The designers saw fire-starting—a basic but indispensable skill—as both a strategic and symbolic place to begin.
As urban populations grow, camping, hiking, and backpacking are losing popularity. The number of visitors at national parks—once great vacation attractions—has stagnated. Among the American youth, the number is in steady decline. Jonathan Lung, ZiYun Qi, and Chelsea Stewart created the speculative brand “Flint” to support the burgeoning “Rewilding” movement, which seeks to build an appreciation for wilderness and reinvigorate the pursuit of outdoor adventure. The designers saw fire-starting—a basic but indispensable skill—as both a strategic and symbolic place to begin. Their debut product, FLINT, is an innovative fire piston that intends to ignite a relationship with the outdoors.
Harkening back to the romance of the American pioneers, FLINT is an updated take on a centuries-old tool. Created for Product, Brand, and Experience, the product is a physical manifestation of Flint’s educational mission to equip young urbanites with the tools and skills needed in the wild. “Our goal is not just to get young people outside, but for them to really engage and get their hands dirty!” Jon explains. By reintroducing the somewhat unconventional fire piston in a sleek, user-friendly form, the designers hope to spark curiosity, appeal to a broad audience, and ultimately inspire urbanites to seek adventure outside of the city.
See the working prototype of Flint above!
“There are lots of ways to start a fire, and it’s the perfect way to introduce people to the world of camping, hiking, and exploring the wild.”
FLINT is based on the principle of using compressed air to ignite tinder inside an airtight chamber. The design of the final working prototype incorporates lessons learned throughout an intensive prototyping and testing process: the draw distance was increased to improve ease of ignition, the valve was engineered with a self-reinforcing seal, and a pressure-release button was incorporated to allow the piston to be stored in the closed position, a feature previously unavailable on the market. The piston is crafted from a solid aluminum bar stock, which is shaped, hollowed, and hand-finished to create an ergonomic teardrop-shaped handle. The final detail is a handsome leather strap to improve grip, secured with custom aluminum blind rivets.
Remarking on the difficulty of attracting a young audience to national parks in the age of connectivity, the Economist asked “Why go outside when you have an iPhone?” With a changed travel landscape, the Flint team was very conscious of the need to build a brand that would appeal to both the target audience—adventurous 17-35 year olds who are out of touch with the natural world—and the demographic they hope to build and support: wilderness enthusiasts. Drawing inspiration from the marketing of national parks in the striking WPA poster campaign of the 1930s, the Flint brand offers a new vision for collaborative and adventurous vacationing. Says Qi, “We hope our product will spark the same reaction that these posters sparked for tourists a century ago.”
“We hope our product will spark the same reaction that these posters sparked for tourists a century ago.”
To that end, Flint’s aesthetic embraces a minimal, clean simplicity that allows the function of the product to shine. Flint’s adaptable visual identity includes a word mark, abbreviated letter mark, and illustrative logo mark, which can be deployed in a variety of combinations. Each conveys an important aspect of the brand and product: The name is strong, efficient, and evocative. The letter mark plays with the traditional use of the degree symbol, creating an unexpected yet familiar icon. Finally, the flame-shaped logo reflects not only the tool’s purpose but also its shape.
Flint’s packaging reinforces the brand’s intention to act as a gateway to a world of outdoor exploration. At the point of sale, the packaging presents three display opportunities to draw the consumer’s eye. The triangular packaging is a reference to the fire triangle diagram that maps the three components of a fire (heat, tinder, oxygen). “Every touch point is important; from seeing it in the store to unraveling the package at home, it should feel like you’re beginning a new journey,” adds Chelsea. As the package is opened, each side reveals part of the Flint story before unveiling the piston at the core.
“Every touch point is important; from seeing it in the store to unraveling the package at home, it should feel like you’re beginning a new journey.”
Jon, Qi, and Chelsea are excited about the potential of expanding Flint to encompass a suite of fire-starting products to inspire a new generation of outdoorswomen and men. After all, as the designers say, “There are lots of ways to start a fire, and it’s the perfect way to introduce people to the world of camping, hiking, and exploring the wild.”
BONUS TRACK: How the Display Came Together
The opportunity to build a display for their brand and debut product FLINT—a sleek fire piston—presented designers Jonathan Lung, Zi Yun Qi, and Chelsea Stewart with the challenge of bringing the outdoor aesthetic to an in-store environment. As part of a larger gallery installation, the brief asked for an entire showcase of the Flint experience, from branding and product creation to package development and in-store design.
Given the specificity of Flint's target audience and message, the designers considered the in-store experience a critical touchpoint for the brand. In order to create a display that would reinforce Flint's aesthetic, they chose to work with veneer wood, a popular material for today's retail environment. However, the team needed to find a way to scale down the concept for the intimate, shared gallery space. Jon commented, "The gallery is a common space, displaying a variety of brands and products. We wanted to express Flint's brand aesthetic without overpowering the space."
Enjoy below some of the process pictures that led to the final display.