Design Today: Southern Comfort Branding & Packaging Redesigned by Helms Workshop

Southern Comfort has partnered with Austin-based brand studio Helms Workshop to rebrand their iconic spirit, and the rebrand also coincides with the launch of the new Southern Comfort Caramel Comfort product. Helms Workshop is an award-winning, brand design studio, and the selection of this agency shows a trend of large companies and brands selecting to work with small, independent advertising and branding firms to create beautifully-designed work for their products.

Helms Workshop, and owner-designer Christian Helms, is quickly becoming a go-to shop for alcohol product packaging and design. We asked Christian 10 questions about the Southern Comfort branding & packaging redesign, as well as his thoughts on Design Today.

People Are Recognizing The Power Of Design And How It Can Dramatically Impact Their Businesses, And It’s Opening The Doors For Interesting And Provocative Work In All Sorts Of Fields. It’s A Great Time For Design.
— Christian Helms

What Were Some Of The Challenges Of the Southern Comfort Redesign?

Southern Comfort has 140 years of history behind it, so one of the challenges is weighing that equity against the opportunity to start a new conversation with drinkers. Heritage can be a hindrance in the absence of a clear strategy for approaching the rebrand.

One aspect of the project that wasn’t a challenge was the team at Brown-Forman. We were fortunate to find them at a point in the brand’s evolution where they embraced the truth of the brand, and were comfortable with the idea of letting it be what it is instead of trying to chase a category. I could see it even before we got started, in the advertising work that they were doing with Weiden & Kennedy.

What is unique about the new Southern Comfort packaging?

The new package feels like Southern Comfort being confident, and comfortable with itself. It moves past old south imagery and sheds ornate filigree in favor of clear and direct communication.

We crafted an entirely new bottle, but we championed those fluted shoulders that have been part of the brand since some of it’s earliest packages. No one else has those as a signature. Overall the form is more sturdy and masculine, and less delicate than previous expressions of the brand.

A small but important element of the new package is a piece of new brand language: A Category of One. SC was created in 1874 to be completely different than anything else being served, and I’m really proud to help shepherd them back to expressing pride in that— in being different.
 

How does the nature of the project drive your design?

The nature of the project often drives the deliverables, but our approach is always to dig in, find the kernels that make a brand unique, and then work to clarify and amplify that message.
 

Where do you find your inspiration?

It’s in the brand’s story and history, and in the culture of the organization. Even with a start-up, there’s something that makes them different than everyone else— their origin, take on the business or a point of view. Communicating that, along with the the nature and the character of the product should make for a compelling package.

How do you define Helms Workshop's aesthetic?

I try not to. We’re a smaller studio, which allows me to pick and choose the projects we work on. If there’s a unifying element in our work, it’s that we engage projects that we have a real interest in, with clients that we respect and enjoy working with. I think that comes through in the final product.
 

What Do You Consider A Successful Design?

Does it stand for something? Does it differentiate the product, and grab consumer attention? Did it solve the real problem at hand, and did our team and the client walk away feeling energized by the experience? The barometer for success can shift depending on the project, but those are questions we always ask in gauging success. 


What Kind Of Projects Are You Most Excited To Work On?

I get particularly fired up about projects that give us an opportunity to work in new areas that we haven’t touched yet, or to twist expectations of a tried and true pattern in the marketplace.

Previous Southern Comfort Design (2010)

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If you can give one piece of advice to a packaging designer what would it be?

Get out and observe. Think about how people interact with design in a real way.

What's next for Helms Workshop?

We’ve just kicked off a rebrand project for Boulevard Brewing in Kansas City. They’re an impressive team of folks with a pretty amazing culture and history— they got started back in 1989, long before craft brewing was in fashion. Even at their size and growth rate they feel like a family, which is the case for a lot of our favorite clients. I’m excited to help a top-ten craft brewery go national.

What is exciting you about design today?

Opportunity. People are recognizing the power of design and how it can dramatically impact their businesses, and it’s opening the doors for interesting and provocative work in all sorts of fields. It’s a great time for design.