Isaac Alves

D2D 04: Design with Intention: Jessica deBry & Long Live Beerworks

Isaac Alves
D2D 04: Design with Intention: Jessica deBry & Long Live Beerworks

It's no secret that Rhode Island is really, really small.  Despite being the smallest state geographically, "lil Rhody" shows no signs of being held back due to its size.  Providence is a great example of a small city that provides big opportunity.  The capital city is home to the likes of Rhode Island School of Design, Brown University, Waterfire Providence, amazing art showcases, and some unbelievable craft.  If you can look past all of the tourist attractions and big-name venues, there is a beautifully preserved history that is displayed through its architecture, small businesses, and of course, the people that reside there.

You may not hear much about the West Side of Providence, unless people are raving about the high-quality restaurants of Federal Hill.  It's a neighborhood that isn't as polished as the downtown area, located across I-95.  The buildings are rustic, and some of the streets are brick and cobblestone.  There is a different attitude about it all together.  Now home to many small businesses, the area appears to be thriving, and one place in particular is giving residents and visitors a reason to visit over and over again.

Long Live Beerworks is one of those small businesses that has found a home on the West Side of Providence, or as stated on one of their most popular beers, "Wesside."  Made up of a small brewery and taproom, it is owned and operated by Armando DeDona and his wife, Jessica deBry.  Armando brews the beer and works the taproom, and Jessica handles all of the design details for the brewery and label design when they roll out cans.  The two are a super-team in which their talents and passion for high-quality craft shines through in their small-batch beer, taproom experience, and overall brand image.

From the moment you walk into the taproom, you can immediately see that design consideration is at the forefront of the business.  Visitors are greeted with beautiful typography, bold color on the barstools, and an attention-grabbing, entire wall-spanning graphic design mural that pays homage to craft beer and the city of Providence.  Both interior and exterior areas of the brewery have an industrial-type look and feel, which helps balance the bright, bold color.  There is even a 1970's Chevrolet C20 pickup truck parked out in the parking lot to complete the image, which is owned by Armando.  Visiting Long Live Beerworks puts you in a different frame of mind and makes you feel like you are part of the neighborhood.

We were fortunate to have the opportunity to chat with Jessica about her approach to the design work that goes into the various visual aspects of Long Live Beerworks.  Read on to experience our full design conversation!

D2D:   I have been looking forward to this conversation for awhile because I have seen the growth and popularity of Long Live Beerworks rise from the start.  I discovered your brewery and taproom a week or two after you opened, and have been a big fan of the beer, your can and bottle label design, and your taproom space ever since.  The beer that Armando brews is not only amazing, but since you have introduced cans into the lineup, the design aesthetic seems to be a perfect fit for your direction as a brewery, and the space in which you are located.  The design is very bright and bold, yet very organized.  I know that you sell almost all of your beer out of the brewery, but if you were on store shelves, I think your packaging would really stand out among the competition.  How did you and Armando go about creating this design aesthetic for Long Live Beerworks?

Jessica deBry:  Thanks!  One thing you’ll learn about us is that Armando's personality, preferences, and likes completely influence the brand direction of our space and beers.  He loves colors and bold treatments.  We intentionally started super small, and we feel that this is our “incubator” stage.  We have a lot of fun, don’t take ourselves too seriously, and since our space is so intimate, we really wanted to leave an impression; hence the type wall and color use here.  It really gives the space some nice contrast against the production side of our brewery.  It's a manufacturing business, so we wanted to balance that with something fun.

I do all of the design here, and while Armando’s vision runs true, the designer in me is always trying to keep the thread of our brand.  There always needs to be some concept or connection, no matter how playful our beer labels are, especially when you look at the one-off casks.  I try to treat Armando as if he were a client, and let him drive the process a bit.

D2D:  What is your design background?  You mentioned that you have another full-time gig when we spoke earlier, correct?

