CODO: Craft Brews Made Better

Written by in Color & Texture, Packaging, Profiles

Good in Theory.  Better in Practice.

CODO’s Craft Beer Branding Guide available in print from Neenah.

One would least expect that an intellectual theory would inform the name and approach of one of the nation’s leading branding and design studios for the craft brewing industry. Like CODO’s work, its name exhibits intentionality and purpose, not caprice or whimsy. When it comes to designing brands for the craft brewing industry, these dudes are seriously sober minded, bro.

Context over Dogma” = CODO

Only a few days after founding partners Isaac Arthur and Cody Fague graduated from Herron School of Art & Design, CODO opened for business. Recalls Arthur, “Herron’s visual communication program focused entirely on Design Thinking rather than the more traditional approach of conceptualization, drawing and computer skill training. Our heads were filled with design theory. A quote from notable industrial designer Chris Bangle stuck with us: ‘Think Flexible. Be Flexible. Context over Dogma.’ That wisdom shaped our creative approach and our business model.”

But the partners soon learned that being 23-year-old new business owners throwing around words like “dogma” to potential clients wasn’t really inspiring anyone to hire them. “So,” Arthur adds, “while it’s an important story for us, CODO quickly became more of a short, likable name than a hard-charging mantra.” In other words, “don’t ask, don’t tell.” They soon turned to something more age appropriate: beer.

But the partners soon learned that being 23-year-old new business owners throwing around words like “dogma” to potential clients wasn’t really inspiring anyone to hire them. “So,” Arthur adds, “while it’s an important story for us, CODO quickly became more of a short, likable name than a hard-charging mantra.” In other words, “don’t ask, don’t tell.” They soon turned to something more age appropriate: beer.

CODO partners Cody Fague (left) and Isaac Arthur


Isaac, Cody and their colleagues at CODO came to Neenah’s attention during its release of the new BELLA LABEL, a line of craft beer bottle label stocks. “We were looking for a credible, experienced creative partner that would help us communicate the durability, flexibility and aesthetics of Bella,” says Neenah’s Jamie Saunders. “When we started looking at work, we saw CODO’s name popping up everywhere.” What sold Neenah on them was CODO’s intelligently designed and written Craft Beer Branding Guide. “We liked it so much, we partnered with CODO to create a print version of the guide that we could distribute to label and package designers everywhere,” says Saunders.


Collaboration, Not Fiat

Given CODO’s unspoken mantra of placing “context over dogma,” the studio’s creative philosophy centers on putting collaboration at the forefront of everything. CODO doesn’t impose its voice on clients; CODO helps clients find a voice. “We believe our work is better when we include our clients in the creative process as early and intimately as possible,” says Arthur. “That said, we also wanted to make sure this guide book wasn’t a chest thumping advertisement about us. We wanted it to arm someone with zero marketing or branding experience with the knowledge and steps needed to build their own successful brand.”



WhonPhoto_CODObook019By championing the value of design expertise in general, CODO provides both brewers and designers a valuable and objective gift they can use to become effective business partners. CODO makes an essential point in the guide that any designer will find helpful when pitching new business: Don’t mistake your home-brewed strategic brand positioning as an excuse to hire inexperienced designers. “You need great strategy and content, sure, but brewers should partner with quality designers to help them develop their branding and visual language.”


Every case study and image in the book is CODO client work, including some of studio’s favorites: Big Lug Canteen (Indianapolis, IN), North Pier Brewing (Benton Harbor, MI), 450 North Brewing (Columbus, IN), Fernson Brewing (Sioux Falls, SD), Carmen Beer Co. (Playa del Carmen, Mexico), Backward Flag Brewing (Forked River, NJ) and Wooden Bear Brewing (Greenfield, IN).

WhonPhoto_CODObook020Production Values Persuade

For this article, says Fague, “We chose projects that best represented the subject matter. Big Lug Canteen, for example, has a thoroughly developed brand identity system, with several logos and dozens of individual icons, while 450 North is a great example of how best to position your brewery. The bottle label swatches at the end of the book—printed on Neenah’s BELLA LABEL—are all representations of how a label stock can make or break a particular design.

Neenah did not have to convince CODO that fine paper and high production values distinguish brews on a crowded store shelf. “We believe that production of the label, packaging and online experience is as important to brand reputation as the final product itself,” says Isaac. “We used to laugh when someone would spend a ton of money on branding but only 10 bucks on 500 business cards.” Design quality is critical, he says, “but if you have a label stock with tooth, texture and performance in the beer cooler, people notice. If you go cheap on label paper that doesn’t hold ink well or slips off the bottle the first time it gets cold, it is unlikely someone is going try your beer no matter how good the logo or the taste.”

CODO x Kros Strain Brewing


CODO Mood Boarding 1

CODO’s clients today come from places all over the country and, increasingly, the world. You do not have to be a snowboarder from Boulder to develop a great label for a craft brew from the Flatirons. Still, brewing and market knowledge must be acquired for a designer to earn a craft brewer’s trust. They are the type who can smell B.S. 10 miles away.

CODO Office Wall

“Beer trends come and go quickly,” Arthur notes. “Traditionally, craft breweries positioned themselves off the big macro brewers. Now, you’re seeing small guys rush to get a foothold in whatever’s the latest craze, whether that’s a juicy New England IPA, a sour beer or, perhaps ironically, a perfectly brewed lager.

“For us, the distinction comes from the brewer’s story and perspective. You can’t create that. You have to draw it from them through close collaboration and trust building. Don’t get in the way of great story. But put yourself in position to tell it right.”

If it were simple, anyone could do it. CODO might make authentic branding look easy, but it rarely is. Read more from CODO about craft beer branding trends here.

CODO Coaster

NEW CLASSIC CREST® Cover IMPERIAL RED e 100C (270 g/m2) 12.5pt | FSC® certified
Printed 1C (Pantone 1795U) + GWF Foil 134 (Matte White) + Die-Cut + Blind Emboss + Score and Fold

CLASSIC CREST® Text AVALANCHE WHITE e 80T (118 g/m2) 5.8pt | FSC® certified
Printed 4C + Aqueous Coat

Creative + Design: CODO Design; Indianapolis, IN
Branding Guide Printing: Faulkenberg Printing Company; Franklin, IN
Label Sample Production: Fey Printing; Wisconsin Rapids, WI

Branding guide images by Chris Whonsetler, Whonsetler Photography

Labeled as:
  1. 04
    megan rold said:

    would it be possible to get a copy of this amazing book? i have a designer that does a lot of work for local breweries and i would love to give it to them.
    mailing address:
    field paper co.
    713 SE dalbey drive
    ankeny, IA 50021

    thanks so much!

  2. 04
    Matt Porter said:

    I will send request to Neenah force. Also, go to Neenah paper.com and send request for your sales rep contact. They can get them to you too. Thank you. Editor.

  3. 04
    Matt Porter said:

    I sent your request to a Neenah representative today.

  4. 08
    Pat Vining said:

    Would it be possible to get 18 copies of this book for my Branding & Advertising Class? I would be glad to pay for the postage.

    Thanks so much!

  5. 08
    Matt Porter said:

    Please reply to this reply and give us your name, school name, class name, and mailing address. I will then forward your kind request to the appropriate person in distribution at Neenah Paper who can help you. If there are ample copies remaining, I am sure they would be willing to help — but you can speak to them via email after I get the info requested. Thank you for your interest in the CODO/Neenah book! Matt Porter, editor of Against the Grain