Studio Spotlight: Hired Guns Creative

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Richard Hatter and Leif Miltenberger, Photograph by Sean Fenzl

Hired Guns Creative is a hot upcoming studio whom we have featured many projects from. Located on Vancouver Island, they provide branding, design, and marketing services to wineries, breweries, and distilleries - headed by Richard Hatter, who provides all of the design and creative work, and Leif Miltenberger, who runs the business side of the company. Together their mission is to help their clients sell more alcohol. Every creative decision they make, every design that comes out of their shop is centered around answering that one specific business challenge.

"Our studio began as a generalist design studio in 2008. We worked on many types of projects for many types of clients in those early years before deciding to target the British Columbia wine industry. An established winery on Vancouver Island gave us our first shot at branding and packaging design for the alcohol industry (more on that project later.) The success of that initial winery project led to other winery projects, which in turn helped open the doors to projects for craft breweries and distilleries.

By the time our business had reached its fifth birthday, we had successfully narrowed our focus to working exclusively on alcohol-related projects. We've dug deep into our chosen niche, immersed ourselves in the world of alcohol packaging design, and have developed a reputation for highly creative work, often utilizing illustration as a key component."

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All projects below are designed by Hired Guns Creative, Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada

The Empiric

This gin was the first project that we worked on for Arbutus Distillery, a new distillery on Vancouver Island. Aside from typical packaging design project requirements - such as wanting products that stood out on the shelves and outperformed the other products in their competitive set - Arbutus Distillery wanted to showcase a bit of the darker side of our Earthly existence, but without scaring consumers away.

The packaging for The Empiric references the Empirical death doctors who would dispense a crude form of gin to treat plague patients. Richard combined this historical detail with some quintessential West Coast visual elements: ravens and a touch of Haida art styles. The frosted black bottle and black wax closure are references to the black plague while the colour scheme, foils, and embossed details speak to the quality level of the spirit inside the bottle.

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Coven

The name "Coven" was chosen for this product for a number of reasons. It speaks of a number of elements that could be advantageous to a vodka brand: gatherings, group activities, exclusivity, mysteriousness, and the possibility of a sexual component, (depending on how the evening turns out.) From the design perspective, Coven is a very clean, balanced word that's easy to work with on a graphic level. And, of course, there are the obvious criteria: it's easy to spell, say, pronounce, read from a distance, and it was available to trademark.

Once the name was settled, the design challenge was all about how to get the key concepts of Coven across in a visual way. Richard wanted to add a special element to the packaging - a 4th dimension, if you will, that engages customers once they've got the product home.

In the day time, Coven is a simple, elegant package. It sits comfortably within its competitive set with several several quality indicators: hand-dipped wax, die-cut label, foil & embossing details, and massive amounts of whitespace. In fact, the white frosted bottle is an extension of the label's whitespace. These details give the consumer confidence; the packaging quickly communicates craft & quality.

But darkness changes everything.

When the lights go down, the ritual begins. At night, the glow-in-the-dark overprint emerges on the front label to show a gathering of witches: some creepy, some seductive… all of them dark and foreboding. The chaos of this nighttime scene is emphasized by the simple, minimalist design of the "daylight" label.

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Bonamici Cellars

Bonamici Cellars is a new winery in British Columbia's Okanagan Valley.

We created a brand and packaging design that tells the story of two good friends, taking off on an adventure. For their inaugural vintage, that adventure is the process of starting a winery, although the nature of that adventure will likely morph over time as the winery grows and develops.

Creating a winery brand based around the concept of "good friends" was a challenge. While it's a concept that everyone knows and instantly understands, it's difficult to pull off without the brand becoming very cheesy, which is not what the winery owners were after.

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Longwood Brewery: Five Core Brands

Longwood Brewery went through an expansion in 2012 that involved a new brewing facility that substantially increased their capacity.

They approached us to create new names, brands, and packaging for their five core brands. Four of those five products were destined to be sold in 568mL cans while the fifth, their Russian Imperial Stout, would be available in 650mL bottles. The brewmaster at Longwood specifically asked that the products each stand alone as a unique brand. No templates, no flexible design systems… just creative, eye-catching brands.

The four canned beers presented an interesting challenge: how to lure craft beer drinkers away from bottled beer. While craft breweries are increasingly turning to cans, they still have a lingering stigma with some segments of the craft beer drinker market. The physical size of these products helps with this challenge - they're the first Canadian craft beers to be released in this format.

For the Russian Imperial Stout, the Longwood brewmaster was looking for a true icon brand. During the naming phase for this beer, we noted that the beer was as black as space itself. That, combined with the Russian heritage of this beer style led us to the name "Stoutnik." Once the name was in place, the design came quickly. A black frosted 650mL bottle, black paper label, and prism foil for everything else. For the particularly observant stout drinker there's a story about the beer told in blind-embossed morse code on the label. 

The effect of the prism foil stamp when actually applied on a bottle was surprising. The various colours reflected by the foil give the bottle a life of its own on the shelf… it's almost animated as you walk past.

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Tugwell Creek

We were brought in to create a new brand and label design for Tugwell Creek Honey Farm & Meadery, the oldest honey farm and meadery on Vancouver Island. They were dissatisfied with their old identity and labels; they wanted a design that more accurately reflected their operation, philosophy, and products.

The end result is a clever, versatile identity that positions them very firmly as a wine competitor, yet distinctly apart from wineries, and a bright, vivid label that has substantially increased their shelf presence in wine shops.

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Venturi Schulze

Venturi Schulze is the winery that gave us our first shot at refreshing their entire brand. After the success of the branding refresh the project was expanded to include redesigns of their packaging, website, and print collateral.

The Venturi Schulze Vineyards & Winery was well established; they had been making impressive natural wines (no pesticides, herbicides, or even irrigation) on Vancouver Island for twenty years. They had long relied on strong word of mouth and a dedicated local following to sell their products. But they began to desire a brand and packaging that matched the sophistication of their wines. 

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In-Depth Diane Lindquist