Realization as a First Step: Taking Designs from Concept to Completion
by Theresa Christine Johnson on 08/15/2017 | 7 Minute Read
By: Brandi Parker, Head of Realization, Pearlfisher New York
“The details are not just the details. They make the design.” - Charles Eames
As the Head of Realization for our New York studio, I am often told, “Wow, that’s an amazing job title…what is it you do?” Even as you read this now you might be wondering what Realization is and why this should be an important factor to consider when choosing an agency partner.
Realization is a broad disciple, crossing print expertise, material innovation and structural considerations. My team is here to protect our design intent throughout the full design process—from conception to completion—ensuring that what ends up out in the world is exactly what our team and clients expect. We’re there to realize the design, all the while keeping in mind our client’s budget, timeline and production constraints.
For the Realization team, it all starts on day one: we are present and briefed at the same time as the rest of the team. Why is this integrated process so important to the way we work at Pearlfisher? Because our team takes the questions that might be expected at the end of the project, and brings them to the table right from the start.
Does our client have budget for the materials we have in mind?Where are the boundaries?Can we come up with a new and more sustainable way to produce this?
Pearlfisher prides itself on never showing a client a design that can’t realistically be created within their set parameters. My team can hold our studio to this standard because we speak with printers and manufacturers at the beginning of a project, and use that knowledge to work in parallel with design throughout the project. Separately, this gives us leeway to innovate or push suppliers, as we have the luxury of a full project timeline rather than just a few weeks at the end.
Realization is at its most potent though when clients see and use our team as true creative problem solvers, enabling bold, progressive design for Challengers and Icons. Some of our best designs have come about when we found an unexpected solution within a mess of parameters. We’re most proud of the projects that required innovative materials, unexpected production processes or completely new ways of working. That is exactly what made one of my favorite projects—for Wild Turkey Master’s Keep—so unique.
Wild Turkey, an iconic Kentucky-based bourbon, came to the New York studio with a (seemingly) impossible request: a new design for their hero bourbon that would honor the premium spirit inside and infuse the offering with desire, while keeping to a tight budget and an even tighter timeline. This meant starting with a stock bottle, or one that had to be picked from a catalog. Typically, with an upper mark such as this, or limited edition, the instinct is to create a custom bottle—but there was no time for that. Always game for a creative challenge, we were thrilled to be chosen for the task.
Master’s Keep is a special and symbolic spirit for Wild Turkey, one which required an equally unique design. In an exciting move for the brand in 2015, Eddie Russell joined his father, Jimmy Russell, as a master distiller. Wild Turkey fans waited to see how Eddie’s first limited edition offering would imprint his experimental approach on the typically traditional brand. True to form, he pushed the boundaries of bourbon by releasing a 17 year-old aged bourbon, going against his father’s infamous belief that bourbon is best between 8 and 12 years old. Dubbed Master’s Keep 17 Year Old, the spirit needed a design that would pay tribute to the brand’s rich heritage while modernizing it to reflect the new experimental blend.
In bringing our creative strategy, “bold, spirited conviction,” to life, our Design team created a concept that freed the turkey by removing it from the label and incorporating it instead into the glass structure of the bottle—quite literally breaking free to signify the importance of Eddie spreading his wings. We all loved it, but knew that figuring out how to bring this to life on the bottle would be a real challenge.
True to form, my Realization team and I had been interfacing with Design through critiques and were available to discuss challenges during presentations to the client. Behind the scenes, we’d connected with the glass manufacturer to begin problem solving well in advance of the approval point to move into final phases. Since this concept was the most complex (and most loved) of the array of concepts, it made sense to focus on it.
We had pushed the supplier to allow for a “superficial revision” to the mold, which meant we could take the chosen stock bottle and apply an embossed decoration to it. The original concept was too complex to build directly into AutoCAD. The size, location on the corner of the bottle, and organic nature of the turkey couldn’t accurately be captured on the program. We had to troubleshoot how to create the bottle until we found, what is essentially, a new and untried method for creating a mold.
Dating back to the old days of bottle-making, days when bottle designs were hand-carved in wood or clay to convey intent and from which to take castings for molds, we built on this method and brought it to life in the modern age through the digital medium. In partnership with our Visualization team, we “sculpted” the bird in the glass digitally, setting up various methods for translating to an output that the glass manufacturer could use.
This meant a few additional steps to the “traditional CAD to machined mold” approach. Once a basic mold had been machined, the mold was then hand carved further, to fine-tune it, rendering each detail individually. A complete CAD drawing does not exist of the bottle today, which is, in glass-speak, incredibly rare. Though labor intensive, we created something that honors the traditions of sculpting glass design within a modern medium. The unexpectedness of our process mirrors the process by which the spirit inside came to life as well.
The iconic bottle sits proudly today on shelf, paying tribute to the brand, while bringing the modernity of Eddie’s new vision to light. It is a first of its kind and we’re certain will hold a special place on the shelves and with Wild Turkey fans and collectors. It certainly holds a special place on mine.
By joining the project in the beginning and in parallel with our Design team, and thus with our clients, and their suppliers, we creatively problem-solved in real time, and nimbly with every new consideration. We were able to start with a stock bottle, and make it special and uniquely ownable for Wild Turkey. Had we been separated from the workflow, this design would never have been brought to life. There simply would not have been enough time, flexibility in the process, or enough knowledge to challenge expectations.
By understanding parameters as a first step, we are able to successfully deliver on our promises to clients. This is obvious, but is often overlooked by agencies that either outsource production or Realization, or simply don’t have that team brought in at the right time.
Brandi Parker, Head of Realization, Pearlfisher New YorkAs the head of New York’s Realization team, Brandi is the common thread between the creative vision and the technical expertise of project execution. A passionate innovator, she draws on over 13 years of design experience to help ensure that Pearlfisher’s designs come to life in ways that exceed both designers’ and clients’ expectations. Constantly inspired by new technologies and capabilities, Brandi loves to experiment. She brings an infectious excitement to the forefront of her workflow, nurturing the strength of the team with ideas that push the boundaries of traditional production. When she’s not leading Pearlfisher's Realization team, Brandi's passion for the industry extends to nurturing new talent as an adjunct professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Brandi’s love for music is tangible and a passion she loves to share – she composes multi-instrumental scores and has released numerous albums.