Frank Norton

Art Director at Boulevard Brewing Co.

“It’s important you don’t just look to everybody else to see what style should I be emulating, where is a cool place to work, what should my work look like. It’s more like what do I feel fulfilled doing? What speaks to me? What do I like making that makes me feel like I’m doing something good with my talent? And I feel like it’s different for everyone.”

THE JOURNEY: Tell me about your design career so far.

Well, I went to Missouri State in Springfield. That’s where I built my chops. I majored in illustration and graphic design. I moved to New York during the summer of 2008 to intern with Luba Lukova. It was a good experience because I got to see how an entrepreneur worked and how an illustrator did a day to day thing. My first job I got on with a small design studio in the Crossroads who just had a few main clients like Payless and Tivol. They were kind of a branding studio, but they did a lot of print advertising so they needed a lot of photo retouching. That’s was what I did for like a year – retouching jewelry and shoes and stuff. They were nice, but we lost our biggest client, so I got let go. I met with small studios like Design Ranch. I think they felt like I would fit in with their culture. I got along with their team really well. Then I worked there for like three years. I worked with a really solid team and became good friends with everybody who worked there, just good relationships. We all fed off of each others’ creativity, but gradually they went off to do other things, and I got the itch to kind of try something new. I found an opportunity to go to Fire Engine. They didn’t have much of a reputation anymore, so they asked me to come in and help restart it and find its creativity direction, which sounded exciting. I worked there for about a year, but it just didn’t jive. I had this crisis like, should I move to New York, should I move to Chicago, or San Francisco? Should I try to find a city that would give me more opportunity, or should I try to make new opportunity here? And then I started thinking about what things make me happy. I need to try to infuse some things I know a little bit about or care about. At the time I was getting really into craft beer, and I really liked that Kansas City had Boulevard, which was kind of a unique part of its culture.

Bald Knobbers Image
Spook Light Image
Howler Image
I feel like I have kind of multiple personalities with my aesthetic.
THE LEAP OF BEER: How did you end up at Boulevard?

Since I was getting really into beer and packaging, I tried to hit Boulevard up and see if they needed anyhelp. At the time they didn’t, but I did some side projects with their creative director and that became a cool relationship. Then when they started getting more work, they started canning and needing more design backup, so I started freelancing for them. I was working pretty much full time hours for six months, and they offered me a full-time gig. I’ve been here for the last almost two years. It’s kind of a mixed bag now. Some design front work and production, but also balanced with more creative fun work like packaging design.

Heavy Lifting Beer Image
PROCESS MAKES PERFECT: How do you and your team at Boulevard go through a project from start to finish?

Well, usually we start with naming. Presumably we’ll have the style of the beer, and that’s the interesting thing about beer. Every beer has a story inherently behind it. So like, a Scotch ale for example, is a certain style of beer and it’s tied to a culture – so Scotland, and there’s all of this stuff that can inspire you about the style.

We try to have names that have some sort of clever or humble whit behind them. Brent Anderson is very good at language, so he usually takes the lead on naming.

Payton Kelly and I will work on sketches. We’ll do thumbnails, so we have the name, and we do research based on what is the style, what is the intent behind this beer. Is it seasonal? So if it’s meant to be a summer release or a light beer or a fruity beer, we try to make it clear in the packaging. If this is a yard beer we don’t want it to sound really dark and imposing like “Sledge Hammer” or something like that, and if it’s very seasonal or if there’s fruit in it, we want to convey that you’re not going to get a very hard hitting hoppy beer. We need to showcase what makes the beer unique.

Visually, how can you tell that story? I always try to think about communicating internationally. Like, what if somebody doesn’t speak the language or know what the style of beer is? Making sure that the imagery and design convey the beer, even if it’s the color palette – which can be kind of obvious – but a light bright color palette can suggest a certain flavor.

Last year I spent a year teaching at the Kansas City Art Institute, and I taught a senior class on branding and identity and we did a beer project. The main thing I hit on was how you have to adopt this sense of synesthesia, which is where you can see and hear color. You can taste music. All of your senses get jumbled up, because when you’re just looking at packaging, you can’t taste what you’re looking at, but there are these visual cues that can kind of give you a sense of that.

We try to be sensitive to that without over thinking it. What I’m saying really sounds like we’re overthinking it, but at the same time it’s like you want something that’s quick and immediate that has personality. So the other qualification is for it to fit under Boulevard’s aesthetic, which is kind of humble, unpretentious, something kind of Mid-Western workman vibe about it. We try not to go heavy metal. Some breweries it feels right for them to have this hard heavy metal or old world European feel. Like, we’re from Missouri. It started in 1989. What feels authentic?

So after we do a lot of thumbnail sketches, we try to boil them down to our favorites, and then we bring those designs to fruition. Then we share them. Then we share them with our colleagues here and we try to narrow down to one, and then that one gets produced. That process is a lot faster than you would think.

It can’t just be for money, because if it’s just for money then you’re not really bettering yourself.
Sundry Image
Sundry Image
BETTER YOURSELF: Are you still taking on freelance work?

Since I don’t need freelance to survive, or to eat, I’m trying to only take projects on that I get excited about. The longer I work, with each year I realize that my time is more valuable. Spending it on art or a side project or, you know, spending it with your friends or doing your artwork – that time is valuable. So to always be working can kind of burn you out. It can’t just be for money, because if it’s just for money then you’re not really bettering yourself.

IAA Branding
IAA Branding
You have to adopt this sense of synesthesia, which is where you can see and hear color. You can taste music. All of your senses get jumbled up.”