Caz Hildebrand & Tess Wicksteed – Here Design
We talk about branding an awful lot; the look of a gin is as intrinsic to its success as is its taste – especially given the sheer amount of spirits on offer in this day and age. Sure, we’ve always been told that you can’t judge a book by its cover, but if a gin happens to come in a mind-bogglingly beautiful bottle, chances are it’s going to end up on our shelves. It matters and more often than not now, you can actually judge a gin by its cover as the spirit’s story is actually being told on the label…
With that in mind, we thought it was about time we had a sit down with some of the brilliant minds behind the process of making something look desirable. Meet Caz Hildebrand and Tess Wicksteed, Creative Partner and Strategy Partner respectively of Here Design, who have more than a handle on how the Gin world works.
How long have you been designing drinks bottles and working with clients in the drinks industry?
As a studio we have worked on drinks brands from the very beginning (twelve years) and Mark Paton, one of our founding creative partners, has always had a passion for designing drinks packaging and branding and has communicated that enthusiasm to the rest of us.
It’s a really interesting category for design because it is often about encapsulating the spirit of a place (if you’ll excuse the pun) and we spend a lot of time really trying to get to the essence of each category and what makes them different. There was a time when drinks brands were preoccupied with transcending their category and being an icon, so you could imagine Johnny Walker competing directly with Absolut and Bacardi, but nowadays authenticity is a very important part of what makes brands desirable, so being firmly rooted in your category is important.
What does this mean in design terms, and for what you do as a process?
It starts with understanding what the category codes and cues and visual behaviours are, so that when you design a new brand or redesign an existing one, you can reassure consumers you are an authentic gin as well as explaining something about what makes you different. A good example of the work we do at Here is both the recent rebranding of Bacardi, and the soon to be relaunched Grant’s. Both projects have a lot in common. Both are family-owned and have rich stories and a long history and both had over commercialised to the point that the design language on and off bottle wasn’t telling any of those stories. Our redesign work brought back the richness of the past glories and some of symbols from the archives, but in a modern context.
What do you think the most important element – above all others – is when it comes to packaging design?
Design when it is used well, tells stories about the liquid and that’s what we try to do. We decide what the story of the liquid is and create a visual language with which to tell it in the most powerful way.
Packaging is the marketing element closest to the liquid so it needs to showcase the story of the liquid. It has to be compelling, and make you want to look again.
Do you think that Gin brands have a harder or an easier time than other spirit categories when it comes to what they can look like and what they can convey?
Gin has a history that determines a lot of today’s behaviour in using packaging to define which type of gin it is. In the UK, gin historically was the poor man’s opium. Drug-like, it made the imagination go wild – a craze and ruin depicted in Hogarth’s Gin Lane. These insalubrious beginnings meant that gin brands’ initial job was to establish themselves as legitimate, premium products, not “Mother’s Ruin”.
We see most traditional gin brands like Beefeater, Bombay Sapphire and Gordon’s focusing on refining and elevating Gin and Gin drinking. Reviving a tradition and history that feels distant and distinct from Gin’s darker past. It does this through establishing standards and terms to describe itself (processes like London Dry and taste terms like ‘clean and bright’) and design wise it started to invoke symbols of propriety like gentlemen, heralds, jewels and queens.
These brands establish stature and structure. They root themselves in history and tradition, often through imagined connections. Brands are steeped in heritage cues. They are rational, realist and down-to earth (e.g. ‘Beefeater Real London Dry Gin’). They place emphasis on integrity and hard-graft, a faultless tradition of making and quintessential selection of botanicals, delivering excellence and uncompromising character.
They are concerned with distinction, setting high standards and creating ‘classics’. They are proud. They use elevating language. They talk directly of their distinction, their refined, pure and perfectly balanced gins. There is clarity in communication, a boldness and straightforwardness – using simple direct descriptions, eschewing more complex descriptions of botanicals and method.
