Do Curious

james helms
4 min readMay 31, 2023

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A pretty typically atypical product photograph from Celestial Beerworks

I got the opportunity recently to see how one of my favorite instagram account’s content is created. Celestial Beerworks, in Dallas, is my kinda place. Co-founders Matt and Molly Reynolds, and their team make outstanding beers — most notably (to me) a specific breed of Hazy IPAs in an impressively creative variation of recipes. AND Molly’s package design is quite simply some of the coolest graphic design out there. AND they have a devoted following that keeps the taproom packed on weeknights and weekends.

So great. So weird.

But their Instagram feed is — epic. Messy and weird and ethereal and cool. I’ve been gradually getting up the nerve to invite myself to one of their photoshoots — and a few weeks ago I reached out, cold. I was unsure how that was going to go, but their Social Media curator ( Creative Director Molly, I’d find out) responded “Hell yeah!” and gave me a time and a place.

Product Design is half the battle — and these cans are just… kickass.

Some quick backstory: I spent the first fifteen years of my career as an art director/creative director. Many of my clients were in the food and beverage industry. Many of those were beer brands like Miller Lite, Red Dog, Molson, and Icehouse. I spent hours, days, weeks, months of my life on some very serious sets with thousands of dollars of lights and equipment. I worked with some photographers who spent 1/2 a day setting up a single shot. And I also worked with a few that were light-packing, run-and-gunning experimentalists. But I have never quite seen what I saw today.

A fly-on-the-wall role at Celestial Brewery’s weekly photoshoot

First of all — there was a dog on the set. And a baby. And Molly and photographer Sara Morton worked quickly. So damn quickly. Everything was handheld, naturally lit, quickly designed and improvised. They grabbed whatever they could get their hands on (including me, poorly manicured hands and all) to build quick compositions and … try stuff. Handful of sprinkled star glitter. Pouring beer into a glass, onto the table and — SHIT! Onto the floor. Grabbed a trashcan and dragged it over just in time, while continuing to shoot away.

The woman with the plan — Co-founder and Creative Director, Molly Reynolds

So why was this so important to me? Mostly? Because I was curious. Why WAS this instagram account so compelling? And for me — true curiosity means — “Well? Go find out!” So that’s what I did. I put myself out there — into a vulnerable situation where I didn’t know what to expect. And I was rewarded by learning so much about who they are, how they do what they do, and what their ultimate goals are.

If you’ve been to the taproom, it becomes obvious that “the set” is everywhere.

Part of the design process is like that. Good design research is “active curiosity.” It’s taking uncomfortable risks to get a better view of what’s happening. And 100% of the time, you get to debunk some assumptions.

Giant prop room? Nope.
Sophisticated set lighting? Nope.
Hours of prep and styling? Nope.
Take after take? Nope.

The prop cart. Brimming with glitter and an assortment of experimental textures and colors.

Instead:
Align quickly on an idea
Start simple. Build.
Keep it fluid.
Don’t overthink it.
Move on.

Simple. Weird. Beautiful.

To be clear. Molly is a STELLAR designer. Her package design is testament to that fact. And Sara has chops as a professional photographer — she’s worked on some pretty grueling work for clients like Major League Baseball. But their love for their product and their process was evident. And they were having fun. Remember fun at work? That may have been the biggest takeaway of all. THAT is the reason I love this instagram account. Because it takes the weird, wonderful, fun kind of design I fell in love — and it just punches me in the eye. But — you know — fun.

It pays to Do Curious. What are YOU curious about?

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james helms

Design Leader, Advisor, Speaker, Student, Advocate, Enabler.