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The Chop Shop

Ptarmak designed an identity so appealing, someone should launch a meat market just to adopt it.

Contributed by Stephen Coles on Dec 30th, 2010. Artwork published in .

Chop Shop LogoIf you were to design a traditional mom-and-pop butcher shop, Brothers is a natural place to start. The typeface, by legendary American sign painter John Downer, is endowed with his old-school craftsman values. Austin-based Ptarmak built the Chop Shop branding around Brothers, including its turn-of-the-century graphical elements, arrows, and panels.

The bold and basic Futura Script — an Intertype face from the 1950s that was likely named for marketing purposes — is a nice accent, though I question Ptarmak’s decision to slant it, or to use another script for “The”. That typeface is a cleaned up freebie that was once offered as OPTI Sport Script (later published by Castcraft). MVB Mascot, Metroscript, Machiarge and Fenway Park are better variations on the theme. Also used are Univers and the routine industrial sans Trade Gothic. They all work just fine, but it’s the considerate identity package as a whole, and the way it’s photographed, that wins me over.

In fact, the materials are so consistent and unencumbered by the usual client compromises that one wonders if there ever was a real client involved. (The URL on the posters go nowhere and Kansas City searches went dry.) Perhaps the business never got off the ground. If this was simply a show-off project, Ptarmak can be forgiven — it shows them off well. The mythical meat market made the blogosphere rounds all year long.

Chop Shop Letterhead
Chop Shop Business Card
Chop Shop Ticket
Chop Shop Label

The imaginary identity campaign includes everything, down to the butchers’ hats and aprons.

Chop Shop Posters

Click to enlarge.


  • Brothers
  • Futura Script
  • OPTI Sport Script
  • Univers
  • Trade Gothic




16 Comments on “The Chop Shop”

  1. Huh. Didn't expect "imaginary" campaigns to be included here, though I'm not sure why not. I suppose it's hard to argue that the fonts here aren't in use. Might it become an Industry category? :)

    While Brothers has few rivals in its genre, just where oh where is the "The" taking off too? And I've got to disagree that photography, no matter how well done, should ever be allowed to make up for slanting a script and mixing Univers with Trade.

    I guess it's like a good hot dog: delicious but less appealing the more you investigate.

  2. I love your hot dog description, André. We are anxiously awaiting your first contribution.

    Didn’t expect “imaginary” campaigns to be included here

    You wouldn't begrudge us the occasional exception, would you?

    where is the “The” taking off too?

    Good question, although I've seen this effect in some sign painters' work, so it’s not entirely out of nowhere.

  3. Though the execution and choice of typeface might not be ideal, I'm not as bothered by the angled "The".

    One as-of-yet unmentioned thing does stand out to me in particular though. Other than being artificially slanted, the Futura Script "Meat Market" has significant tracking applied to it. Even though the letterforms are non-connecting, it's still a script and thus is more susceptible to breaking when the letters are pushed this far apart.

    On another topic: I'm a big fan of Brothers, and I've been seeing it used in many designs like this one which seem to be part of a recent trend I call "Hip Traditional" for lack of a better term. I can't say definitively what makes the term clearly applicable to any given design, but some common themes include:

    • An abundance of typefaces, especially ones which evoke historic themes
    • Complex typographic texture, with lots of sizes, weights, and styles intermixed
    • Lots of rules and dotted lines
    • Prevalent use of condensed sans-serifs (Knockout is a common choice)
    • Arrows, ribbons, and other such graphic devices
    • Type set in or around a circle, or other arrangements that resemble stamps or seals

    There even seem to be a few sub-classes of "Hip Traditional". Some, like the Chop Shop, seem to hark back to late 19th-century job printing and/or sign painting; others refer more to mid-20th-century utilitarian design (lots of Futura); others are less tied to any historic era but somehow maintain a "classic" workaday feel.

    I should clarify that I don't think there's anything wrong these designs when done well. In fact, like many designers, I'm a bit of a sucker for them. Even if they turn out to be "hot dogs", to use André's metaphor (see also: GFFBFFG), the overt typographic approach often gives a great overall impression.