Jessica deBry:  Yes.  I have a BFA from UConn, and have worked for the last eleven years at a small design studio in Cambridge.  My day job fulfills a different creative angle, and tends to be more corporate.  The design work that I do for the brewery is very different because it can be much more playful, with more creative freedom.  I recently just accepted a design position at Alex and Ani, and look forward to that new opportunity.  It will be nice being down here in Rhode Island, much closer to the brewery and where we live.

D2D:  Does all of that work get to be design overload for you?  Is it ever too much all at once?

Jessica deBry:  I feel that I am comfortable in that I have always been a person that enjoys going back and forth between one type of thing and another.  It allows me to use my brain a little differently.  For now, I am comfortable with the balance.

D2D:  Due to the fact that you have all of this design experience, do you have any design principals or values that you put toward your work each day?  Is there a backbone to your design approach or aesthetic?

Jessica deBry:  I have always been sensitive to the way things look.  That is something that is becoming more mainstream now too.  For example, people like a really beautiful mobile device, or are more conscious about how an app interface that you interact with every day looks.  Even the kitchen cleaner that you use -- now everything is designed with much more intention than in the past.  Our job as designers is to come up with solutions that help tell a story.  Sometimes it's as simple as clarifying something that is complex.  I feel that it is important to find a clear path and system to help create a visual language.  When it comes to Armando and the brewery that's a bit different because there can be a lot of chaos.  Whether it is something new coming up, or wanting to use lots of color, he thrives on not having a set structure and being able to change things up when he wants to.  On the other hand, I love structure and systems, and like to have an underlying continuity.  Even though our labels and taproom are colorful and playful, you can tell there is still intention behind it.

D2D:  I absolutely see that intention and controlled chaos come through in your label design as well as in your taproom.  The color is very bright and bold, but it definitely seems to be more organized and there for a reason -- to help tell that story that you were referring to.

It seems that Long Live Beerworks is deeply rooted in Providence history.  When you look at the labels and the taproom space, you can see that the design aesthetic reflects on your pride of being located on the West Side, and through that use of bold color, and industrial style as well.  Is the city of Providence and its history where you find most of your inspiration?

Jessica deBry:  Both Armando and I are transplants.  When I finished school, we planned to bounce around and move every couple of years.  Our first stop was Providence.  I didn’t go to school here, but I see the value of how the community has benefited from universities like RISD and Brown.  We found home here, and have always wanted to build our business around the community we live and love.  I can walk here from my house.  I pass a bunch of amazing businesses on my way over.  Many of the people running businesses on the West Side live in our neighborhood too. There’s something wonderful about that connection and community.

The industrial lean is two-fold: Armando’s last career was in construction.  He’s an amazing builder and creative craftsperson.  He does a lot of the maintenance and build here himself.  I spend my days on a computer, and I have a love affair with letterpress.  Again, it goes back to that contrast, which also ties back to large, clunky, sometimes un exact machinery. That’s cool you picked up on that.

D2D:  I want to get into some details about your design process now.  Let's say that you and Armando have decided on a name for a new beer that you will be canning.  What is your approach to the project from when you first start thinking about it, to when you need to have a final design finished and ready for print?  Do you start with any hand sketching of concepts?  Do you jump right into Illustrator and work that way?  Describe that process.

Jessica deBry:  Sometimes Armando will have an idea of what he wants the design to look like -- sometimes it will be something random, so I will try to get him to explain the meaning behind it.  For example, he has an unrelenting love for music, so that is a recurring theme that shows up in our beer names.  That casual conversation is usually where the process starts.  Since I work in Boston -- until a couple weeks from now -- and have so much time on the train, I will use that time to start working on some concepts in Illustrator.  I like precision.  I don't see myself as a true artist, so hand sketching is a luxury and something I don’t do too often.  I have more of a passion for typography.  

D2D:  How do you go about matching up the right font and color with the beer names that you choose?  From my perspective, I feel that your design work just seems to go together so well with that.

Jessica deBry:  Thank you!  Many of our beers have short lives, so the exercise can be pretty quick.  Colors and typography are generally open, depending on the project:  For example, a more lasting can label vs. a cask beer label that only lives for one day -- the cask labels can be a bit more playful.  I have a few font families that I lean on for continuity.  For awhile we were playing with more of a grungy aesthetic, leaning on what traditional print-making used to look like.  It ties in with the industrial aesthetic and the machinery that Armando is in to, and just the overall grit of a brewery.

D2D:  How many different design concepts will you develop before you reach a final direction?

Jessica deBry:  The cask labels will be pretty quick, as we put out a new one every Friday.  I might send Armando a couple options, and there usually won't be many edits unless the "ABV" is off, or there is some other inconsistency of content.  For cans I will go through a few rounds of development.  Sometimes my design direction won't completely align with his vision, so that will take more time.

D2D:  So there is a bit more back and forth as you try to refine the concept.

Jessica deBry:  Yes, and that can be tough sometimes because we do not always have the luxury of time.  For example, when we design new apparel, that process takes a long time.  Again, Armando has a very strong vision, which can often take time for me to nail down visually.  We don't like to just do logo T-shirts either.  We like to push designs that are more interesting and something that he would wear.  Armando wears band tees quite often, and I don't wear much printed work.  I like typography and he likes bold designs that are very illustration-heavy.  Illustration is not my strong suit, but I enjoy the challenge.

D2D:  What will you do if you get stuck on an idea, or are not coming to an agreement as quickly as you would both like?

Jessica deBry:  I get stuck all the time, and when you work with someone close to you it's not like working with a traditional client.  I like to act like Armando is a client and I try to provide feedback in a way that makes the dialogue feel like that.  Usually we will go through multiple rounds, and if an idea doesn't stick, we both come back with inspiration to help negotiate what we are looking for.  Again, for me, everything has to connect at the end of the day.

D2D:  It sounds like sometimes it can be a challenging balance of creative power.  Do you feel that you have as much creative freedom as you need?

Jessica deBry:  I have veto power and ultimately have a strong input on how things get visualized because I do all of that work.  However, I do try to let Armando guide the process a bit.  He comes up with all the creative names.  When I design, I think about what would resonate with him.  As a designer, I like working within parameters.  If I opened up a business, I would probably end up with a super restrained palette, just the antithesis of what I do at work and here, and that would be boring.  The joy of design for me is the collaborative process, and arriving at something you wouldn’t have necessarily arrived at, based on the conversations you have with your collaborators.  In this case, Armando.

D2D:   You mentioned not having the luxury of time earlier, so how does your concept development timeline factor into getting the designs sent to the printer and ready for a full canning run?

Jessica deBry:  It usually requires two weeks of lead time from sending the files to getting it delivered to you, unless you are paying for expedited services.  That's about the same lead time for our beer -- from brew day to packaging.

D2D:  So with the amount of color you are using, and the fact that it is at the forefront of most of your design, do you ever have any issues with matching what is on your screen to the printed label?

Jessica deBry:  Because we do such short canning runs, it is all digital printing.  I usually like to see samples from the printer beforehand to see how the materials and color fidelity will work out.  When you work with digital, you won't get that really nice neon green that you see on screen -- I try to set expectations with Armando beforehand.  We have been pleased that everything has been in alignment with our expectations so far.

D2D:  I bet a bright neon color like that would resonate off the label very nicely.  But it is probably much more expensive to produce, given the short runs that you do currently.  That being said, how do you and Armando consider cost as it pertains to the production of your can labels?   Does it ever effect your design approach?

Jessica deBry:  Since we started so small, we have some luxury of flexibility.  I would always rather spend a bit more if it means we will get an elevated look with our printing.  That same thinking applies to other items we sell in the taproom as well.  For example, with our glassware, we try to buy more interesting-shaped glassware than a standard pint glass.  We try to add hits of gold foil there as well because it gives it a more elevated look, despite a slightly higher price point.  It is more interesting and something that I would be more likely to buy.  My next luxury spend will be letterpress coasters, maybe for our one and a half year anniversary, or for a special event.  At the end of the day, we want to spend the money where it feels right to do so, in a smart way that delivers value to our customers.

