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Take the Chance to Listen and other Advice Learned from Designing Barra Atlantic Gin

by Theresa Christine Johnson on 11/08/2017 | 8 Minute Read

On the western edge of Europe rests a small island named Barra. It is there that Barra Atlantic Gin is made. D8 developed the packaging as well as site for the spirit, celebrating the unique location from which it hails. By focusing on the story behind the gin, it only took a few hours after the site went live before they sold 250 bottles. Plus, Barra Distillers was asked to sponsor the high profile John Smedley runway show at London Fashion Week 2017, widening the exposure into unexpected new markets for the burgeoning gin brand.

D8 tells us more about creating the eye-catching patterns on the bottle, designing a gin to be premium yet accessible and more.

Walk us through the design process that you went through for this project.

D8: We knew that there was a real drive and authentic purpose behind the company that people would fall in love with. The owner, Michael Morrison, is a craftsman born and bred on Barra, and used his skills to create beautiful wooden pieces for other people in the drinks industry before deciding he’d like to make spirits himself. His dedication and passion for working with natural materials led him to experiment with the blending of ingredients and botanicals from his native home, and he harvested carrageen seaweed from its shores to use as the base for a new gin. While he had a few ideas about where the brand could go, Michael was adamant that this carrageen should be an important part of the story and packaging.

Although we spent time exploring different concepts, our thoughts kept returning to how the brand felt like it was based around the perfect blend of ingredients, the local kelp, the people behind the company, their skills and how this small archipelago threw them all together.

As such, nothing felt more appropriate than simply naming the brand after the island. As a bar call, Barra is simple and memorable, and adding “Atlantic Gin” gives a sense of how this small island on the extreme western edge of Europe is the gateway to the Atlantic Ocean and beyond.

Once we had the seed of the idea, we looked at how we could use the theme of “blends” literally by exploring the possibility of creating a bespoke paper from the carrageen or extracting colour from it to use as ink, before we discovered that it is used as a floating agent in the art of paper marbling.

We knew we wanted this unique pattern to be the focal point of the brand but also that it needed strong supporting assets so we got to work on a brand logotype that would feel as fluid as the pattern itself, and secondary marks that reflected the product’s premium quality, as well as the Isle of Barra. We positioned it with the line “Island Born, Fearless Spirit” to help convey Michael’s adventurous nature, his pride in his home and his ambition. When pulled together, all these elements formed the backbone of our new brand and packaging.

Finally, along with various brand assets, we designed and built the company’s e-commerce website to give people a chance to learn more about the brand and also buy their own bottle, as well as find their nearest stockist. To us, this is just the beginning and we’re looking forward to helping the Isle of Barra Distillers Co. as they grow. A big factor in the design process was to design a system that allows new products to be introduced to the range without having to go  back to square one every time.

What was one of the biggest goals you set out to achieve with Barra Atlantic Gin packaging and how did you accomplish it?

D8: To create a premium but accessible brand that would not simply be another Island gin. We accomplished it by pulling out the stops to reflect the character and quality of the product in the packaging.

The textures are a standout element of this design, from the marble to the lines on the label to raised, slick foiling. How did you decide on these parts and how did you combine them so seamlessly?

D8: The textures we chose add depth on the eye and to the touch—the pinstriped emboss gives a sense of rippling waves and the combination of foil and semi opaque whites, as well as the marbling, are intended to be reminiscent of the shores of Barra, where the carrageen is harvested. This is a brand based upon a desire to give the best of Barra to the rest of the world, and it deserves the best presentation, so we extended the blend concept into the production by partnering with MCC for print, and GF Smith who helped us use Colorplan in a new, innovative way. The bottle marks a global packaging first, showcasing the unprecedented use of GF Smith Colorplan label-ready adhesive stock. MCC were exactly what we needed from a print partner and found some clever ways to give depth to the pattern by printing a silver foil followed by a sequence of semi-opaque whites underneath the marbling that shimmer and give the illusion of depth—like looking into a silvery rock pool on Barra’s shores.

We matched the blue of the label to the GF Smith Imperial Blue so we could use the paper itself as our base colour on the outer packaging, and matched a pinstriped emboss to Colorplan’s “Cord” embossing option, further accentuating the link between the two pieces. We also printed a tissue stock with the marbled pattern and wrap each bottle in this before inserting it into the tube to enhance the unwrapping experience.

How exactly did you develop the gorgeous marble pattern?

D8: When we began looking into using the carrageen to create a bespoke paper, we discovered that it is often used as a floating agent by paper marblers. By adding it to the water, it allows the paint to float on top without mixing with it so the designs can be applied to paper directly. We commissioned a number of original patterns from Jemma Lewis, a talented marbler who runs her own full time studio. We took our colour palette from the Barra landscape and briefed Jemma to create patterns that would evoke its shores, and how the water behaves when swirling around the natural carrageen growing there. This paired beautifully with our core concept and Michael’s love for skilled craft and helped us form a physical link between the product and its packaging.

What was the most challenging part of this project?

D8: Probably the timescales! There were tough negotiations with bottle suppliers to get the product to market by deadline but we did it. We worked closely with MCC to get the flexography, hot stamping and rotary embossing just right.

If you could pick one aspect of the finished design that you like the most or feel especially proud of, what would it be and why?

D8: The marbling stands out because it’s so distinctive, and really mesmerising, especially in its animated digital version—but the unprecedented use of the GF Smith label stock is also great to have been involved in—we’re really proud of the whole project, it’s a victory for collaboration.

Share one lesson that you learned while developing the finished product.

D8: Our branding, design and positioning work has been honed through experience but one thing we always love about working with new and interesting clients is learning what makes them individual. It’s important to take the chance to listen and learn about what it is that makes them unique as more often than not, this is what drives the design process. In this case, we knew carrageen was going to be the backbone of our product, so we learned as much as we could about it to find how we could build the look of Barra Gin around it. The lessons we learn aren’t always necessarily design-related, but always inform our work.

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