A little over eight months ago, the directors of Front Page HQ agreed to let me brief in a project as a small part of a much bigger extra-curricular enterprise we had named Project Room®. The premise of this initiative was to collaborate on a different project every couple of months to help inspire, stimulate and reinvigorate personal and professional development within the team. And I had just the thing.
The challenge was to create a limited edition rum collection that told the story of Rum Blender, a side-project I had recently started up with a friend. It all kicked off with a bunch of us sat around a table in the boardroom after-hours one night, learning a thing or two about rum; how it’s made, the different types, what Rum Blender is, and of course, a flight of seven different yummy rum samples to taste, enjoy and scribble tasting notes for. By the end of the session we had created three original blends to take forward and design custom engraved labels for… and a number of us were drunk.
Fast-forward through seven months of lunch hours and early starts and we finally managed to sign off final creative to send away for engraving. We decided to represent the journey that this rum takes – from where it’s made to where it’s blended to where it’s bottled – in three simple, stylised illustrations. The first characterising a sun-soaked Caribbean island (West Indies), the second showing the narrow building fronts along the canals of Amsterdam (Netherlands) and the final one depicting Bothwell Castle (Scotland). These illustrations were all built on a single uniforming grid we had developed to ensure that – although three different designers were working on each individually – they would all work together and share the same style and weight.
Our bottles arrived and looked absolutely amazing (if we do say so ourselves) so the bosses immediately commissioned a photographer to produce some incredible shots of them. We combined these, some web design wizardry and a heap of inspired wordsmithery from one of our copywriters, to produce a microsite for showing them off to the rest of the world.
I’m so incredibly proud of this work and can’t stress enough that the greatest part of it all was the opportunity to work so closely with other people oozing even more creative energy, passion, positivity and enthusiasm than I do. An incredible, balanced and extremely gratifying collaboration which rendered phenomenal results, not just in the form of three beautiful bottles of rum, but in the overwhelming sense of accomplishment, pride and satisfaction from all involved.
When asked, ‘How would you define success, in terms of being a graphic designer?’, Stefan Sagmeister replied: “Being able to do the kind of work that I find enriching for the audience, the client, the people who work with me and for myself. Being able to change directions so new challenges and growth are possible and utter boredom can be avoided.”
Being part of a creative agency often means working on things that don’t necessarily complement our own needs as designers. We need to grow and develop; we need to be challenged, break out of our comfort zone; and we need to satisfy more than just the client. This is a difficult thing for a lot of designers to accomplish, especially in the fast-paced lifestyle of creative agencies, but setting aside as little as a couple of hours a week and committing to a side project such as this, I feel, is essential to maintaining a healthy headspace and creative vigour.
Luckily, Front Page is an agency that recognises this need and embraces their creatives’ thirst for adventure. They actively encourage it and often contribute time, resources and funding where needed. As well as the significant activities of the Project Room we have a weekly Instagram challenge called Pinups that offers a simple – but all-too essential – creative outlet; and a fortnightly Poster Project that now boasts over 200 pieces (soon to be on display in an upcoming exhibition). This level of contiguous creativity isn’t commonly found in design agencies despite an empirical need for it, and instead, designers are overworked on projects they don’t feel enriched by. I attribute a great deal of Front Page’s success and growth over the last 25 years to this attitude and approach. Nobody gets into design for the money, as Massimo Vignelli put it, “you do design because you feel it inside”. We can’t help it, we need to make stuff and often it’s our own ideas we wish to pursue and explore.
So stop reading about other people’s projects and start yer own, lazy bones!