My favorite sort of project in design school was as follows: create a fake company, and develop its branding from the ground up. While my classmates would eagerly pick “clients” like air lines or football teams, I’d be in the corner figuring out how a flyfishing company would open up a brewery. Or how a custom bicycle maker would open a brewery. Or how a luthier would open a brewery. Damn I was magnificent. My creative range was unparalleled.
This sort of work is a staple of design colleges across the world and freshly-minted design grad portfolios are full of these types of pie-in-the-sky projects. Fast forward to late 2016, when we received a call from an affable (yet vaguely mischievous) guy named named Greg Smith.
“Hi, I own a printing company in Carrollton, Georgia, and am in the process of turning an industrial space next door into a 20bbl brewery. I’d like to talk to you about branding, packaging, web design—everything. We’re calling it Printer’s Ale Manufacturing Co. and would like the branding to center around our family’s history in the printing industry.”
“Yeah right, this can’t be real,” I thought to myself. A designerly-themed brewery—this is a project ripped straight out of my college sketchbook. Is this a joke? Maybe a friend at another agency is messing with us? Are we getting Punk’d? Is it still acceptable to say “Punk’d”? Ashton Kutcher will be 40 years old soon…
And just like that, something as simple as a fun project opportunity turns into an existential crisis. Damnit, another Tuesday lost.
Okay, let’s see if this Greg guys is actually who he say she is. I’m going to look into this. Turns out Greg owns a highly respected printing company. Okay, he’s legit. Good, no one is being capital-P Punk’d here. I send the proposal over. He signs the contract(!). Alright, all gravy so far.
Now, we have our kickoff meeting. After a few beers, we dive into his family background.
We find out that his great, great, great grandfather opened a brewery in Germany in 1800. That was like, a million years ago, I ponder idly. In 1911, Greg’s great grandfather closed the brewery and immigrated to Pennsylvania to open a printing company. That company remains in business today, continuously owned and operated by Greg and his family. They expanded to Carrollton, Georgia in 1982 to work in the record industry. Man, all this stuff happened before I was even born.
And here we find ourselves in 2017, where Greg is closing the loop on a trajectory spanning more than 200 years. At this point, I’m fairly certain this is a real project. And while the bulk of what we do on a daily basis is help breweries frame their story—their specialty, their differentiator, their Why—Greg came to us with all of that, with a bow on top.
So what does this all look like?
“I want to tell our story through Chris Ware-style illustrations and graphic novels that pay homage to cool, old printing techniques,” he offers.
Okay, so, you’re a German family printer who wants to open a brewery, and you want your branding to center around a beautiful series of typeset comic books? And because you own a top-notch packaging print house, we can throw all sorts of production details into the mix? Budget be damned?
Nah, see, pretty sure this project is fake again. But it isn’t. You can buy Greg’s beer, and drink it, and look at it and think about it all you want. I’m doing all of these things right now while thinking about how lucky I am to do what I do.
Hey, happy 40th, Ashton!
rejected first brand direction we proposed was built around the visual inspiration of old Sanborn Insurance Maps (beautiful artifacts of early printing techniques) and early 20th century lettering. It was illustrative, vibrant and eclectic in its typography palette.
The second brand direction, and ultimately what Greg decided to pursue, drew heavy inspiration from the famous “Jobber Printing Press” while speaking to craftsmanship, attention to detail and an old-world German feel. It gave us the opportunity to explore the beautiful visual vocabulary of printing registration marks / draw downs / blips / halftones and all the lovely imperfections that can arise through the printing process.