Interview with Helms Workshop
Continuing our series of chats with some of the best designers in the world of craft beer we are proud to present Helms Workshop. There aren’t many other design crews that are as prolific as this Texas based company within the realm of craft beer. Some of their most recent branding for companies like Austin Beerworks have become world renowned. Christian Helms, the man behind the company, kindly gave up some of his precious time to answer a few questions about his kickass work.
Q: Before we go into some in depth questions about the work, could you give us a quick background of Helms Workshop and a bit about the company as it stands today.
Helms Workshop is an award-winning creative firm founded by Christian Helms, providing a full range of brand development and design services. We combine smart, strategic thinking with wild-eyed creativity in a highly collaborative environment, producing powerful ideas and unexpected solutions that bring big results to businesses across the country.
Our client list is as eclectic as our interests, ranging from national brands like Pabst Brewing, Hasbro and HBO, to local standouts Alamo Drafthouse, Frank restaurant and Austin Beerworks, as well as a host of bands including Spoon, Modest Mouse, The Hold Steady and Wilco.
In addition to helping businesses launch, grow and reach new audiences our work has received awards and recognition from a host of esteemed entities including Communication Arts, Graphis, Step, ID, Print, and Metropolis. We’ve even been awarded a gold record from the Recording Industry Association of America, despite being unable to carry a tune.
Q: A lot of your work revolves around food, beer and music. How did Helms find itself working for these types of clients?
Over the years I’ve worked hard to engage projects that I connect with personally and enjoy. Those are three things that I love. I’m working now to push that model further, into new markets and industries.
Q: You seem to have a lot of creative control with a lot of your projects. What is the typical working relationship you have with your clients?
It really depends on the nature of the project and the character of the client. Our best clients want to collaborate, respect our abilities and expertise and are brave enough to have a point of view and stand apart in a crowded marketplace.
Q: Where are your favourite places to find inspiration?
A run around town lake, the park with my son, a great dinner with my wife of an afternoon at the bar with friends. Add in film, literature and music and I’m set.
Q: Top Hops looked like a really interesting project, as it both feels like a strong brand and a community hub. How did you approach the project, and did you do it in a different way compared to more traditional commercial brands?
That’s funny, I don’t think of the approach as different— I work with commercial brands in a similar way. I listened a lot, learned what made TH unique and worked to communicate that to the public in a fun, warm and engaging way. I’m in conversations currently about a large-scale global rebrand and we’re by far the smallest “agency” under review, but that approach is exactly what made us attractive. I like that the work feels personal— folks connect to that.
Q: Helms Workshop seems to get involved in all the aspects of a brand’s output, from logos, to websites, to videos. How did you find yourself doing so much diverse work?
Because I love the work, and when you have the opportunity to commit deeply to a project that you connect with why would you stop with just the logo? The brand is such a broader conversation— and every chance to engage the public is an opportunity.
Q: What qualities do you think are important when looking at branding and packaging?
Does it communicate, or just look cool? Does it make folks think? Does it start a conversation, and give people an idea of the brand personality and character? Does it stand apart? There are so many factors to consider, but compelling communication is key.
Q: The Austin beerworks branding has a strong, iconic and clean feel to it compared to a lot of American craft breweries. Was this a conscious decision, and how were you inspired to go down this route?
Absolutely. It’s a deeper conversation than I can explain in a brief interview, but the goal was to stand apart in a crowded marketplace and not lean on craft beer cliches. We worked together to build an identity around what made them special: a unique brewing profile and a light-hearted company culture.
Q: Your most recent beer related project, the Modern Times beer can designs, is another excellently bold execution. What was the process like getting to that final design?
Design exploration was broad, but focused on a core strategy. Jacob named the brewery after a utopian community founded in New York in 1850, and modeled the brand narrative after historic visionaries and their dreams of the future.
We explored a host of design directions referencing forward-looking historic icons including Raymond Loewy and Norman Bel Geddes, as well as contemporary revisionists like Wes Anderson. Through that juxtaposition we arrived at a packaging system that fits perfectly into Modern Times brand story.
It should be noted that to help in creating the can’s signature logotype we enlisted typographer Simon Walker. He’s a great, talented guy and it was so much fun to work with him on the project.
Q: Craft beer has had an amazing boom in America over the past 10 years. What is your take on this huge resurgence of a more local and quality led beer industry.
I think it’s great. Early on in our nations history there were tons of regional craft breweries serving their local area, and making beer unique to the landscape. I’d love to see that come back over the coming years. It’s happening as we speak.
Q: Are there any particular craft beer packaging or branding designs you are especially fond of?
I’m in love with the Mikkeler beer packaging. It’s so great.
Q: And finally, do you guys at Helms have any favourite craft beers to drink?
How much space do you have for copy? The short answer is yes. And not to be nepotistic, but we drink a lot of Austin Beerworks. They keep us in good supply, but I find myself buying it when I’m out at the bar as well. Past that I’m loving what I see around the country when I travel to visit clients. I was just in Cincinnati and Louisville for projects, and I love trying all of the local and regional beers that we can’t get in the southwest.
Many thanks to Christian for giving up his time to chat to us. See his amazing body of work here. All images are owned are used with permission from Helms workshop.