Creatives in Craft Beer with Jeremy Backer

Continuing our series of interviews with creatives, we chatted with Jeremy Backer. Jeremy is behind the design work with our friends at Ex Novo.

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Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Jeremy Backer. I’m a graphic designer, craft beer enthusiast, home brewer, aging snowboarder, and weekend van-lifer living in Hood River with my wife Elizabeth and our two amazing kids Bennet and Jackson. The unwavering support and love from my wife and kids is why I am where I am today in my career. I’ve been designing professionally for a little over 6 years now, working for design agencies and in-house for a few companies, but have always done freelance on the side. I’ve always tried to incorporate my passions into my freelance gig and about two years ago I made the dream a reality when I hooked up with Joel and the Ex Novo crew. Since then, I’ve focused my “Design Company” primarily on craft beer clients. It’s been super rewarding and rad to combine these two passions. I still pinch myself sometimes.

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What drew you to design?

Growing up in a small mountain town in Colorado in the 90s, design wasn’t really something people talked about or even knew about. We knew things like logos and ads existed, but it never occurred to us that someone actually had to make those things. I was always interested in the artwork on album covers, snowboard graphics, and pop culture, but it didn’t occur to me that one could actually make a living creating those things. It took moving away to discover design and that it was something people actually did for work (it still doesn’t feel like work). I moved with my then fiancé to Portland in 2009 and quickly discovered the amazing design community here. PCC has a great program and two years later, I had my degree and was no longer a line cook.

What drew you to craft beer?

I was working in Boulder as a line cook in the early 2000s, and breweries like Boulder Beer, Avery, Left Hand, New Belgium, and countless others were really gaining ground. I remember the house I shared with too many people had a shelf that went around the living room where we collected all the bottles we’d tried, trying to do the full circle around the room. While we maybe didn’t appreciate the subtleties of the actual beers at the time, it definitely sparked in me a love for craft beer and a curiosity to discover more. Over the years, I’ve found that the one constant in this industry is the amazing people and their dedication to preserving the world of craft beer. It is the most inclusive, friendly, approachable industry and I’m honored to be a part of it.

Where do you find inspiration?

At the bottom of a beer glass!

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Talk about the process behind designing a logo/branding/label for a beer company.

Every business has a story that makes them unique. Breweries are no different. It’s my job to help bring out that story in easily digestible nuggets through design and storytelling. When I start doing work on a logo or label, I ask the clients to send me examples of designs they love and ones they hate. This helps me get a feel for what the brand should or shouldn’t look like. Then, I go to my cave and bring up dozens of inspirational images (the internet is a beautiful thing) and present these to further drill down to the core of what we’re going for. Next step is rough comps, where I put together a few ideas and present them mocked up on labels, signs, whatever the real world application will be. A flat design might look great in a PDF, but seeing it on a bottle, can, sign, or truck gives it context and shows where it can be improved.

The great thing about making artwork for breweries is the owners and brewers always have an amazing sense of humor and a knack for what looks good. The craft of design and the craft of beer go hand in hand pretty naturally. Brewery owners like Joel at Ex Novo and the the guys at Level are very involved, have a good eye for design and an appreciation for the process that you don’t always get from clients in other industries.

Another thing to note: brewers are typically hilarious people and the names they choose for the beers make my job that much more fun.

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What has been one of your biggest challenges - design-wise, beer industry-wise?

Design-wise, working for yourself has lots of benefits, but sometimes as a designer it’s easy to feel secluded and in your own head when you don’t have coworkers to bounce ideas off of. I’m lucky to have a core group of designer friends that I can shoot off designs to for their feedback, but it can definitely feel like you’re designing in a vacuum.

Beer Industry-wise, there’s so much good design in craft beer these days. It can be easy to look at the work of Emrich Offices or Helms Workshop, to name a couple, and feel disheartened. The trick is to draw inspiration from and not pine for that talent. Everyone has their own unique look and I’m still working hard to fine tune that for myself. Also, owning a brewery is not a cheap endeavor. Sometimes it can be tricky to sell the clients on a specialty style of printing or running one-off designs that might cost more.

What beer got you hooked on craft beer?

XXX Pale Ale by Mountain Sun/Southern Sun Brewing in Boulder, Colorado. This was my first job at a brewery, and my first real introduction to the craft that goes into every beer. Even as beertenders and cooks, we were encouraged to learn about the brewing process and were often invited to classes and workshops in the brewery. I’ll always have a special place in my heart for that place, as it’s where I met my beautiful wife! We both worked at the pub for about three years and found our love for each other through craft beer.

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What are you working on now?

Some really exciting stuff! I’ve been continuing to build out the Level Beer brand as they gear up for their big opening in 2017. Now that the brand is locked in, we’re moving on to website, packaging, apparel, and collateral designs. In addition to that, I’m helping Final Draft Taphouse in Vancouver build out their brand as they also gear up for their opening next year. And Ex Novo always has fun projects for me to help out with! I’m working on creating some of my own beer-inspired designs and products in hopes of opening up an online shop early next year and to attract more breweries and beer clients. 2017 is gonna be huge!

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If you could work with one beer/beverage company, which would it be and why?

Oh man, there are so many! But if I had to choose one, I’d love to work with Immersion in Bend. They’re relatively new, have a solid brand/design aesthetic, their beers are delicious, and they have an amazing Brew-It-Yourself program for home brewers like myself! I would love to expand my client list outside of Portland, and Bend is such a great beer town it would be awesome to TAP into that (I’m a dad, these are the jokes we make).

I’d also love to collaborate with other designers in the craft beer industry, such as Jordan Wilson Designs. He’s been crushing it with Old Town Brewing. You should talk to him next!

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