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Meet the Swim Creative team

Cody Paulson, senior design director at Swim Creative, and David Sadowski, director of brand strategies, talked in their Duluth office about the design strategy for cans of Bent Paddle Brewing Co. beers. (Steve Kuchera / 1 / 2
Swim Creative has won awards for the work it has done for Bent Paddle. (Steve Kuchera / / 2

The Swim Creative team: David Sadowski, director of brand strategies; Cody Paulson, senior design director

The refrigerator at Swim Creative is packed with cans of Bent Paddle beer. It’s a sign of how much the team here likes the local product.

But when working to design the Bent Paddle can two years ago, no one at the marketing agency had a clue about how the beer would taste.

It hadn’t been made yet.

Swim’s standard creative process teases out just what a client is offering, David Sadowski said. They build trust and knowledge of a product by asking lots of questions.

Sadowski and Cody Paulson knew they were in for some fun after reading the answers to “visioning” questions Swim asked the Bent team. They were frank and showed just how detail-oriented these beer pioneers were, Sadowski said.

He remembers one exchange in particular.

“What values and beliefs unify your team?”

“We are not a—holes,” was the short answer. Further narrative explained the Bent Paddle team wanted to be serious about making good beer but not elitist or remote in how they approached customers.

They knew they wanted a theme of “wood meets steel,” Sadowski said, a paean to the stainless steel brewery and the outdoors. They played with key words, Sadowski said — greens, hops, water, refreshing, blue, earth colors.

A comfort level was reached, that happy place Swim bathes in with its clients.

“We believed in what they were doing,” Sadowski said.

The logo already had been created by Bent co-owner Colin Tonnis, now it just needed to be incorporated into the whole can design. Bent Paddle had four flagship beers in mind for its start-up. Whatever they came up with would be the window into the brewery for a long time.

Swim came up with 20 options in the office. They ended up offering six of them up to the Bent team.

Sadowski had some of the early design options spread out on a table at his office on East Superior Street.

“I look at some and say, ‘I like that one, too.’ But you can only pick one.”

The final agreement came after the two sides met for a full day in a room they weren’t going to leave without an agreement on final designs for the Venture Pils, 14-Degree ESB, Bent Hop and Black Ale.

Sadowski said the Bent Paddle vision was inspiring throughout the work, as well as the efforts of Paulson, whose specialty is design.

Sadowski would see something Paulson had drawn up, and it fueled the collaboration.

“It made me think,” Sadowski said in admiration, he wanted to match Paulson’s work and turn it all up a notch.

Sadowski wrote much of the copy that is on the cans, touting each beer. There are other touches as well, like the “Paddle Responsibly” line framed by two paddles.

“We just threw it on there,” Sadowski said. “Sometimes, copy flows from the gut.”

“Or from the design,” Paulson added.

“We asked, ‘What are the little things we can throw at it?’ ” Sadowski said.

Paulson said the process was all the more fun once Bent Paddle released its beer into the world. They were “seeing the whole process come to life.”

A sign of how the client and agency felt about the experience? Employees at Swim went down to the brewery to help put tops on cans when Bent Paddle was up and running. They needed help, and Swim was more than willing to provide it, Sadowski said. There were beer breaks, after all.

Swim also designed the cans coming out this year, Paddle Break Blonde and Daypack Pale Ale. They had more freedom on the cans since they are seasonal, meaning they aren’t around forever like the flagships.

The yellow Blonde can is what left people asking across social media and in person at the taproom: Who designed this?

“Some have said it’s the best can design they’ve ever seen,” Paulson said.

The key was to keep the base look of Bent Paddle brands but put a twist on it, Sadowski said. They took inspiration from outdoor adventuring, the yellow inspired by maps used to navigate the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. It has a nostalgic yet modern look, Sadowski said.

When Bent Paddle revealed the can on Facebook, that sentiment was noticed and came with comments of “old school,” “classy” and “beautiful.”

Swim is hoping the Bent Paddle work, which has received industry awards will parlay into more beer accounts.

Both designers relish hearing people talk about the cans in a liquor store or at a bar. They smile, knowing it’s their work shining through. Sadowski got a kick out of seeing a Facebook picture of a can perched in snow in Antarctica.

It helps that the beer is great, he said, which explains the six-packs crammed into the office fridge and in homes across the region.

“We’re seeing the same enthusiasm in customers as we did designing it,” Paulson said.