Caserne on what makes their fun-filled portfolio stand out from the crowd
Equally capable of pulling off socially-conscious design work and humorous stunts, we talk to the creative directors behind the Montreal-based studio as it celebrates its tenth anniversary.
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- 16 May 2022
Caserne is not your average studio. It’s blessed with a particularly mischievous sense of humour. In the past, it has been known to pose itself as a hoax brewery and for one of its latest project, the studio packaged real carrots as if they were hot dogs. From the moment Ugo Varin and Léo Breton-Allaire joined forces as Caserne’s creative directors: “It was clear that we wanted to differentiate ourselves from the very serious and impersonal tone of the design studios that surrounded us in Montreal,” says Caserne’s founder Ugo.
While Ugo and Léo met in university, it wasn’t until a few years later that the pair united again to work together. Ugo founded the studio in 2012, approaching Léo in 2015 to join him as a creative director. In these early stages, Ugo was racked with a strong feeling of impostor syndrome; “I have never had any agency experience”, he explains. But over their seven years as a team, the duo have found their “true place” as creative directors, slowly building an inspiring space – “both mentally and physically” – for their colleagues to work in. Their biggest lesson, says Leo, is that: “There are no perfect recipes for carrying out a project. We must listen and have the ability to adapt.”
A large part of the studio’s success comes from fostering a youthful, fun-loving work environment which naturally attracts talented designers. The studio’s hoax to pose as “Caserne Brewing co.” for a night is a perfect example of how it does this. Opening its own Brasserie was basically a “pretext to organise a huge party in our new studios”, admits Ugo. But Caserne never does anything half-heartedly. Along with giving out tons of beer outfitted in its own packaging design, the studio pushed the brand “in all possible directions” with videos, posters, clothing, bags, oversized bottles and coasters.
Self-initiated projects like this are crucial for the studio to maintain a “relaxed” working environment which naturally breeds spontaneity and innovation. “In the case of the brewery,” says Léo, “we had tested things in augmented reality and it had taken us far out of our comfort zone.”
Interestingly, Caserne’s beer-themed practical joke made the studio the perfect fit to deliver the visual identity for Club – a kombucha drink disguised as beer. “They really wanted to dissociate from the competitive environment that used holistic / yoga / hippie codes”, says Ugo. So the team began dreaming up ways to present Club as an alternative to alcoholic drinks. Caserne’s solution was to design a logo that nods “to the logos of old beer brands” and incorporates this into a brightly-coloured and modern design system, reflecting the light freshness of the kombucha drink and the “vibrant” side of the brand, he continues.
Becoming increasingly adept at packaging products as things they are not, Caserne decided to step it up a notch with one of our favourite projects in its portfolio – Carrot Dogs. If you can have kombucha that looks like beer, why not a carrot which looks like a hotdog? For this project, the studio scrapped all references to healthy food and turned instead to the fast-food industry for visual cues. Wrapped tightly in cellophane and emblazoned with juicy white typography, the carrots look just like a glossy package of frankfurters – a sure way to get your kid to eat one of their 5-a-day.
With all this ingenuity in the realm of deception and mischief, it is impressive to see the sincerity with which the studio approaches the more socially-conscious commissions in its portfolio. One such example is its visual identity for Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR), an NGO dedicated to improving the rights, protection and well-being of refugees and migrants in Canada. The challenge for this project, says Léo, was “to build a resolutely human identity, without having to show the refugees themselves”. Caserne pulled off this tricky brief with style, creating a neutral yet versatile logo inspired by Canadian modernist symbols. The logo evolves and transforms throughout the graphic system to represent a selection of CCR’s core themes, providing “a logical and non-compromising solution for the organisation,” says Léo.
In the future we can expect to see this multi-talented design studio focus its attention on more socially-conscious projects like these. “We want to value projects that have strong and promising missions, regardless of their scale,” Léo concludes. “It is important for us to invest our time in organisations and companies that have a ‘true purpose’”.
Caserne is a design studio known for its sense of initiative and entrepreneurship. For 10 years, our clients throughout the world have entrusted us with their most audacious projects. From that trust stems our determination to turn ideas into action and create iconic brands that drive their industry forward.
Caserne: Carrot Dogs (Copyright © Caserne)