Design on Point - Fort Point Brewery
Client: Fort Point Beer Company, San Francisco
Designer: Eileen Lee
Breweries that distribute to retailers face a huge hurdle: how to make their brand visually stand out from others on the same shelf, while also providing some visual cue as to what the brand’s story is. San Francisco’s Fort Point Beer Company turned to local design house Manual to help identify and build their identity. We talked to art director Eileen Lee about her creative process behind Fort Point’s cross-platform identity design.
How did the relationship with Fort Point start? Did they find you or were you recommended to them?
We were recommended to Fort Point, so they found us.
When Fort Point approached you, did they have any ideas visually of what direction they wanted to go in?
When they came to us in 2013, they were still deciding on their name but they knew they wanted their overall core brand identity to resonate with locals and represent the essence of San Francisco.
Did they want iconic locations, and if so, did they know which ones right away or did you have to whittle it down?
As soon as we knew Fort Point was going to be the name, we were instantly inspired by the architecture and its surroundings. The brewery is located in the Presidio area, close to both the iconic Golden Gate Bridge and the Fort Point National Historic Site.
We noticed the details of the arches and trusses of the bridge and the Fort, which formed simple crosses and diagonals. So early on, we landed upon this simple grid-based modular illustration style and system for the overall brand. With this underlying grid structure in place, we knew we would be able to slot in and embed illustrations — but those specific iconic locations came later in the packaging design part of the project.
What was one of your first steps in talking to Fort Point (or any customers)? How do you narrow down the direction you want to head in?
We wanted to understand the state of beer branding and identify where Fort Point fit in, and get a better sense of their visual preferences. So we researched the lay of the land, both locally and globally. We put together mood boards and presented these back to the clients with variations by category, like “elegant industrial,” “Americana retro,” and “modern minimal.” We discovered there is a lot of visual noise on the shelf, so we then asked ourselves how we can stand out and create something simple but not soul-less, approachable and endearing, and find that right balance between tradition and modernity.
How were you guided in your illustration style?
When we were approached in 2015 to take on the packaging for their first set of cans, we were given the names and styles of the beers — the stories behind each beer informed the illustration. At the same time, the illustrations naturally lent themselves to making connections to iconic elements of San Francisco, to create a unique and authentic sense of place. For example, KSA has a cathedral illustration, which is a nod to Kölsch being a style of beer from Cologne. Instead, we’ve drawn Grace Cathedral to tie it back to San Francisco.
Westfalia beer was inspired by head brewer Mike Schnebeck’s road trip through Germany in a VW Westfalia bus, so we incorporated a setting sun and mountain ranges to reference the West coastline. Park beer, a refreshing hoppy wheat beer, references none other than the windmills of Golden Gate Park. And Villager beer denotes the inhabitants of San Francisco represented through the infamous Sutro Tower and classic housing in the midst of the rolling hills.
When designing for a brand like Fort Point, you’re not just designing a beer can — you’re also designing the boxes, pour handles, logo, and everything else. How did you approach this challenge in branding their beer?
The illustration is the key element to the branding. The beauty of this illustration style identity is its flexibility to be modular in any format. We let the format dictate how the illustration is seamlessly embedded, which gives it a strong impact. It’s also very versatile and always fresh in creating and adding new illustration elements.
Did Fort Point go for the concepts right away?
We felt pretty confident about this simple yet ownable concept. To make our points more realized, we, as we always do, showed our clients in context of how it would be living and breathing in the world. We were able to show how they stood out from the visual clutter on the shelf while maintaining charm and humanness.
What suggestions or advice do you have for a company looking to work with Manual (or another design agency) in designing their product logo or package?
We seek opportunities to do holistic branding, versus only designing a logo or piece of packaging in isolation. Whether it’s a brand new identity or a brand refresh, we love working with clients who come with a point of view about what they’re trying to achieve as a company, and who keep an open mind about how that can and should manifest creatively. We love to have deep collaborations, often doing heavy immersion and research into the problems we’re trying to solve before we get started with design.
We like to fully understand the context in which our clients exist, the needs they have as a business, and where we can do our best work for them as creative problem solvers. We enjoy working with clients that will push us to think differently about the work, but who know when to trust our instincts and recommendations. And we care deeply about high quality production and flawless execution, and value working with brands that understand the importance of investing in production as well as design. ABV
Fort Point Beer Company
644 Old Mason St., San Francisco