We reached out to Jordan Wilson (who had been suggested by Jeremy Backer) to talk about branding, design, and beer. Jordan is a freelance Designer and Creative Director for Old Town Brewing in Portland, Oregon.
Who are you?
My Name is Jordan Wilson. I’m a product of Mark and Brenda Wilson, fanatic of graphical design solutions, and a semi-closeted Michael McDonald enthusiast. I enjoy the cold sides of pillows, learning things I currently don’t know, and filling up once-blank Moleskine notebooks. At the time of this interview I am 29 years old, living in the heart of Portland, Oregon, working as a part-time freelance designer and full-time creative director for Old Town Brewing, and trying to get better at calling my mom once a week.
How did you get into design?
I got into design through way of music. Growing up, I was in a ton of bands, which in turn would need things like posters, album art, merchandise, etc. I’ve always been a doodler - going from crayons on walls to pencils on paper - and it just seemed like a good fit to take on the role of guitarist/designer. So I cut my teeth early on. Learning the basics of graphic design on bootleg adobe software and dial up internet. It really wasn’t until much later, after I moved up to Portland, that I started taking design seriously. Taking classes, going to marketing seminars, learning how to draw up a proper contract etc. And it was just recently that I discovered I can make an actual living doing it.
How did you get into craft beer?
Old Town Brewing was my gateway into the world of craft beer. It also gave me a leg into the industry. At the time I started, craft beer was just in the early stages of ramping up. There wasn’t a massive design focus on it like there is today. The opportunity to come in a make a difference was prevalent in every direction and that had a major attraction to me. Now, design trends quite literally start in the beer industry. Everyone is pushing amazing designs through, filling every void, and flooding the market in beautiful and effective works of art. It’s different now. I’m glad I got to come in before the big bang. But it’s also pretty inspiring seeing what came of it and where it’s all headed. People are really pushing the envelope in this market. Yes it’s flooded and overwhelmingly crowed, but that pushes the needle and the needs for good design more than ever.
What drew you to craft beer?
Initially it was the options. I think that is truly what sets craft beer apart from macro/big beer. I never understood the argument of the die hard Bud or Coors folk - “I only drink Bud, I’m a Bud guy!” I think in any other type of scenario that would be insane. Like, “I ONLY eat artichokes. If I’m eating something, it’s an artichoke. I’m an artichoke guy!” That sounds miserable. Just like food, or music, or anything - I want to indulge in things that pair with my mood, the season, the setting etc. I don’t want to drink the same thing every single time I open a beer. Where’s the joy in that? To me, it only makes sense that if you really like something (like beer) you would want to explore everything it has to offer. And the beauty of beer is that it can take so many forms, styles, flavors. If I meet someone who says they don’t like beer, I typically assume it’s because they haven’t had the right one yet.
How does craft beer inspire you?
I think the thing that inspires me most about craft beer is the same answer that everyone else will give: The community. It’s sounds almost cliche at this point, but there’s a good reason for that - it’s because it’s true. The beer community is the number one reason that craft beer is successful. It’s the beating heart that drives the market into new territories, keeps things from falling flat, and recruiting the best kind of people. It really is true what they say, everyone’s unbelievably nice. It’s an open-door policy, anyone and everyone is welcome, and there isn’t a sense of completion despite the ever-crowding market. The creed is “there’s room for all of us, let’s celebrate something we all love, together”. And that’s more inspiring than anything.
Talk about your favorite work. What was the inspiration, what was a challenge you overcame to create it?
I think my favorite work to date has been the rebrand and restructure of Old Town Brewing. It has been, by far, the biggest undertaking I’ve lead. We spent over 10 months working from the ground up, redefining Old Town’s role in the community, readjusting the core values, and asking the impossible questions like, “Who are we?” and more importantly, “Why are we?”. I think people can underestimate the magnitude of a full rebrand. Even on the “design” portion alone, it’s more than just a label; it’s menus, business cards, website, signage, retail, packaging - literally everything a company has touched with the old brand. Which is why it’s incredibly helpful to have defined the company, the voice, and the mission, so they can act as guidelines for the visuals.
