Exclusive: Interview with Turner Duckworth


I am thankful to have had the opportunity to chat with Peter Allen, Brand Strategy Director at Turner Duckworth to find out more about their latest project, Kilo Kai:

What was the goal of the creative brief and how do you think you succeeded?

The main goal was to shake up what Apostrophe Brands sees as a moribund category dominated by two lackluster brands, Captain Morgan and Bacardi. The target consumers are younger adults who are into going to bars and clubs, partying, extreme sports, skateboarding and generally having a good time. We wanted to create a brand that this audience will discover on its own, rather than create a brand that tries to mimic them.

In addition, and perhaps most importantly, we set out to imbue Kilo Kai with a slightly subversive personality that would appeal to the younger demographic, but that is still seen as a premium rum that’s far superior to Captain Morgan and Bacardi.

Who are the main competitors to Kilo Kai and how does it differentiate and stand out?

The main competitors are Captain Morgan and Bacardi, but we also looked at 10

Cane and Oronoco. The Kilo Kai design stands out because of its elegant

simplicity and clarity. It doesn’t try to do too much, or to outshout

the competition with garish colors or a cheesy brand character.

The look is straightforward, aggressive, powerful and intriguing.

And the logo is a very strong mark that, over time, will become a

highly recognizable, desirable symbol and visual shorthand for the


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Why did you decide to reinvent the skull and bones cliché?


has some well-known history, heritage and imagery associated with it:

the Caribbean, pirates, tropical islands, sunsets, palm trees, parrots

and the like. So there’s obviously a danger in creating a design around

an image as familiar as the skull and crossbones. It can be seen as

derivative or uninspired.

On the flipside, familiar symbols carry with them some instant,

powerful and useful connotations and messages. So we felt that by

executing the design with wit and style – and reinterpreting it in a

fun and relevant way – you get the benefit of the built-in messaging

along with a unique, ownable look that feels fresh and exciting.

Plus, the Kilo Kai logo has an iconic quality that will extend

easily across many applications. It looks great by itself and on the

bottle, which is the true test of any great logo. Does it look

comfortable in any environment? This logo definitely does.

Does TD have structural designers on staff to specifically address

the design and production of the bottle, or do the regular designers

tackle it and then work with the fabricator to make it real?


don’t have structural designers on staff but our designers typically

explore many bottle design options, and then collaborate with

fabricators to work out what’s doable.

How did the design of the bottle evolve?

We tried many

proprietary bottle shapes but for a variety of budget and timing issues

– lead times on custom bottle shapes can be six months or more – we

ultimately settled on a stock bottle shape.

How does texture play into the design of the Kilo Kai bottle?


plays a very important part. The frosted coating not only gives the

bottle a more premium look, it provides a tactile quality that hints at

handcrafted quality. When you pick up the bottle it “feels” premium.

Another nice design touch is that the bottlenecks are wrapped in

skateboard grip tape. The tape provides a gritty sensation and aids

touch memory that helps busy bartenders.

How did the name of the brand develop?

Kilo Kai is the name that

Apostrophe Brands created and trademarked. They want the brand be known

simply as “Kilo”, mainly to imply and aid the recall of “Coke” for the

bar call. Also, “Kilo and Coke” has great syncopation. Other brands in

this category don’t have the easy call name to pair with Coke. So

people tend to just say “Rum and Coke”. We want them to say “Kilo and


“Kai” lends legitimacy, and although almost no consumers will know

this, it’s Hawaiian for “seer of the sea”. We don’t refer to Hawaii in

this packaging design because there’s no geographic relevance. “Kai”

just sounds cool!

How long does a project like this take from initial meeting to final design?


you know, every project timeline is different. The Kilo Kai project

kicked off in October 2006, so it took about one year. The final design

was developed and chosen fairly quickly. However, some production

issues, including sourcing bottles and coating, added to the timeline.

What kind of research do you do on the designs? How do you ensure

that breakthrough ideas aren't weeded out via regular focus groups?


way to ensure that breakthrough ideas aren’t eliminated via focus

groups is to not conduct them. That’s one reason that the Kilo Kai

project was so enjoyable and satisfying.

Our client Brad Trayser is a successful entrepreneur (his company

also launched the very popular Effen Vodka) who trusts his own gut and

instincts. He has little use for, or interest in, focus groups or other

typical qualitative/quantitative design research.

He shared our design concepts with a few of his key investors, but

that was the extent of the “research”. We made our recommendation and

he made his decision. How refreshing!

Does TD have an internal process to generate these breakthrough/disruptive ideas?


have a process, not a Process™. The difference is more than a lowercase

‘p’. It's a different outlook. Our approach is rigorous but flexible.

We value intuition and perception as highly as metrics.

Every brand has a unique story or distinct personality. We don’t

stop until we uncover a point of clarity that captures and expresses a

brand’s raison d’etre.

One incredibly important factor in identifying and articulating a

brand’s point of clarity is that our London and San Francisco studios

collaborate on every project. Work flows freely between each, so our

clients get a rich and nuanced perspective from both sides of the


We also conduct weekly ‘distant crits’, where each studio reviews

the others’ work with no punches pulled. The result is a well-informed

and objective view that produces exceptional clarity for our clients’


Do you find yourselves in a position of really fighting for these

unique designs, or does their business development process result in

clients that are willing to push the edge?

We look for companies who

demonstrate that they value design and are willing to invest in it. We

also look for opportunities to make a bold statement and effect change.

We’re not interested in “tweaking” someone else’s design or doing a

subtle evolutionary change. We especially enjoy working with

entrepreneurs like Brad because, as I already mentioned, they tend to

be risk takers who make decisions based on their gut instinct rather

than research or focus group results.

These entrepreneurial projects also provide us with a chance to

stretch our creativity and do bold and interesting work that just isn’t

possible with many of the big global companies.

On the other hand, the big global companies own the big global

brands that everyone recognizes, and having a few of them as clients

provides a certain cachet and credibility that’s also very important

and valuable. So, in summary, we look to achieve a nice client balance

between today’s big influential brands and the visionary brand leaders

of tomorrow.

I think that our philosophy and approach is highly differentiated as

well. We’ve stayed true to our passion and what we do best: creating

and designing consumer brand identities and packaging. We know who we

are. But of equal importance, we know who we’re not. We don’t claim to

be, or want to be for that matter, an “integrated” or

“multidisciplinary” shop that offers / promises clients everything in

the marketing mix. We want to do great brand design, period. Our

clients find our approach refreshing, and I think it’s big reason so

many companies want to work with us.

About Turner Duckworth

Turner Duckworth is an international brand design firm with offices in San Francisco and London. In addition to Apostrophe Brands, their clients include The Coca-Cola Company, Motorola, Amazon.com, Waitrose (UK), Jamba Juice, Superdrug (UK), Homebase (UK), Dolby, S.A. Brains & Co. (Wales), and many others. Visit them online at http://www.turnerduckworth.com/.

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