The following interview with graphic designer Kasper Ledet was given to Italian design student Federico Cavalieri as part of his studies at IED Milan.
How did you get involved with To Øl?
I met the founders of To Øl while we were attending the same high school in Copenhagen. They started out brewing in the school’s kitchen. Back then I was also starting to play around with graphic design and illustration. When they had to bottle their first beer, they asked me to do the label. I have been onboard ever since. Things really started to get serious when To Øl made the first commercial beer in 2010. Prior to that the few labels I designed for them was made on a xerox machine.
What’s your approach to the design of the To Øl brand?
For To Øl it is important to experiment and try out new ideas. This is also evident in the branding. There is no style guide or general directions. It is not about creating the perfect look and then apply it to all the outlets. This makes for a very fluid and open approach. There has been this discourse within the design world that good visual branding comes from coherency. This may be true for a bank or a pharmaceutical company that needs to look very trustworthy and serious. But I don’t believe that it makes sense to apply that strategy to all situations or said in another way; not all companies benefit from visual coherency. To Øl is a high-end brewery whose products and merchandise don’t necessarily need to be instantly recognisable. I think it is much more beneficial for the brand to have an explorative and concept driven approach.
What’s your approach to designing the beer labels of To Øl?
My approach is basically very open. I usually start out by trying to understand what kind of beer we are talking about. Is there anything special about it or something that needs to be visually highlighted. I try not to be too literal in my designs since drinking a beer is an abstract experience. Taste, texture, carbonation and the effects of alcohol is actually hard to describe with words. I don’t think the labels should try to make the experience more graspable by just showing the ingredients or how it was brewed. The great thing about abstract experiences like consuming beverages, food or music is that they trigger your emotions. So the labels should definitely be a part of this process by not giving away any clear answers but merely try to fuel your imagination.
Do you have a particular aesthetic for the whole brand or do you focus on single beers as single concepts?
As mentioned before I don’t have any strict design system or style guide but I do have my visual language as a designer. I have certain interests and certain ideals that is present in all my designs, not only the ones for To Øl. My visual language is of course flexible and in constant development. Each new design is an exploration of the possibilities within this vocabularium. This may sound as if I am always creating new and exciting almost flawless designs, which of course I don’t. Some designs are good, others are bad and in the worst case somewhat mediocre. When you employ an open and fluid strategy there is no safety net to catch you but on the other hand there are no limits to stop you reaching something sublime neither.
What are the visual elements you like to use the most?
Photography and typography is featured massively in my work for To Øl. Sometimes pieces of abstract illustration also make their way into the designs, like organic forms or ink drops. I try not to make too much figurative illustration like characters or objects. Firstly because I’m not very good at making these kind of drawings and secondly because there are other breweries making very effective use of figurative illustration. I believe our use of photography and typography seems a good way of making To Øl stand out. Of course I would not write off the possibility of maybe working together with an interesting illustrator for a future project. If there is a good conceptual foundation I have no problem with figurative illustration.
What are your inspirations when designing?
There is a lot. I will just name a few here.
David Bowie is an important figure. His idea of approaching rock ‘n’ roll as theater is really inspiring. You could argue that Bowie was not a rock ‘n’ roll artist but more of a rock ‘n’ roll designer. He designed various personas, looks, songs and albums to explore rock and pop culture. It seems that he disconnected from the romantic idea that the artist express their inner self thought their art. Or said in another way, he disconnected from authenticity and I think that is a very powerful statement. He of course also created some wonderful music in the process.
I have been following the Danish avant garde filmmaker Lars von Trier since my early teens. He seems determined to set up rules and boundaries as creative guides for his projects. This was most notable in the Dogme95 movement which he co-founded and in his “America” films that took place on a soundstage. His use of Brecth like verfremdung has also been very inspiring. The point of his films seems to be that it hurts even more if you know it is fake.
The Danish architect Jørn Utzon continues to amaze me. Utzon has been extremely canonised in Danish art history mainly because of his ultra iconic Sydney Opera House design. Even though the Sydney Opera House is a great building it cannot solely express Utzon’s amazing architectural vision. Even though Utzon was firmly anchored within mid century modernism, he was no functionalist, nor did he subscribe to the direct relationship between interior and exterior. He really brought something new to the table. Mainstream art historians would maybe point out his humanistic qualities and his Scandinavian attention to light. For me Utzon is a deeply strange architect and I would almost go as far as calling him a mystic. From the gothic qualities of the Sydney Opera to the obsession with windowless parallel walls to the mismatch between exterior and interior at Bagsværd Church, Utzon was going his own ways. I don’t completely understand his architecture and it continues to be both inspiring and deeply puzzling.
How important do you think branding is for a brewery?
I think it is important not to think of branding as one whole, as a generic strategy you can apply to all projects and companies no matter what. If we stay within the world of beverages there is an enormous difference between a successful branding of a huge mainstream brewery like Carlsberg or Heineken compared to a smaller craft brewery like To Øl. The consumers expect two completely different things. When it comes to a craft brewery the products is inherently niche and it makes no sense to make huge bill boards and television ads. At To Øl we value an artistic approach and a certain degree of abstraction. We don’t believe that we should try to force our products down people’s throats by being very explicit about how good they are and how happy it will make you. Such strategies would most likely not work or even backfire with our consumers. We have by no means found the perfect formula of how to brand a craft brewery just like we have not found the perfect formula for making a beer. It is about exploration and experimentation. It is a continuous journey that sometimes results in failure and at other times in greatness.
What about BRUS?
When it comes to design there are several aspects to be considered with BRUS. The physical space was created in a collaboration between spatial designers, furniture designers, a light designer, a greenery designer and a brewery designer. I took care of art direction, decoration and visual identity. Besides being a brewpub it is also a brand on it’s own – separated from To Øl but still a part of the family. BRUS produce its own line of bottled and kegged beverages. The design of those products is more systematic and coherent than To Øl’s visuals. With BRUS the challenge has been to create a visual identity that is both recognisable but also manages to reflect the various functions and outputs of the place. Spontan, the restaurant at BRUS, has its own sub-brand that also needs to be a part of the whole. The BRUS logo has five variations as a way to reflect the various things going on. The visuals for BRUS is still in development and it’s exciting to be working with this new brand and see where it is going.