With the new branding, we created an encompassing list of areas we wanted to improve. The biggest chlallenge for us was strengthening brand presence on the shelf while conveying a better sense of quality and our historic ties to Portland. We also knew that we were going to increase packaged beers from 1-2 releases/year up to 10-12 a year. This is a big jump for a small brewery like Old Town. But it was only made possible because we developed a design system for the labels, where the only things that change between them is the beer information, color, and an icon. Before, we were creating custom illustrated labels for each beer, which would take a month or more to complete just one. Now, we can push out one in a number of hours, freeing up more cashflow to put towards other things like added beer releases, specialty beers, higher quality packaging, etc. And so far, even with just the redesigned labels, we’ve already seen a pretty dramatic leap in beer sales and overall consumer engagements. Which just goes to show the power of a good rebrand.
If you could work with one brewery (other than Old Town), who would it be and why?
Honestly, I think my dream brewery job would be a complete startup where I could pick and choose the team, location, and focus. Sort of like an All-Stars game for beer.
Outside my fantasies, I think Modern Times would be fun. They kind of sell this hip, laid back, party vibe while also maintaining a strong impression that the beer is taken very seriously. I like that. They’re less predictable which makes them more interesting. They use packaging systems, while also tossing out “one-off” can editions that break all of their own design guidelines but it somehow still works. That’s really hard to achieve. Especially in the craft beer market. I don’t really know what more I could help them improve on - they have some of the dopest packaging on the shelves, plus they’ve recruited some of the best in the business; like Simon Walker, lord of the lettering. And if you don’t know that name yet, you’re welcome.
What are you working on now? What is your dream project?
Right now, and basically at all times, I’ve got anywhere from 5-10 projects underway. Here’s a list of what I’m doing currently:
- Branding work for an outdoor apparel company
- Finalizing branding work for an agriculture industry app
- Everything Old Town Brewing (just finished website)
- Video production for a local tap house
- Designing my next font - I loosely built the skeleton of it from a 1972 cayenne spice container I found in my grandma’s cupboard.
- Working on some illustrations that I will be screen printing in limited runs for my shop.
My dream project is always changing because I’m always crossing things off of my “design bucket list”. One item that has been on the list for a while is to illustrate a kids book. I’d also love to work with a proper distillery.
What was the beer that started you down the craft beer rabbit hole?
This is a difficult question to tackle. Mostly because different beers have affected me and inspired me in different ways. I think the beer that made we want to take the craft of brewing seriously - actually understand the process, history, and nuances of beer - was a Kolsch ale by a small brewery here in Portland called Occidental. At the time, I was like everyone else, searching for the hoppiest tongue wrecking IPA - the higher the IBU the more badass you were. But I recall being drawn to these bright solid yellow tallboy cans with a style that i’d never heard of (Kolsch). At first sip I was born again. Baptized in the funky, vinous, golden suds - totally a changed man. That quickly got me down the path of obsession for German-style beer, which lead to Belgian styles, that paved way to English-styles and so forth. It lead to me to appreciate how the geographical importance and history played a pivotal role in making a beer taste the way it does. I think it’s fascinating. It started me down the rabbit hole and I’m perfectly content knowing there’s no exit.
What are you drinking right now?
I’m currently sitting at my desk drinking a nice cuppa English tea with a splash of cashew milk because my girlfriend doesn’t like real milk anymore and I am a supportive boyfriend.
What do you wish you were drinking right now?
A nice cuppa English tea with real milk. Or a Balvenie 30 Single Malt Speyside - neat. I’d also like to try a true ‘New England Style IPA’ from the motherland to see if the hype is real.
You can find more of Jordan’s work here: