Here at Real Art, we pride ourselves on delivering the full kit and caboodle from strategy to branding to installations, experiences, and more. Making Proto BuildBar let us flex our creative muscles like never before. This commercial café and electronics workshop is the first of its kind, mixing new technology tools with an accessible and inspiring atmosphere. Creating this next-generation makerspace meant that we needed to pull out all the stops and build a brand, venue, and customer experience that is truly extraordinary.
Proto started as just a twinkle in the eye of Real Art Owner and CEO, Chris Wire. “It came to me shortly after we started playing around with 3D printing in the office,” recalls Wire. “I imagined a swanky bar where you can 3D print a model or solder together an electronics project. It just felt like something that needed to exist, something we needed to make.”
The BuildBar concept is simple: give average people an open and inviting venue to make something entirely their own. Outfitted with a wall of 3D printers, computers, workbenches, and soldering stations, the then-theoretical BuildBar would also be stocked with electronics kits, parts, and a nice selection of bourbon. The vision was to create a mutant cousin of Build-A-Bear fused with a fab lab and disguised as an awesome café.
“I don’t know that I really chose to do it,” admits Wire. “It’s more like the idea chose me.” But it was Wire who finally approached Real Art’s design team this past spring to begin developing his concept into a full-fledged brand.
We get obsessed with every brand that we create, but having Proto’s mastermind in-house took our creative process to a whole new level. Wire had a mental vision of the look and feel of Proto: something industrial and textured, but also crafted, handmade, and unique. Our style boards were full of visual inspiration ranging from custom-lettered motorcycle helmets to one-off coffee shop signs, old-timey equipment logos, and objects that resonated with a strong maker vibe.
Normally for a project like this, we’ll show the client only two or three logo versions. But because of our relationship with Wire, and because we knew that he wasn’t going to get overwhelmed or confused by a creative outpouring, we didn’t limit ourselves. He could look at a dozen marks and say, I like this and this and this. But don’t throw that one away. We might use it down the road.
A number of the initial logo ideas that were scrapped featured hand-drawn elements or scripted letting that felt too fluid and airy. The character of Proto is stronger, weightier. Its logo had to have presence and substance and a solid personality.
The main elements ended up blending the ready-made and the customized. In the spirit of construction and assembly, we created more than just one logo; we created a family of brand marks, something for any application. The primary logo is just a simple, hand-lettered “Proto BuildBar.” It looks very clean and geometric—almost a little retro—but it was all custom created just for this project. The electric “P” evokes both the lightning bolt of inspiration and the electrical projects that visitors make in the BuildBar.
The secondary logos are mostly variations on this main mark. There is a set of round, badge-like marks for the different aspects of Proto, and another that’s purely typeset. This range of visual tools work for the brand like a well-stocked workbench: the right mark for any job is always near at hand.
Two of these secondary marks are enclosed in a diamond shape, the diamond representing both Dayton as The Gem City, and also the faceted dimensionality of 3D printing. A number of additional smaller embellishments like the “Print. Drink. Make” tagline, the year, and location can all be added to provide a different feel. This worked brilliantly for one of the large-scale signs we painted on the outside of the building.
With the visual toolkit well on its way to fruition, we began to build.
Proto BuildBar occupies the street-facing front of Real Art’s Development Lab, our fabrication and experimentation space. Formerly a dance studio, the front room was shabby and bare until we transformed it into this hip maker haven.
The first step was a bit of demolition: tearing out old walls, ripping up the carpet, and generally preparing the space. Then we sealed and polished the concrete floor, built-out new areas, and painted it with muted shades of green and black. Finally, our in-house industrial designers went to work concepting and creating custom furniture pieces.
Wire envisioned a main café bar that felt powerful, “like a battleship.” So our designers devised and built a solid steel bar strong enough to survive a hurricane or atomic explosion. Half of the metal—forming the square 6″ pillars and supports—is new; the other half was reclaimed from a scrap yard. It took about 3 weeks to weld and bolt everything together, varnish the metal, and pour and finish the concrete top. The team used an engine hoist, carts, and some strong fellas to put the finished one-ton pieces in place.
The rest of the furniture is a combination of custom items and retrofitted industrial furniture scavenged from a 1930s General Motors factory. We poured new concrete tops for the repurposed equipment, turning them into smaller coffee tables and a large central farm table. The lights, storage pieces, and other odds and ends were also gleaned from the old factory.
The centerpiece of the entire space is a 12′ tall 3D printer wall made of a revamped GM shelving unit outfitted with a rolling library ladder. Its reinforced shelves hold 11 of the newest and coolest 3D printers, and an adjacent smaller bar supports the laptops feeding files to the maker-machines.
A number of creative flourishes add character and finish out the space. There’s a handmade metal Proto sign, a RoBro hanging from the rafters, an art installation made of craigslist TVs playing the lunar landing on repeat, a wall of subway tile, and an area wallpapered with old patents. A gorgeous Tesla graffiti mural dominates one wall, and our famous World’s Largest Claw Machine was lovingly reinstalled in the back.
Every aspect of the space was thought-out down to the smallest detail. The result is an atmosphere that welcomes as much as it inspires.
Proto is much more than a cool place and a beautiful logo; it’s an experience. And Proto’s people are the sustaining force behind the makerspace’s impressive vibe. On a recent Friday afternoon, Proto was bustling with a steady stream of coffee-sipping hipsters, creatives looking for a last-minute holiday gift, and a laptop-wielding freelancer killing time between meetings.
Alex Todd, Proto’s General Manager explained, “When we were hiring staff, we made sure to get people who are good communicators, people who could take a concept like 3D printing and turn it into an idea that anyone can understand. And the first thing we always make clear is that none of this stuff is difficult—the 3D printing, soldering, any of it. Once they know what the technology is capable of doing, people just naturally start to think about what they could make.”
Todd recounted a few of his favorite project stories: a grandmother who brought in her grandkids to teach them how to put together electronics like she’d done in the 70s; the story of a gentleman who recreated a damaged bracket and saved a cherished vintage light fixture.
“The wide range of people who come in actually surprised me at first,” Todd admits. “I thought it would be more of a tech crowd, but really it’s everyone from students to kids to average folks. People just walk in and they’re like Wow. This place is awesome. What can I do?”
The answer is: anything you can imagine.
Learn more about Proto:
Bringing the Maker Movement Mainstream
Why Proto BuildBar is the future of making
Proto’s Wall Graphics
Behind-the-scenes look at making Proto’s wall-sized signs and mural
Return of the Santa Claw
A timeline of our record-holding World’s Largest Claw Machine