Increased engagement through simplified design stuff

Case Study

Emperial Brewing

Emperial Brewing is a personal project originally conceived as an exploration of branding design for beer I brewed and shared with friends. It grew into an open source brewing project for a couple years—where it expanded to incorporate packaging design—but has since returned to being a personal project that I work on as time (and life) allows.



Project Type

Branding, Packaging


Founder, Lead Designer


2011-2016, 2022


After I started brewing my own beer, I quickly decided that creating branding for my brewery would be a fun personal project, and allow me to explore modern branding ideas in a field where design was—at the time—often very traditional and uninspiring. “Emperial Brewing” was born out of this, combining a favorite animal of mine—Emperor Penguins—with the Imperial Stouts I often brewed and shared with others.

In the initial planning phases of the project, I was reminded of the iconic Penguin Books logo. However, I wanted to create something more modern, and less squat. I also admired the design choices of two local breweries, Great Divide Brewing Company and Odell Brewing Company, and used their logos for additional inspiration.

The results of this first phase of design included a stand-alone penguin logo (which I now use for my personal branding), and two Emperial Brewing logos depending on use-case. I chose Futura Condensed Extra Bold for the logotype to balance the weight of the “negative” penguin motif in the center of the round variation and to ensure legibility when printed on standard bottle caps. The rectangular variation stuck with this for consistency, using the weight of the outside border to balance the design.

Along with these, I created a series of “one-off” labels for beer I was brewing and giving to friends as gifts—trying out different ideas and layouts each time.

The Problem

Friends and online acquaintances had been asking for a way to brew the beers I was creating themselves, and to work with me to develop new ones. So, I decided to open source my brewing and design products. However, after I made all my resources available, I noticed that while participants would happily brew beers I had created and suggest new ones, no one was interested in designing packaging for them. It was “too hard.” Either I provided the designs for everything, or the resultant beers would be bottled in plain old brown bottles, with nothing to hint at the deliciousness within.


Seeing this, I hypothesized that the design side of the project would benefit from a more streamlined set of design resources—where participants could use standardized, reusable components to create designs with commonly available applications, and without design experience. This would then allow for more participation in the project, and make it so that I didn’t have to create every design.

The result of my ideation on this was a simplified label design layout featuring the Emperial Brewing logo, a default “background” for use on the main part of labels (an abstraction of a penguin colony that added naturalistic texture to the labels), and a variation of the logo stating the recipe version. This was provided as a template PDF that could be edited as needed. All that a participant needed to provide was a single-color drawing or cutout for use in the center of the label.

Initial versions of this simplified label layout (“Documentary,” and “Muttface”) maintained the single-color aesthetic established with the logo, but later versions incorporated a two-tone background to better highlight the single-color primary graphic for each beer.


The hypothesis that creating the labels using reusable components and limiting the design work required to create initial designs would increase participation in the design side of the project proved to be true. By the end of the open source project’s life, participation had increased significantly, with 17 total recipes in active development—all of which had label designs (which were eventually polished and finalized by me).

The open source Emperial Brewing project ended in 2016 when I ran out of time to maintain it. However, I revisited the logo design in 2022 out of a desire to update it to my current standards. While the basic design components still felt relevant, the overall design felt too heavy. After testing some variations, I decided to use a lighter weight logotype (Century Gothic Bold) and incorporate more whitespace.