Making Beer Beautiful: An Interview With VSA Partners' Pete Barnett

From Mango Mosaics to Vanilla Porters - these designs are as delicious as they sound.

With detailed graphics and eye-catching typography, VSA Partners recently unveiled their latest work with Colorado-based Breckenridge Brewery

AdForum sits down with VSA Partners' Associate Creative Director, Pete Barnett, to learn more about his creative process and what really goes into designing beautiful packaging.



First things first, what is the best part of your job at VSA Partners?

Really, it’s the incredibly talented people. Every day I’m learning from my peers and am motivated by the knowledge and passion everyone has for the work. Solutions don’t come easy, and having a smart, motivated and strong team makes those challenges fun and rewarding when you conquer them. 


When you were first approached by Breckenridge Brewery, what was an aspect you knew least about? What did you have to research to better prepare yourself for this project?

PB: A lot of our research was spent on the history of the various styles of beer, looking at typography during those eras, and pulling reference images. We also dug into the Breckenridge Brewery’s history and spent a lot of time with the client—getting to know them and their vision for the brewery was really the most important part in helping us craft a story for each beer and the overall look. 


What makes the packaging for Breckenridge memorable to you?

PB: The vastness of the landscapes portrayed really draw you in. We were able to use the space on the packaging to its fullest, so there’s a really warm and inviting feeling on each pack. The illustration also has quite a unique look, with tiny details in the scenes that you may not notice at first, giving the viewer more to discover with future interactions. 


Among the gorgeous Breckenridge bottle and can designs, which one (if any) is your favorite?

PB: My favorites right now are Agave Wheat and Mango Mosaic. The Mango cans especially turned out pretty amazing. It was quite a task trying to get the illustrations down to just a few colors for a really clean can printing, and the result is more than we could have hoped for. 


How does beverage package design differ in approach versus other food packaging design?

PB: For beer, in particular, you have to keep in mind that there are a lot of different forms (think: bottles, cans, 6-packs, 12-packs…), which can create interesting challenges. You have to achieve a consistent look across the whole line. You can imagine how involved the process is: Taking a full-color illustration down to just 6 colors on aluminum and simplifying the design to hold up on that medium. 

What does your creative process look like?

We usually start with a large team participating in a massive brainstorm and image dump. Once we develop a few core ideas, we begin narrowing it down and start tackling a basic architecture for the whole line. From there, we focus the majority of our time on concepting and sketching — we hone the idea until taking it to final illustration. Each step of the process we work closely with our clients so we are sure the design encapsulates their vision and brand in the best possible light. 


What advice would offer young professionals who are looking to pursue a fruitful career in design?

PB: Don’t let barriers and hurdles get you down. Careers can take unusual twists and turns and sometimes you hear a lot of criticism, but the best thing you can do is to keep striving for what you want and where you want to be. And, don’t be afraid to reach out to people you look up to for advice. You’d be surprised by how many kind and responsive people there are in this industry, big and small names alike.