan (including production of branded swag!) to bring our work into the world.