The following interview was conducted with To Øl art director Kasper Ledet by Freddie Simmons as part of his Graphic design dissertation at Falmouth University (UK) in late 2018.
What aspects do you take into consideration before you start designing a bottle/ can?
I usually start out by discussing with the guys from To Øl what kind of beer we a talking about and what their idea is with that specific brew. To Øl produces a large variety of beers. Some are experimental made in small quantities others are sessionable and sold in grocery stores nationwide. Things like that needs to be considered while we also discuss how it can be materialized artistically. I rarely get a very specific brief. It is more of an open discussion where we share inspirations and references. We often use music as a metaphor to describe a beer or a design. A 14% porter with champagne yeast and caviar could be a avant garde noise track while a 4,6% pilsner could be a pop dance track from the early nineties. I also think that the comparison with music makes sense on a conceptual level. Both music and beer is abstract experiences that encourage emotional response. I think that designing a record sleeve can be compared to designing a beer label. In both circumstances you are wrapping some content that is basically hedonistic and abstract. You are trying to describe something that is actually hard to describe visually like the feeling of music or the texture and taste of a beer. This leads to the need for a lot of interpretation in the artwork which is quite interesting from a creative point of view.
What message are To Øl trying to get across through their visual language?
I don’t know if there is any specific message. I guess that To Øl is a rather experimental brewery. This experimental attitude is also mirrored in the visual language. The designs are quite diverse or inconsistent if you like. I’m allowed to pursue various ideas and concepts in the artwork. Some prove to be artistically meaningful others are dead ends. It is a real privilege to be able to experiment in this way. By applying the various designs to beers that is actually produced and distributed to more than fifty countries we get the change to “test” the designs in real life situations. It’s also interesting to get feedback from the distributors and customers afterwards. Sometimes a design that I think of as a complete failure is catching on with people who are maybe on the other side of the planet and sometimes a design that I find artistically successful is failing to communicate with anybody. So if we should try to pin down a kind of underlying idea or message in To Øl’s visual language it is maybe this notion of not trying to appear perfect. We are having an open and fluid design approach that sometimes yields medicare or bad results but because of its lack of corporate restraints also once in a while can produce result that are truly interesting.
What age group and target audience are you appealing to with the To Øl identity?
Actually we never really talk about target audience or age group. At To Øl we are primarily trying to create something that we like our self. We hope that people are able to see that the visual expression of To Øl is rather personal and is not designed to make the customer behave in a certain way. We actually think of the design as a much more integrated part of the beer drinking experience. The function of the artwork is not just to communicate the name and ingredients but also to fuel the abstract sensation of drinking a beer.
Finally, in your opinion, why do you think micro breweries have largely moved away from traditional ways of branding and packaging and gone with a much more art experimental and art based approach?
I guess the traditional way of branding beers has largely been developed by large breweries like Heineken or Carlsberg. These breweries may only maintain a line of about ten different beers which they then reproduce again and again. A brewery like To Øl has produced over 300 different beers and has a much more experimental attitude towards brewing. With that in mind it seems appropriate to let the design become more open and playful. I guess this is also that case for many other craft breweries. The large mainstream breweries also has to be super recognisable so their products is easily identified by customers in retail stores and so on. On the contrary the world of craft beers is relying on a loyal fan base making reviews, sharing on social media and spreading the word. I guess that craft breweries is moving away from traditional beer branding because their products is not traditional and their marketing is community based. Mainstream breweries and craft breweries is simply playing in two different arenas and it makes sense that the artwork also reflects this divide.