Sophia Chow is a graphic design student graduating this semester from ACC. Her Kana Whiskey Packaging project was recently shortlisted for the Communication Arts Typography Competition. I met with Sophia over g-chat to discuss her design process and her experience with getting her work out in front of an audience.
Zoe: First of all, congrats on being a finalist in this prestigious competition! How did the Kana Whiskey Packaging project come about?
Sophia: Oh, thank you! I’m flattered. The Kana Whiskey packaging initially started off as a class project in my Design Studio I class. The concept was to create a high-end liquid bottle, and what’s more high end than fancy alcohol?
I knew I wanted to do whiskey because I myself am a whiskey drinker, but I also wanted to create something that was different from what was already out there. My initial research confirmed that whiskey has a history of being a man’s drink, so I wanted to flip the switch. I know a lot of badass boss ladies who love to drink whiskey as well and that’s how the concept came about.
Zoe: I love that! I don’t drink much, but when I do, it’s whiskey. When I saw your design I immediately thought that this is the bottle I would reach for first.
Sophia: Oh awesome! See, many awesome women drink whiskey. It also doesn’t have to be a male versus female thing since gender is fluid, but I wanted to honor those women and honor just… feminine beauty and power.
Zoe: Is that how the idea for the tiger came about?
Sophia: Well, yes. The tiger actually has several meanings. I was searching for a symbol that stood for fierceness and power, and badass. I also thought it paired really well with whiskey, which can be warm, yet fiery, yet soft at times. The tiger fit that perfectly.
They are tempestuous yet calm, warm-hearted yet fearsome, courageous in the face of danger yet yielding and soft in mysterious, unexpected places. Tigers are very confident, perhaps too confident sometimes.
Also, in the Chinese zodiac I am a Tiger. It stands for power and respect in Chinese/Cantonese culture.
Zoe: That’s something that makes this design so unique. I feel like whiskey bottles are always reflecting back on Scottish or European influences, so this design really jumps out because it has different influences. How did you approach the idea of pulling inspiration from something so opposite of what we normally think of for whiskey?
Sophia: Well I actually had a lot of inspiration from the Japanese whiskies out there, but, especially since this is a school project, I wanted to create something that reflected my culture and background, which is Cantonese. I drew inspiration from the Tiger Balm ointment I used often as a child but wanted to elevate it to become more high-end.
The name Kana is actually a Japanese name. It’s a gender neutral name meaning powerful. So I wanted to follow the Asian inspiration throughout but make it Cantonese instead.
I also love meshing seemingly opposite styles together like vintage and modern to create something new and fresh.
Zoe: Now I need to google Japanese whiskey!
Sophia: You need to try Japanese whiskey if you like whiskey. They’re all so good and subtle. I recommend Suntory whiskey to start haha.
Zoe: Awesome! So this design was shortlisted for the Communication Arts Typography competition. How did you approach choosing the typeface?
Sophia: Choosing the typeface was a long journey actually. I went through several iterations where I tried out different typefaces. Most of the high end whiskey bottles out there are using a fancy serif typeface because I guess that screams “high end.”
I tried the fancy serif, I tried the modern sans serif look, and I even tried a psychedelic typeface at one point. I was initially also looking for a vintage looking typeface.
All in all, I ended up choosing a thin sans serif typeface called Tropican. It had a lot of cool ligatures and looked clean yet fancy in a subtle way. Also the ascenders and descenders looked really nice.
Zoe: Yes, I noticed that, especially on the “Citrus Rye” label around the ‘u’ in citrus.
Sophia: Yess. I think that’s what made me fall in love with this typeface
Zoe: So would you say that that’s your typical design process? To try lots of different iterations until you land on one that you like?
Sophia: Yes, my way of designing is that I literally spit out a bunch of terrible designs until nice ones start coming out, haha. I feel like I always have so many ideas that are completely different from one another. I just have to create them to see how they’d look outside my own head. Then I can examine and think about what’s working and what’s not and narrow my decisions down slowly. It’s a long process but it works for me.
Zoe: I relate to that! Sort of like you have so many different possibilities, and you need to explore each one to see what works best.
Zoe: So once you were happy with the design, what motivated you to submit it to the CA Typography Competition?
Sophia: Actually, my teacher at the time, Lisa Haynes, suggested it to me. I didn’t even know about these competitions, but she saw the potential in me and my design and encouraged me to submit it. I’m forever grateful to teachers like her.
“It encourages me to put myself out there to show others (and my inner child) that someone who looks like me can also be celebrated.“
Zoe: That’s awesome that Lisa encouraged you to submit! What was the submission process like?
Sophia: I had to put my whiskey bottles in a nice mockup, all flavors in one photo and then write a short blurb about it.
Zoe: Were you nervous to send it out to be judged?
Sophia: Hmm… nervous? Not really… Is that bad?
Zoe: Not at all!
Sophia: I was more excited than I was nervous. I feel we need more teachers out there who encourage students to share their work and be proud. I’m also in Portfolio class right now, and we are learning about how as a graphic designer or artist in general, it’s really important to share your process more than your final product. You never know who might learn from your struggles, or learn from the lessons you’re currently learning, or learn how everyone has a different process.
I’m an introvert at heart so I know what you mean about being nervous to put yourself out there. But the more you do it, the more you’re like… “oh, this isn’t so bad”. I try to think of it in terms of anyone can learn from where you are right now. Also, I find it encouraging when people who look like me are celebrated, so it encourages me to put myself out there to show others (and my inner child) that someone who looks like me can also be celebrated.
I’m honestly super honored and flattered to even have someone suggest I put my project in a competition. For someone to notice my talents felt great no matter the outcome.
“It’s really important to share your process more than your final product.“
Zoe: That’s awesome! What advice do you have for other students who want to get their work out into the world?
Sophia: My advice for other students who want to get their work out there in the world is just to get their work out there in the world! We’ve got so many platforms to share your work.
Post your process, not just the final outcome. Write about what you’re learning about. Write about what you’re struggling with. Offer advice to help others. Share resources. Just put yourself out there and be generous with your knowledge.
Zoe: I love putting it in terms of being generous. It kind of takes the focus off yourself, which helps, I think!
Sophia: Yes! And also have fun 🙂 haha.
Zoe: Sophia, this has been a delight. Thanks for making the time to chat with me! Where can folks find you?
Sophia: Yes, thank you for chatting with me. It has been a pleasure.