CAST, Omniadvert, and the rebranding of Iris Ceramica

The renowned Italian company based in the Sassuolo ceramic district recently published the Iris Ceramica Annual Book 2023, typeset with custom faces designed by CAST foundry

Interview by Massimo Gonzato

In 2022 Omniadvert, an independent communication agency, with designers and art directors Salvatore Verazzo and Andrea Di Giorno, undertook the rebranding of Iris Ceramica, a worldwide leader in the design, production and sales of ceramic tiles. Established in 1961, the brand soon acquired a reputation in Italy and abroad too in the 1970s, when the Iris Ceramica Group became the world’s leading group in the ceramic tile industry. Drawing from the company’s heritage, Di Giorno and Verazzo redesigned the brand identity. 

An important aspect of the whole project was the design of two custom faces entrusted to CAST foundry: Iris Serif 1961 and Iris Sans 1961. The following is an interview with Verazzo and Di Giorno, with a final question for Luciano Perondi, CAST’s chief designer. 

How did you approach the brand identity of Iris Ceramica? 

Salvatore Verazzo — The rebranding of Iris Ceramica was assigned to Omniadvert in the late 2021. The first step involved a detailed analysis of the company’s history, from which emerged a mutual intention to reclaim the artistic expression that marked its first years of activity. In the 1970s, the company added to its mission something of the cultural fermentations of that decade – fueled by a strong desire for experimentation. 

The public event called ‘Pollution’ (Bologna, October 1972) – a radical artistic event of awareness and social/environmental challenges, combining communication, art, and music – was exemplary. The project was masterminded by designer and art director Gianni Sassi. Iris Ceramica provided temporary outdoor flooring made up of 10,000 ceramic tiles, each one reproducing a healthy soil surface. In two weeks, 24 artists and 2 musical groups were invited to liven up that public space and ‘pollute’ it with art and music.

As evidence of this contamination, the cover of an album by the Italian progressive rock musician Franco Battiato (also entitled ‘Pollution’, and published in January 1973) depicts one of the tiles that paved Piazza Santo Stefano in Bologna during the event.

Andrea Di Giorno — ‘Pollution’ was only the beginning of a new approach to brand communication. Between 1973-1975 the first issue of Humus, the magazine of ‘Ceramics, Strategies and Techniques’ was published and distributed by the Iris Foundation and edited by the Al.Sa agency (Sergio Albergoni and Gianni Sassi). 

Humus was considered to be very different from any traditional house organ, proposing instead ‘a real critical instrument of innovation and implementation of new design concepts’. It was an unusual, forward-looking publication that broke away from the traditional idea of the house organ. Six issues were published, and right from the start for a corporate publication the magazine had very ambitious goals, promoting in-depth visual and cultural research revolving around the product.

What about rebranding and typography?

SVHumus was the perfect embodiment of Iris Ceramica’s pioneering and experimental attitude. These outstanding experiences revealed how the future was already in the past and the past was already exploring the future. And this was a powerful inspiration for rebranding. 

We were inspired by a wealth of styles and details from the company’s archives, which we reinterpreted in a contemporary and minimalist way. While keeping the original Iris Ceramica logo, we did away with the iris and transformed it into a pictogram. Then we worked on the editorial identity: the typography, images, choice of papers and printing techniques. 

Another major update was the redesign of the historical packaging of Bottega d’Arte, an Iris Ceramica collection of high-end wall tiles made of red body. For this restyling process we considered it essential to redesign the typography in order to give a clear signal of change. 

Currently the rebranding process involves various fronts exploring areas far from the world of ceramics, such as the creation of room fragrances, art events, collaboration with artists, designers and much more.

ADG — Typographic ideas regularly came from Humus, the visionary magazine art directed by Gianni Sassi. Besides ceramics, Humus addressed many other topics: from Frank Zappa to New York graffiti, from videotapes to Monument Valley, etc. The publication also made daring proposals analysing themes such as the quality of life linked to environmental issues and the upsurge of the oil crisis. All these contents were typeset with a Roman face for headlines and a geometric sans for text. Our next step was to ask CAST to design two new custom faces, Iris Sans and Iris Serif. 

Iris Serif and Iris Sans have already been used for the Annual Book 2023. What are going to be the next applications of these new custom faces?

SV — The Annual Book is an important tool that collects the entire range of the company’s products, a real complexity which deals with new and old collections. The hardest part was integrating the old identity with the new one, and this was especially tricky for the images, which often spoke totally different languages. 

So far, the two fonts, Iris Sans 1961 and Iris Serif 1961, have been applied to all communication tools and we are now working on their use in the digital environment.

ADG — For us, as an agency and designers, being able to use custom typefaces was a pleasure as well as an asset because it helped us give the brand a more precise identity. It allowed us to transmit those cultural and, let me say ‘poetic’ values that we identified as the fulcrum of the Iris Ceramica rebranding. 

We just have to thank the CAST design team for their wonderful work, collaborative spirit and exceptional timing.

Who did the job at CAST foundry? How did you manage the brief?

Luciano Perondi — We were commissioned to design Iris Sans and Iris Serif in January 2023 and finish the job three months later. The CAST design team included myself, Riccardo Olocco, Giulio Galli, Daniele Capo, and Leo Philps, who helped design Iris Serif, while Eugene Yukechev supervised the Cyrillic version of both the custom faces.

The brief was simple: we had to follow the path trodden by Gianni Sassi. First we tackled the Roman he chose for headlines: its bracketed serifs and rounded junctions were the key details of our new custom serif for Iris Ceramica. We looked at our type collection and with Andrea Di Giorno and Salvatore Verazzo we decided to achieve our goal starting from a Scotch roman designed by Leo Philps for CAST foundry. Together with Philps we reworked his Fulmar to come up with a new and very contemporary typeface: Iris Serif 1961. 

On the other side, Iris Sans 1961 is the geometric sans for text we designed as a companion for Iris Serif. Our starting point was a humanist sans that we’re currently working on and which we expect to release quite soon. Aiming to capture the taste of the 1970s, we enhanced its geometrical details for the rebranding. The result is Iris Sans 1961 – more Gill than Helvetica, as you can see.