Straight out of design school, Scott Larritt and Adam Lana launched their design studio Swear Words in 2003. The duo had two clients and “no money but quickly got really good at frisbee and making two minute noodles.”
Things turned around for the pair when they were hired to work on a branding project with marketing agency Dig. Dig’s clientele includes an ever-growing list of food and beverage companies and Swear Words soon had an increasing list of jobs and had lesser time with the frisbee.
13 years on the studio expanded. Today Swear Words is made up of Scott Larritt, Tom Clayton, Audrey Mailhot and Maegan Brown – all of whom believe in creating emotional connections and building everlasting brands.
The crew at Swear Words have a straight-talking, no frills approach to everything that they do. While their approach may be casual, their branding and packaging is far from the everyday. Some of their notable work include their packaging for Gage Roads Brewing Co. that was shortlisted in last year’s Create Design Awards and their identity work for Who Gives a Crap that won hearts and bums amongst others.
desktop checks in with the studio to learn more about the team, its approach and what makes it tick.
desktop: Firstly, what’s the story behind the name?
It took us a long time to come up with the name. We just weren’t happy to settle with “studio…” or “…design”. Somehow the name needed to reflect our personality and desire to create a more approachable culture. It needed to be memorable but not kooky and hopefully have a deeper meaning if should someone want to find it.
Swear Words are the spoken exclamation marks in language, they convey deep emotion and somehow transcend meaning and grammatical classification. We liked this as a metaphor for the effect our design might have on an audience – something that gets noticed and creates an emotional connection.
Thirteen years on what we didn’t expect is that our name would become such a strong brand-communication device. It connects us with the right clients, attracts the best staff and never fails to start a conversation.
There are four of you behind the studio. In what ways do each of you contribute and how do you work together?
The studio structure is pretty loose with everyone pitching in on the various tasks required to move a project through the studio. Scott and Audrey head up the client side of the business with Scott also assuming the Creative Director role. Tom runs the design side of the studio alongside Scott working in the infancy of a project to develop strategy and concepts. Maegan works with Scott and Tom to generate concepts and perfect everything that goes out the door. Collaboration is a big part of Swear Words and one of the most exciting and rewarding parts of what we do allowing us to broaden our offering and work with some of the best photographers, artists, copywriters and marketing professionals in the world.
You do work from print to branding and packaging across sectors such as arts and culture, hospitality and retail. What type of project excites you the most? Why?
Any project that brings something unique to the market and is concerned primarily with quality are projects we can believe in, stand behind and be proud of. They are products or services that we would use ourselves and their owners share ethics and philosophies similar to our own.
Creating brands for these products that provide real benefit is immensely satisfying. Deep down we like to help good people do good things because good things deserve to get noticed.
How do you approach a brief?
In an ideal situation, we spend as much time as possible with the client, immersing ourselves in their world to really understand the brief. We recently flew to Vancouver just to spend 4 intensive days with a new client – we came away with invaluable insight about their brand and even better, gained two new friends. For us this discovery phase is the most important part of establishing the ‘why’ of a brief and a business in general.
Next, together with the client, we look at potential brand applications, assess priorities and decipher wants versus needs. Importantly during this phase, we use our experience to identify opportunities to provide our client maximum value. For example; perhaps there’s an existing generic package that can be easily manipulated to create something unique and ownable, saving that budget to develop an EDM template or another application that we’ve identified as a particularly-effective brand communication piece for the project.
Take us through your design process using one of your projects as a case study.
The Zonzo Estate rebrand is a great example of a really collaborative and rewarding process. Rod Micallef is the owner of this stunning Yarra Valley vineyard and function centre and an intense and passionate man, fully invested in everything he does. We spent a lot of time with Rod on his property and in the studio, establishing a strong bond and a trusting relationship.
We knew Rod wouldn’t be happy with a good design solution, he wanted something great. Something that captures his passion and commitment to his business, a solution that takes risks but is easy to understand. We were shit-scared during the initial presentation precluding the reveal with “You’re going to hate this, then you’re going to love it!”
The dynamic 3D typography and energetic layouts of early 20th Century European poster art inspired the wordmark and its erratic placement which is unique for each application. Zonzo translates to ‘wander’ or ‘take a walk’ which is the sentiment we have imbued into each application. The brand gives a nod to the cues of premium wine but also attracts a younger audience with a restrained, sexy colour palette contrasted with foil to add a bit of bling.
The hot air-balloon application was incredibly important to us. Tom went up in one for ‘research’ which proved invaluable for discerning which colours and scales actually work. Before the flight, our designs looked very different to the finished application so it was a vital piece of intel. Tom snuck his soon-to-be girlfriend on the flight which also proved to be highly beneficial…
Our process began with a comprehensive understanding of the brief, presenting a concept that challenged our client, and ended up with a mutually beneficial relationship built on trust and value creation. So far we have delivered; art direction for three photoshoots, two hot air-balloons, custom wine bottles and boxes, digital concept creation, match-books, wine glasses, menus, the Yarra Valley race course signage package, and lots more to come.
What challenges do you face as a design studio and how do you overcome them?
We’re lucky enough to work with amazing clients who represent truly fantastic products or services. However they’re often small businesses who’ve just started a new venture so budget is typically the most important consideration. Being allowed the opportunity to execute concepts to their full potential is our dream, however this is seldom the reality. With 13 years in business, we’ve become really close to our production suppliers so we have a few tricks up our sleeve. There is almost always a much cheaper way to produce something for 90% of the effect but it takes real production nous to identify these solutions.
What’s in your work playlist?
We use Spotify a lot for our studio music particularly the discover weekly playlist (current one here). Also a bit of Soundcloud and Mixcloud for background music. The selection is really diverse and eclectic except for the consistency of Tay Tay Fridays just before we head to the pub for lunch.
What’s next for Swear Words?
Currently we’re working on some really fun projects, including re-branding and packaging for one of Melbourne’s best craft breweries, digital for one of Melbourne’s oldest vineyards and a brand refresh for our new coffee pals in Vancouver. We’re also planning a few passion projects of our own which gives us a chance to apply some really cost effective small-run packaging ideas we’ve been experimenting with. We’ll always be Swear Words but intend to continue to pursue clients beyond Australian shores and expose our brand to a wider audience.
See more of Swear Words’ work here.