Behind every innovative bar, brand or bartender there’s a company that brings their ideas to life. When it comes to fresh thinking two names pop up more than most: United Creatives for stand out labels and brand identity and Inkorporate for drop dead gorgeous kit. We meet the people bringing the x-factor to the world of drinks.
Wesley Pickering, Inkorporate
Wesley Pickering designs bar porn. Fact. From lavish bespoke drinks trollies you want to run your hands over in a slightly pervy fashion, to drinking vessels you can’t help but caress, he and his team have been providing drinks solutions that get pulses racing that bit faster for the past eight years.
L-R: Sam O’Hagan, Wes Pickering, Amelie David, Elena Pickering, Jarek Tomkiel
“I set up the company because I believed the drinks industry needed it,” he says as if it was the most natural thing in the world. And for someone with a background in bars, running a drinks consultancy, and with an avid interest in design and luxury brands, it was. “I had the idea in 2005 although we set up in 2006,” he reminisces. “At the time the cocktail scene in London was gathering pace, consumer knowledge was growing, people were starting to see bar tending as a career and drinks companies were aligning themselves with lifestyle brands like fragrance and fashion,” he says. “They were spending huge amounts on advertising campaigns but nothing on design-led products. I wanted to address that. Inkorporate was borne out of my frustration”.
Top and centre: inspired serves for Artesian; above: Absolut bar tools
Without Pickering’s understanding of the element of surprise and delight consumers want and the functionality and point of difference bartenders are looking for, we wouldn’t be privy to the wonderful and whimsical serves from the team at multi award-winning bar Artesian, or the sumptuous display case conceived to accentuate the luxury of the Louis XIII expression of Rémy Martin. Under Inkorporate’s direction simple things like a glass or ice bucket are at once beautiful, functional and aspirational. In fact, the company name is shorthand for excellence all round.
Not bad for someone who came to the bar after studying psychology and artificial intelligence rather than design. “I find most people with a bar tending background tend to think like designers,” he reasons. How so? “We consider the practical aspects like does it clean easily, can you store it efficiently, is it too fiddly, can it break? All this while taking into account things like engaging the senses through taste, sight and touch. We then think about how we can add ‘the reveal’, to our customers. That’s one of the joys of working with Alex Kratena and Simone Caporale at Artesian and Gareth Evans at the Blind Pig. They have ideas that might have just existed in their head but our team can help bring those ideas to life.”
Top: Grey Goose Martini serve; centre: Artesian Martini serve; above: Chivas trolley
He doesn’t only have forward-thinking bartenders as clients though, most of his commissions come directly from brands. It’s not often you’ll find the likes of Diageo, Bacardi and Pernod Ricard working with one company, but if they want a sexy piece of luxurious kit or look-at-me barware, they know there’s only one place to go.
“We’re probably the only company who do what we do and as such we can work across brands,” Pickering smiles. “We have three basic principles that benefit our customers: an understanding of the drinks industry drawn from experience, an in-house team of creative and industrial designers – our team of eight have backgrounds in fashion, luxury brands, furniture, technology and industrial design, and we also pride ourselves on our network of the best manufacturers. These things ensure that we bring a point of difference to each project we undertake.”
By his own admission there’s a touch of OCD about him, “I used to line up all my toys just-so,” he says laughing. Not typical behaviour for a young boy but essential training for the attention to detail that goes into Inkorporate designs.
Chris Edmunds, United Creatives
“I didn’t set out to work as a designer for drinks companies,” says Chris Edmunds, founder and director of graphics design company United Creatives. That’s as maybe but with cool-as-you-like commissions from the likes of Dodd’s Gin, The 86 Co., Compass Box Whisky, Maverick Drinks and BrewDog under his belt, you’d be forgiven for thinking he did.
L-R: Steve Hockett with ‘Rum’; Chris Edmunds with ‘Gin’, and Cath Chiaton with ‘Vodka’
Working in a small design space above one of London’s cocktail meccas Milk & Honey, was the beginning of the drinks link, with commissions to create the house style and menus for his neighbour and its various ventures that followed. “The proximity to a premium yet inclusive atmosphere must have rubbed off,” he says modestly. “This, plus several of my clients have been very kind in recommending my services to other people”. Not that his work doesn’t speak very eloquently for itself.
There’s a striking simplicity to United Creatives’ style – ‘more thinking, less design’ is their way of putting it. Bold and beautiful, modern with a hint of nostalgia, playful but authoritative, is ours. While each project is different, this distinct signature punctuated with an acceptable element of punk is what puts the United into their creativity and why forward-thinking drinks brands look to them to ensure they stand out from the pack.
“There’s been a distinct rise of challenger brands since I started out seven years ago which means more choice for the public and more competition for the more established brands,” Edmunds explains. “I’d also say that many of the brands I work with today are much more savvy and conscious of what a market wants and how it works. They need to be. For example, our collaboration with The 86 Co. led us to learn how they have put the bartender at the centre of their thinking and sales of their spirit range: the ergonomic shape of the bottle, the information on the label, the design brief, everything stemming from the people that will pour, sell and mix that drink – that wouldn’t have happened a few years ago, nobody had the vision.”
Indeed. In such a competitive market and with the rise of the spirited consumer, how does he ensure the drinks brands he works with have a point of difference? “By ignoring the category,” he replies. “I think a lot of design thinks, ‘oh, this is a gin, it needs to be green and have scripted text and flourishes. Pish! We dig a bit deeper to try and find out the story behind a particular brand and start there. A great client will already know what that story is.”
In the case of Dodd’s Gin that was a heritage that dates back over 200 years when Ralp Dodd had a vision to provide the British public with genuine British spirits of the best quality. The result? A supremely seductive label – all geometric and perfectly aligned that’s guaranteed to make design buffs and gin-lovers drool. Understandably, the work is something Edmunds and the team, now based in Manchester, are immensely proud of. “For a great project the stars need to be aligned, any graphic designer will tell you that,” Edmunds says. “With Dodd’s Gin which we created with The London Distillery we had a great client willing to give us a free reign, a reasonable budget, a fantastic brief and a talented letterpress print team at Blush Publishing. Add to this that the liquid was superb and it just all came together and it’s doing very well. We’ve since release a gold colour variant of the first red, white and blue label which uses honey from the bees which live up on the roof at Fortnum & Mason. Dodd’s has outsold every other spirit in the Piccadilly store.”
What does innovation mean to Edmunds? “It largely revolves around pushing great printers to do great work and push the machines and production methods they have at their disposal. Great design is nothing if it’s printed badly and I place great stock in our other creative partners. In terms of design innovation I think it comes down to taking risks and willing to be different.”
Taken from issue 13 of The Cocktail Lovers magazine