D2D:  I notice that you have growlers that are not of a typical 64oz or 32oz form as well.  I haven't seen those anywhere outside of this taproom yet.  I really like them!

Jessica deBry:  Yes, they are actually 32oz howlers, but a newer, more stout form.  We like to change things up from time to time.  For the next round we will probably redesign it again.  That is one of the benefits of being married to the brewer (laughing).  I work for free essentially, so if I'm willing to spend the time -- that's the benefit of being able to change something if I want to, and I know that I will have the support that I need.

D2D:  Getting back to your process for a moment -- I notice that Long Live Beerworks has been doing a variety of collaborations recently.  In particular, you had a successful collaboration, "Cereal Milk," with PVDonut.  Does the design process change much when you collaborate with another small business?

Jessica deBry:  For PVDonut I wanted them to feel ownership, so after going through a round with Armando, I sent their team a few options. They ultimately got to choose the final design.  I think its more meaningful that way.

D2D:  And what about the "Firkin Friday" cask labels that you roll out every week?  It must be challenging having to design a new variation with such little time!

Jessica deBry:  For me, having those really quick exercises is a great challenge.  Lots of other designers do things like daily drawings, or an exercise to create something very quickly.  Sometimes those designs will come together in an hour on my train ride home from work on a Thursday.  Those fun one-offs will usually have an element to them that identifies them a little differently, but still feels like it is part of a system to sit with the can designs as well.  You will also notice that most of the designs fall into a hexagonal shape.  That was developed in a way to tie into Armando's time at brewing school in the U.K. because it loosely mimics the format you see in U.K. taprooms, and it also provides a template to be able to change designs quickly.

D2D:  So you can essentially just plug and play.

Jessica deBry:  Yes.  I hardly ever print the cask labels, so I know that I have that shape that I can design in, and can play with different backgrounds.  It always lives digitally on social media, so it can be brighter and more fun, not needing to worry about how it would look printed out.

D2D:  Shifting gears a bit, I am eager to get your thoughts on the recent rise in art and design branding consideration throughout the craft beer industry.  Does that make your job more exciting?  Does it make it more stressful or challenging? Where do you see Long Live Beerworks fitting in?

Jessica deBry:  It’s so exciting.  There’s beautiful design everywhere!  We live in a sharing culture now, so brands that may have never moved beyond their specific location or state now travel because of that sharing community.  We don’t fight for shelf space, we live mostly online, through social media, and on premise.  Moving forward, canning will become more of a staple, and so the designs may evolve further.

D2D:  At the end of the day, what do you want the takeaways to be for your design work, and what type of experience do you want your customers to have when they pick up one of your cans or visit the taproom?

Jessica deBry:  We’re where people come to have a good time.  We are their treat at the end of the day.  It’s such a privilege.  We just want to enhance that with decent design and a comfortable space.  We want to have an energy and casualness.  We’re not pretentious, and even at our super small size, it’s so humbling when people notice the details we put in place. We built this with our own two hands.  Armando built the bar, the brew space, etc. I painted all the surfaces, etc.  There’s a nice ownership of that process.  Eventually when we move to a larger location, we want to preserve that experience, and while we won’t be able to do it all ourselves the next time, we want that original feeling to resonate.

D2D:  I can tell you first-hand that you and Armando have nailed it with the experience you provide at the brewery and taproom.  Your space is small, but so unique.  I really feel like I am part of the neighborhood when I visit.  I think I can speak for many others that would have the same reaction.  That self pride that you speak of really comes through in the design details as well as the overall experience.  It will keep me coming back frequently!

Thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to chat today!  This has been very inspiring and insightful.  You and Armando do great work!

Jessica deBry:  Thank you!

Want to learn more about Long Live Beerworks and experience more of their outstanding design?  Head on over to their web site or keep up to date with can releases, collaborations, and more on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  I would also highly recommend dropping by the brewery for a pint or two to experience true liquid and visual craft.