Neophytou, the creative director of New York and London-based agency Spring Studios, was commissioned by Sweetdram to create the brand’s overall identity. Despite being briefed to create a contemporary design, Neophytou initiated the project by researching the origins of the ‘dram’. Originally both a coin and a weight in ancient Greece, the dram refers to a unit of mass in the avoirdupois system, and both a unit of mass and a unit of volume in the traditional apothecaries’ weighing system. The apothecary symbol is 'ʒ'. As a result, the '3' symbol forms the basis of the Sweetdram logo.
The logo is formed of multiple separated elements that can be combined to create different compositions, a reference to the distillation process that follows a method of separating component substances. Although the logo presented on the bottle cap of Escubac (the first liqueur to be created by Sweetdram) is clearly recognisable as the three numeric, with each new liqueur recipe the separate elements that form the logo will be recomposed into new arrangements.
It wasn’t until Neophytou’s identity for the brand was complete that de Pass was commissioned to create the bottle’s 3D identity. De Pass was already known to Neophytou (in 2011, Neophytou created the product designer's own graphic identity) and it was Neophytou that suggested de Pass to Sweetdram. De Pass’s resulting design is driven by functionality. The bottle is made from amber-coloured glass due to its UV filtering properties, while its angular neck has been designed to enable smooth pouring of the aperitif that the bottle holds.
In March this year Disegno interviewed both Neophytou and de Pass for an Observation piece that featured in the latest issue of Disegno: The Quarterly Journal of Design; Disegno #10. Below, we are delighted to publish an edited transcript of the interview with Neophytou. Within the interview Neophytou discusses the guiding principles for his design for Sweetdram, the importance of working across disciplines, and the finer details of his collaboration with de Pass.
Your brief was to create a contemporary identity for Sweetdram yet there is a huge amount of historical grounding to your design. Why was that important?
Even if a brand is contemporary I think it is good that it is grounded in something. On the front of the bottle there is a big orange circle. Usquebaugh [known in France as Escubac d’Angleterre], the original drink which I think was from 1600, was described as the liquid of the sun or something along those lines. It was because it had these bright colours from the saffron, which made it feel golden. Using it on the bottle was just a reference to the rays of the sun: this big, orange, vibrant circle with these waves going through it. All through the project I always tried to bring some kind of rationale.
It is also a means to create some criteria that you can work to: critical elements that you can actually judge the work on. Otherwise it is all abstract. It is important because although what Sweetdram is doing is contemporary, it is a contemporary spin on something that is actually a traditional heritage art form.
Every element of your design has a back-story and rationale. Why approach the project like this when ultimately the brand wants you to create an identity that looks visually enticing?
I was the first person that Sweetdram spoke to so it was more about creating the brand than it was about creating the label. The label is the outcome of the branding, and the branding was what was used to brief Felix, and what was used to brief future collaborators and even architects that work on their spaces. It is much more than graphic design. It is capturing their philosophy and approach and giving it a visual language.
I almost wanted the identity to reflect the way that Sweetdram operate which is never the same, it is always changing and always being rearranged. That is why I broke the dram symbol into four shapes, so that they can be rearranged every time we create a new label. There is another idea behind that. I had established the visual language and created the brand identity but Sweetdram will go onto work with other designers and collaborate with different artists in much the same way that they collaborate with distilleries. In that sense, I really just wanted to create a set of tools that people could work with.
Why was such a flexible identity appropriate for the brand?
I don’t believe that this type of thing is appropriate for every brand, but Sweetdram is new and it is challenging traditional practices. All of those other distilleries and breweries are steeped in heritage and tradition. They are almost like artefacts. I felt like the new way to do this, or the way to challenge the brand, was to be this ever-shifting kind of thing. It is almost like it is not an idea that is set in stone but rather a philosophy that can be reapplied. I don’t know who wrote the rules that you have to have this logo that is the same every time. It just felt like there are no rules. Let’s just do it however we want to do it, in the most creative way that we can and in a way that captures what it is Sweetdram believes in and how it operates.
Why was Felix a good fit for the project?
Well I like Felix a lot, I think he’s a nice guy and I have worked with him in the past. I remember working on a project with him and we were discussing typography. I have noticed that product designers have a strong understanding of proportion, weight, depth – spatial qualities that you don’t find in many other professions. Graphic designers have that as well but because I am a type designer as well as a graphic designer, I have a particular interest in those things. I just always really enjoyed talking about those things with Felix.
Is there a value of working with somebody outside of the liquor industry?
I’ve worked with other designers who specialise in creating alcohol bottles and they seem to approach it with so many conventions in mind. They are already in the industry, so they know what works on the shelf. I knew that Felix had never done this type of project before and I loved his simple but intelligent approach to furniture design. I thought it would be amazing if he could transfer that to a bottle: no gimmicks, no novelties, just a beautiful piece. The design is very simple but Felix went through so many iterations to get to that point. I knew that he would be concerned with the micro details, even if the end result still feels very simple. I didn’t want somebody sketching some weird thing with pencils and pens on a piece of paper, like an artist’s drawing. Felix is already there. He is already thinking in so much detail.
What is the value with working with different disciplines?
I have always loved collaboration and in this industry you truly never do anything alone, even if it is you collaborating with a client. I think that is something that is often overlooked – the client is a key collaborator. Design is really all about collaboration. It is just fun, as well, to work with different people.
How important was it that the 2D identity and the 3D identity of the bottle complemented each other?
I have never really considered it in that way, that there is a 2D world and a 3D world. It is almost like every 2D application adorns a 3D object. Yes, you do get print and websites and things like that, but essentially you are taking this thing home in your hand. So yes, I do think it is important. I wouldn’t even consider them as separate things.