Northern Vessel

My Contributions
Brand strategy and identity
Packaging and Signage
Social media content
Branded Photography

and Videography
A Des Moines coffee shop aiming to leverage technology to create a better coffee experience.
Client: Northern Vessel
Fall 2022

Northern Vessel 

With a storied history dating back to 2019, scrappy start-up Northern Vessel has iterated itself from coffee cart side hustle to a brick and mortar local staple in Des Moines, Iowa. 

After years of plotting, networking, reworking, and dreaming, Northern Vessel had the opportunity of a lifetime to open in a highly coveted historical renovation project at 1201 Keosauqua Way

With each of the changes to NV’s business model has come a new visual identity, and the opening of the coffee shop in November 2022 followed suite. 

Brand Identity

The brand needed a refresh, a new look that would carry it farther and wider than ever before. 

Core objectives: attractive to a wide audience, immediate recognition, familiarity, subconscious association with classic brands/influences, mid-century legacy meets contemporary appeal.

During a strategy meeting with NV’s CEO and Founder, T.J. Rude, I asked him to sum up the brand in one word, and I would share my one word summary as well. On the count of three, we both said innovative. With this in mind, the branding is intentionally closer to something you would find in the tech space than coffee.

Infused with influence from and adoration for baseball, mid-century modern furniture design, Swiss typography, Japanese and Norwegian interior design, and classic American beverage branding and messaging, Northern Vessel aims to solve problems in the coffee industry by leveraging technology (see Coffee Club for more on the technology piece of this).

While I cannot claim credit for the original “NV” logomark (which belongs to Quiver and Arrow Creative), I did make some changes that I felt made the mark more mature, complete, and cohesive - adjectives that certainly apply to this new version of the business overall. 

Notably, I placed the NV mark inside of a circle: as a secondary mark on its own, and in the spotlight locked up next to the new wordmark. 

The NV mark keeps its place as the primary logo, yet the encircled logo is right at home in many contexts in this new wave of Northern Vessel’s history.  

Original Logo by Quiver and Arrow Creative in 2019.

Previous lockup design by Ben Myklebust in 2020.

Core building blocks.

Forward, Together

Previously, Northern Vessel positioned itself with the slogan “experience coffee differently.”

While the sentiment remains, CEO and Founder T.J. Rude and I spent some time brainstorming a more fitting phrase to guide the business and inform past and new customers of where the business is headed now. 

Forward, Together is meant to be an aspirational statement that encapsulates the founding purpose of Northern Vessel, joining the past (a coffee cart set up outside to accomodate social distancing) with the future (an app-based subscription with a little something for everyone).

This phrase is not only meant to point the way into the future for the business, but maybe, during inevitable times of uncertainty, serves as a reminder of why NV exists in the first place. 


It isn’t uncommon for coffee shops to sell merchandise featuring their branding and messaging, and Northern Vessel is no exception.

The goal of NV merchandising is to uphold the brand’s recognition while maintaining the same standard of quality and excellence in execution found in the coffee program.

Bonus points if the staff want to wear the shirts, too.  

Menu and Signage

The typography of Northern Vessel is heavily inspired by the legacy of the Swiss typefaces of the mid-20th century, while remaining relevant in 2022 and beyond. My strategy was to keep it simple, and avoid the need to keep up with trends by choosing a bold typeface that carried an air of timelessness.

The Northern Vessel menu is laid out in a Swiss grid, with legibility and ease of navigation through the various categories the primary goal. 

Other forms of signage are meant to be clear without being loud or obnoxious, while maintaining some degree of friendliness and personality.

Branding Applications

NV’s branding is affixed to various containers, glasses, bags, and notably windows - the building NV calls home is a historic renovation, and therefore is not zoned for any signage fixed to the exterior of the building, except for on the windows. If that’s the only option, why not go big?


Northern Vessel is an active brand, always looking to keep things fresh and new, particularly with the changing of the seasons. While the core identity is intended to remain unchanging, sub-brand concepts for events or runs of merchandise are well within the rules. 

Below are examples of holiday and seasonal campaign identities, as well as sub-brand designs like Optimist Society, a special design to celebrate the debut of Northern Vessel at the downtown Des Moines Farmer’s Market, and the campaign identity for the first ever Northern Vessel block party. 

All photos featured are my own.
© 2024 Alexander Prins