Capturing the blend
A data driven brand identity for Hennessy V.S.O.P., with John Maeda and Kaki King.
What happens if a design legend and computer art pioneer, an experimental musician and an information designer join forces to create the brand identity for a 200-year old product?
Last year, I've had the possibility to take part to an incredible journey: creating and developing the brand identity for Hennessy's V.S.O.P. Privilege 2017 Limited Edition.
Hennessy - the world famous Cognac producer - has a history dating back to 1765 when the company was founded by Irishman Richard Hennessy. Initially an eaux-de-vie trading business, Hennessy is today the most successful Cognac exporter in the world, part of the Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy Group.
For the 200 years anniversary of their V.S.O.P. limited edition, Hennessy contacted design and technology legend John Maeda with a challenging brief: how to translate the harmony of the blend of over 60 eaux-de-vie and the story of its making into a unique brand identity?
As testament to the enduring expertise of the Hennessy Master Blenders, V.S.O.P. presents a natural balance of strength and smoothness and a complex texture that is hard to describe through words.
This is why John decided to make a radical experience: he enlisted a data visualization designer (myself) and an experimental musician (the guitar hero Kaki King) to create an even bolder blend.
During a visit to Cognac, he began to grasp the alchemy of making cognac. “Suddenly, it all made sense to me, as if by magic. I needed to make my own blend, but out of unique people. It was a high-risk project, and I’m grateful that Hennessy trusted my instinct.” He here adopted the role of symphony conductor, a nod to the role of the Hennessy Master Blender, whose job it is to maximize the potential of hundreds of eaux-de-vie by blending them to their fullest expression.
As described in the video above, John envisioned a visual dialogue between mine and Kaki’s hands to create the base artwork for the identity, a symbol of the craftsmanship and the manual labor that goes into creating V.S.O.P.
Inspired by the atmosphere she absorbed on a 3-day immersive trip to Cognac, Kaki started to compose and record musical phrases that embody the spirit of what she saw, learned and felt.
Once she got back from her trip, Kaki and I analyzed and “measured” her spontaneous creation and turned it into data by observing both the music itself and how Kaki’s hands move on the strings and across the fretboard.
I was interested in creating a visual system to translate this very human set of data into a visual code that retains the “flavor” of the musical composition and of the places that inspired it. And also possibly to integrate this set of rules I was creating, with important bits of Hennessy’s history, to provide a more layered and complex rendition of the history and texture of V.S.O.P.
An important visual reference that characterizes Hennessy and V.S.O.P. is the chalk calligraphy that is always present on aging barrels.
In the brand identity, this bit of history has been used as inspiration to create visual elements that represent the way Kaki plays her guitar.
In particular, the instructions that teach how to draw each letter of the alphabet can be abstracted and used to illustrate Kaki’s hand gestures — frets, hammer- ons and pull-offs, slides, taps...
Single strokes from the cursive alphabet have also been isolated to create abstract elements that will be used to connect multiple beats, becoming sinuous arcs that are very commonly used trait in V.S.O.P.’s branding
My work is translating numbers into images, but it is also understanding the context for these numbers, and sometimes even finding out where I can see and find data, what is the material (data) that I can use to tell my stories in every different context.
In this collaboration we explored a visual representation of numbers most human and intimate aspects, reconnecting them to their context and to what they stand for: people, stories, art.
The following last part of the article presents and explain the passages and structures to create the data visualization of Kaki's song, and constituting the new brand identity for Hennessy's V.S.O.P.'s 200 years anniversary.