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Inside the Studio: Thirst

by Shawn Binder on 09/30/2019 | 8 Minute Read

Thirst all began with a sip of frothy, craft beer, and the recognition of beauty. 

Before meeting his business partner, Chris Black, co-founder Matt Burns was a one-man band, starting back in Sydney, Australia where he developed a passion for craft beer. He was searching for a way to merge his two passions, design and craft beer, but it wasn’t until he moved to the UK and met Black who worked at a brewery in Scotland that things began to come together. 

The city of Glasgow inspired the pair to expand their business, and they found inspiration in the ornate and historic architecture of Glasgow, something Burns felt you couldn’t find in his native Australia. Inspired by the creative hum of the city that pushes artists to meld their passions, they put their minds together to make an agency that could specialize in craft beer. Eventually, the craft beer work they were doing bled into spirits, and other beverages. Thirst was born with the idea that there is nothing more rewarding than being able to hold a designed product in your hand. 

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On the cloudy afternoon that I speak with Burns over Skype, he points the camera down to a busy Glasgow street. It is 5 o’clock, and Matt directs my gaze to a pub adorned with black paint and pillars that give it the distinct appearance of a bank. “Happy hour?” I asked him, checking my notes, prompting me to inquire about Thirst’s company culture.  

“The team is conducting an in-person briefing,” he smiles, knowing how the intersection of work and play defines his agency. 

Launching four years ago, Thirst’s new studio is a departure from their old, and a testament to how business is booming. 

“Half-empty fridges look sad,” Burns teased. 

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Thirst Craft’s previous studio located in the Templeton’s Carpet Factory building, is a 25-minute walk from Glasgow’s city center and perhaps the city’s most recognizable building in the city (seriously, it’s wildly beautiful, check it out). But the one-room studio could no longer accommodate Thirst’s needs, so after completing a cheeky redesign of the beer brand Brewing Monster Beer that featured the iconic Nessy in a new way, people began to take notice of the agency. As a result, the need to hire more designers and expand came about. 

The new studio space is stark white, beautiful, and has a flow as stunningly designed as Thirst’s work. Matt and Chris begin our tour in the conference room, which features a conference table for taking client meetings and calls, as well as a gallery of past work. 

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Leaving the conference room, the largest space of Thirst’s studio features a mural with the company’s main mantra adorned on the wall reading, “Creative rare, commercially right."  

“We want to make work that is stand-out and disruptive," said Burns. "With everything we design, we want to push the boundaries of drink packaging, but we don’t want to create work that looks cool just for the sake of being cool. We’re in the business of selling drinks, so when we design something, it needs to be commercial in the sense that it solves a problem for a client."

Open floor plans are becoming more common in creative design agency atmospheres, and Thirst brings that same sense of collaboration to the 13 full-time designers they employ. But most importantly, they're a firm believer in hiring designers who specialize in their craft. “Being obsessed with drink packaging is probably the biggest thing we look for in our hires,” said Burns.  

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“We don’t work with too many freelancers because it’s difficult to truly immerse yourself in the industry if you’re only stepping into it every once in awhile,” said Burns. The studio founders keep their employees immersed in their field of expertise by doing weekly Show & Tells. Providing a loose framework prompt, the team will search for inspiration and share their findings for things such as small-batch Whiskey distilleries in North America. It’s an exercise that builds a sense of ownership and pride in their work.

Similarly to the Show & Tells, Thirst every quarter assigns three team-members to the culture duty where they’re in charge of planning and executing team-building exercises that can range from team lunches to off-site activities.  

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And where does most of the in-house bonding occur? Near the bar, of course! 

No, not the pub down the street; one of the most charming parts of Thirst’s studio is the bar and community table that bookmarks the office from the conference room. But it's not for knocking back pints.

“We figured if we were designing for the beverage industry, we should have a space to try out the product, and, furthermore, see how the designs looked on a bar shelf, and how they stand out from other designs,” said Burns. 

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The beautiful bar features Thirst’s branding and an impressively stocked fridge filled almost entirely with Thirst’s designs. The large industrial grade fridge features a colorful array of beer and spirits, a testament to all of their beautiful, hard work. 

“Half-empty fridges look sad,” Burns teased. 

The bar is not just for letting loose or testing product, it is where the team has daily morning meetings, and where people can enjoy lunch together and shoot some darts to blow off steam. 

"With everything we design, we want to push the boundaries of drink packaging, but we don’t want to create work that looks cool just for the sake of being cool. We’re in the business of selling drinks, so when we design something, it needs to be commercial in the sense that it solves a problem for a client."

The last room is a large ideation meeting spot, with lots of natural light. A large section couch wraps the entirety of the meeting space, allowing for the entire team to join into brief brainstorms and share their ideas. As part of company culture, Thirst makes it a point to take their employees off-site for an in-person creative brief, that way they can immerse themselves in a brand’s story and begin to think about how to approach a design. When they do finally meet in the brainstorming room, Burns encourages an environment where no idea is silly, and everyone gets heard. The chance to get out of the office allows employees a chance to sit with a brief before making design suggestions; the result is higher-quality work that is both thoughtful and precise. 

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Although the studio is still relatively new, at about four years of age, Thirst’s upgraded office shows just how far the agency has come. They’ve long outgrown the days where people would need to take conference calls during brainstorm meetings, all in the same room. 

“The general flow of the studio is really nice, from the ideation room to where the designers are actually on Macs, to when you want to be on a phone call. It’s spacious, relaxing, and the bar area is a great place to display our work and drink the products that we create,” said Burns. The resulting space is beautifully designed to allow people space to think, to ideate, and to execute designs that are unique and thought-provoking.  

The furnishing of the office is decidedly minimal, so as not to clutter the space or disrupt the flow of creativity. “We worked with an interior architect who helped with the schematic and vision of the place," said Burns. "We wanted these areas for idea generation and how we wanted our work to flow. We drew up a plan, and then we had all the furniture custom-made for the space."

And while the work Thirst does is stellar, their office houses more than just brilliant minds behind some of the best drink packaging on the market. Hunger, their new sister agency launched back in June this year, seeks to disrupt the food industry in the same way Thirst tries to disrupt the beverage industry.  

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Bot agencies share the same space, which doesn’t seem to affect the two verticals. “Hunger was founded on the same specialist principles as Thirst - a strategic food packaging design agency that builds creatively rare, commercially right brands. By being specialists, it allows us to immerse ourselves into the industry and help navigate opportunities to create brands with true stand out,” said Craig Robertson, Client Service Director at the agency. 

As Hunger expands, Thirst may find itself in tight quarters, but for the time being, the shared space has been a benefit to the agencies. “The long term goal is for Hunger to grow into its own studio space. However, by sharing the same space, it initially allows us to share culture and creativity. The food category is incredibly exciting, and knowledge sharing between the teams is great for inspiration and industry awareness,” said Robertson.

Thirst has established itself as a formidable force in the design community because they are keen to listen to both their employees and clients. Their office space, in the heart of Glasgow, shows their dedication to finding inspiration from all around them, and it is the perfect size for such a specialized team. 

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Thirstcraft is an agency born from a love of drink and design; their specialist team works across all elements of brand strategy, design and execution, from powerful positionings right through to flawless finishes and anything in between. “We pride ourselves on not having a house style, but rather applying ourselves to each brief individually with a fresh perspective grounded in our complete obsession of the industry,” said Robertson. 

As we closed out the interview, my mind couldn’t help but wander back to the pub where the team was hard at work next door. To an outsider, it seems like a fun outing between coworkers to share a cold one and close out the day; for Thirst, the visit means business. 

For these spirit lovers, inspiration in their new studio is only a sip away. 

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