We applied Design Thinking processes to this project which allowed us to move quickly and launch, all while construction was under way, lining up our first guests, and provided opportunity for evolving and learning. We went through an iterative brand exercise to tease out and identify our core brand tenants, clarify our audience, and put a stake in the ground about our offering. We started with post-its and lists to hone in on our key attributes. We then moved to fleshing out our brand document which is now a living Google Doc. We visit this doc from time to time to remind ourselves to stay aligned, and update with new learnings.
In parallel to our branding efforts, construction was making headway and needed some big picture guidance. I pulled together mood boards for materials, textures, decor and patterns, and we began making decisions that were forged from a wide net of inputs. Key values emerged such as natural, authentic, local, handcrafted, rustic, and refined.
We spent lots of time over coffee, dinners, and sitting at our beach talking about our name. We wanted to honor the Mayan heritage of this land with our naming, as well as our connection and responsibility to nature. Through researching their ancient language, we found the Maya word Xixim (pronounced “shee-sheem”). It is written as a conch shell glyph meaning “zero”. We chose the xixim conch (a rare and endangered sea creature) to remind us to be true to our goal of being as sustainable as possible. Zero represents our ideal. We aim to capture the daily resources needed, to work in harmony with nature, and to leave a light footprint – all without sacrificing modern comforts. Hola, soy Casa Xixim.
Designing Our Logo
We visually explored logos that are related to our business, related animals/nature, or marks that resonated with our brand via mood boards. Two butterfly logos really stood out to us, and we loved experiencing an “ah ha!” moment when we recognized the shell as the butterfly wings. It came full circle to tie in our desire to respect this land’s ancestors while doing our best to represent new and sustainable beginnings. Sketching and noodling, we honed in on using the shape of the xixim glyph conch, which are arranged to transform into the wings of the locally abundant and lighthearted butterfly. We wanted to do more than just the obvious xixim shell and were thrilled to take it to the next level. An extra detail we love is the central X shape created by the outer ridge of each shell.
Getting On The Same Page
Interior design and decor was brought into the process to begin planning and sourcing. I expanded on our decor mood boards and created a preso to encapsulate the branding process thus far. We also began to build out our local guest services team and we wanted to be sure we had our brand defined crystal clear. We didn’t want to be caught off guard by anything lost in translation. The goal was to deliver quick and memorable sound bytes for our team who are from four countries, speaking two different languages, and representing vastly nuanced and different cultural norms.
As part of our guest communication process we invite them to provide anonymous feedback online. We’re gathering data about where they find out about us, what compelled them to choose us, how they rate their onboarding experience, what delighted them during their stay, and what might they suggest for improvements. It’s our opportunity to see how our brand is being received, interpreted, and how it comes to life through them. What we’re learning is that we appeal to both families spending precious time together and groups of friends celebrating milestones. A common thread is their awe of nature and appreciation of good food.
Collaborations – Coffee & Cuisine
One of the ongoing aspects of nurturing Casa Xixim has been building collaborations and relationships with other local and like minded brands. The key aspect of “authenticity” within the Casa Xixim brand has helped shape these collaborations. In particular, we set out to find a local coffee partner. Surprisingly at the time Tulum didn’t seem to have much of a coffee scene like one would find in San Francisco or Portland. We consider coffee an artisanal delight, and Mexico produces some of the finest coffees in the world. So we started by asking around our local SF scene and eventually were given the contact info for a guy in Mexico City who was the REAL DEAL. We reached out to Santiago Sota of Drip Café Especial and it was a match made in heaven. He does a true farm-to-cup operation with his Drip Cafe, growing his own beyond-organic coffee as Finca Sofia Drip, and partnering with other local coffee growers. Beans are roasted by Santiago himself and shipped fresh to Casa Xixim as needed. Drip’s roasting style highlights the natural qualities of the bean and subtleties of flavor, and falls into the “Specialty Coffee” category—a term for the highest grade of coffee available, typically relating to the entire supply chain, using single origin or single estate coffee.
It was also through Santiago that we met the brilliant (and 2 Michelin Starred) Chef Joaquin Cardoso of Mexico City. We have partnered with Joaquin and seriously upped Casa Xixim’s culinary game. With Joaquin’s guidance we have added new delights to our menu, provided personalized and ongoing training for our chefs, and started doing Pop-Up dinner parties when Joaquin can be in town. The challenge of our menu has been to create a food plan broad enough for 4-7 days, 3 meals per day, for 8-12 guests. It’s been a design challenge to present a menu well organized, varied and thorough without being overwhelming. I came up with the concept of “Joaquin’s Curados” to help guide groups when selecting complementary dishes for a week’s worth of family-style meals.
Lessons & Kudos
We’re thrilled to have gained a few unexpected partnerships, features, and co-branding opportunities. Several home & fashion brands have shot campaigns at Casa Xixim such as H&M Home, Alo Yoga, Lipsy London, and Matches Fashion. Dot&Bo created a Casa Xixim inspired home decor line. Our architect, Specht Architects has won some awards including the AIA 2019 Sustainability Commendation (see the video below). We’ve been picked up by ArchDaily, Dwell, CasaViva, HGTV, TreeHugger, and others. Through all this we’ve learned we need to insert our band front and center as it’s been a bit of a missed opportunity in some cases. Our next step will be to create a partner facing style guide to encourage more brand recognition, and a repository for logo assets and brand messaging.
Catch & Release
And the work continues: signage, labels, Instagram, travel guide, booking system, rental listings, email communications, and more.