However, this original ‘proper’ world of classic gins limited the kind of stories Gin could tell and represent only half of Gin’s potential. Gin had to establish excellence and a direct manner to elevate it from a gritty history. So, at first it couldn’t appear dark or obscure, or mysterious, or wild. This suppressed the more enigmatic and hallucinogenic side of Gin that had always been there and ripe for storytelling. There was an untold story.
So, design focused on imbuing respectability, but quite direct in what they tried to do. How has this changed?
In recent decades, with gin’s stature and desirability firmly established, there has been an explosion of gin brands that choose to focus on this more magical side led by brands like Hendrick’s (that we now also work on).
Gin’s intrinsic product qualities make it a uniquely interesting canvas for design – as a neutral grain spirit that then has botanicals added to it. It is like a blank canvas on which a maker can tell his unique story so it has a creative freedom that we love to make the most of.
One of you latest projects is the branding for the Luxardo Gin duo, which is a Dry Gin and a Sour Cherry infusion. How did it come around?
When we met the Luxardo family, they were very excited about the new Sour Cherry gin they had created. We tasted it and it was delicious. They showed us around their distillery where they make the famous Luxardo maraschino and the whole place smelled of cherries. Their passion and enthusiasm were infectious, and their archives and history were inspiring.
The family has been distilling spirits since 1821 in Zara, Dalmatia where they began producing their famous maraschino, a cherry liqueur. The distillery was destroyed in the war and then rebuilt in Padua, in the Veneto in 1947 where the sixth generation of Luxardos continue to produce their famous maraschino along with a range of other classic Italian liqueurs and their delicious gins.
The Marasca cherries used in their gin are a sour cherry that originated in Croatia. They are similar to a Morello cherry and their colour is almost black. They are ideal for making liqueurs because of their bitterness and they give out less liquid than other cherries so the flavour is more concentrated.
It always nice to be able to go off something, to have something to reflect. We always think that aesthetic should follow ethos – in that you shouldn’t design something before knowing what you want to convey and how, which is more than just information.
Do you feel like brands spend enough time developing their brand ethos and wider identity – or is that something that only comes later (once the design process is underway) for most of the clients you work with?
We always spend time with our clients at the start of a project to understand their ethos and their aspirations and their purpose. If that isn’t clear, the packaging won’t be either. We do think that the role of design is never merely aesthetic but is a tool for communication which means you need to be clear what story you are telling.
What’s been the biggest shift or trend within bottle design and packaging work over the past 5 years?
Depth and Storytelling. Drinks brands have always told stories of place and been symbols of cultural traditions and we see this as more relevant now than ever. With people drinking more carefully drinks can’t just rely on the potency of their alcoholic content. Their value resides in their ability to evoke deeper associations.
Colour is such a big part of the gin industry now, not just on labels but in bottle too. Is it different designing when you know the contents are going to be coloured and do you have to look at the way it changes as the spirit inside is consumed?
It is certainly a consideration, but of course, the bottle has to look good when full, and hopefully not linger too long once opened.
How do you as a team go about connecting the liquid inside the bottle with the aesthetic and content that you design for it?
Firstly, we try and taste it! In the case of Luxardo, we wanted to tell some of the story of this exceptional distilling dynasty and talk about their expertise and years of knowledge.
Do you think that consumers still buy on design more than they do price point? As in, can good design really convert someone into buying something that they wouldn’t otherwise look at because it’s out of their usual price range?
Yes, definitely. Good design will make you look twice at something new.
Lastly – what are you working on next?
We are working with Luxardo on their Limoncello and Aperitivo. A test of whether you’ve got a good idea is if it can extend to different products and we are interested in seeing if we can take the Luxardo heritage and broaden its influence with a portfolio of products. Aperol has become so ubiquitous in the aperitivo arena that we are interested to see whether we can present an alternative that has more positive premium connotations that can lift the category back up.
Limoncello has equally rather lost its heritage and quality perceptions and become the standard freebie or ‘on the house’ end of a meal liqueur in restaurants but is worth reappraising.
Copyright © Gin Foundry