  4. I agree with Nick. Albeit some oddities, I think this was done very well and overall is a very nice piece.

  5. I live in Kansas City and I haven't heard a thing about the Chop Shop. It probably is an imaginary concept. 66101 would be a Kansas City, Kansas zip code and the address is a bit off for the area. The use of Brothers is also interesting because The Hereford House, a long-time local steak house, uses/used Brothers on their printed menus. This design, although much cleaner and nicer, very much reminded me of their look.

  6. Sarah says:
    Jan 4th, 2011 6:02 pm

    I appreciate these designs as well as the use of typography. I enjoy that Ptarmak chose to mix fonts untraditionally. I also enjoy the use of unexpected fonts. It's quite easy to criticize other's work, but I wouldn't dare tear this branding apart. The photography also needn't make up for anything. It's solid branding as well as solid use of typography and reference. So what if the design incorporates current typographic trends?

  7. Ptarmak messaged us on Twitter about the origins and fate of this design:

    thx for featuring the chop shop! it started as client work, changed direction midway; we ran w/it. hope to make it real someday.

  8. Linh, I presume the Hereford House menus had a different aesthetic than their current website? Coincidentally, I once ate there (and I'm vegetarian!), but it was too long ago for me to recall the details of the menu. The choice of Brothers for both designs isn't very surprising I suppose — there's something about the typeface that just screams "MEAT!"

    Sarah, I'm not sure if your comment about typographic trends was a counter to my remarks, but if so: note the part where I say that I don't find anything inherently wrong with the trend.

  9. @Nick - Nope, just commenting in general as I know "trendiness" is a common critique of blog-featured work :)

  10. I don't see "the" problem (ha-ha?), those "the" along with other words—even if there is no way to define a category by itself—are called "catchwords" and were used quite frequently especially on large sizes with wood type:

    (a link from Nick's flickr)

  11. Despite my mention, I'm really not all that concerned with the "the". But catchword examples actually make me like it less. Almost every "The", "And" and "of" (shown in Nick's image) is carefully balanced within a block. Nick can speak better to the use of wood type, but I've seen many catchwords composed inline.

    Stephen's reference to sign painting is seems a truer relationship to this particular logo — though it still feels like a clumsy rotation, not an artful flourish. Part of the problem is the space below it, between Chop and Shop. In the service tags, and aprons, when the "the" is off to the left, it instantly feels better. If that asymmetry was used in the main lockup, I'd be more forgiving, even impressed.

  12. When we get tired of talking about the "the" we can play chicken and the egg with "Neighborhood" and "Meat Market". One of them started off bigger and got smaller.

  13. While "The" was/is probably of the most common catchwords you'll find, I believe this particular case is just an example of the word being set with the font's standard glyphs. The function is similar, but I usually think of catchwords as being pre-composed and specially designed as cohesive singular elements. Perhaps this is more of a technical distinction.

    Though I'm less bothered by "The" than some of the other spacing issues mentioned above, the logic of its tilted baseline could be improved. In better examples of scripts that sit on a tilted baseline, it's often done to create relationships with the other elements in an asymmetrical composition – arranging pieces according to their general shape. This is more of the case in the ticket and apron designs, where "The" is tucked off more to the top left, but the tilting seems odd in the other centered versions. As André put it, it looks like it's "taking off" from the hill of arched type below.

    On a related topic, the specific angle of a tilted baseline can often complement the slope of the letterforms themselves. For example, if the letters in a script are sloped 20°, the designer can tilt the baseline -20° to align the letterforms to a nice vertical angle. This certainly isn't a hard and fast rule, and I'm not sure it would work here without changing the typeface, but having a more apparent logic for these kinds of things often helps solidify a design.

  14. Having written the last comment without seeing André's similar recent remarks, I think it's safe to say this horse is now officially over-beaten :)


  16. Daniel Walkington says:
    Feb 15th, 2011 7:17 pm

    I feel it is all the little oddities, like 'the' or using Trade Gothic and Univers together, that give this work the warmth that we all seem drawn to. If everything had been placed 'just so' it probably would feel to cold and sterile.

    Despite wanting my meat prepared and sold from sterile premises, it's not how I want my butcher to treat me.

    These little nuances make this design feel more alive and definitely less corporate.

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