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Elements x MARK Studio | The Ritual of Packaging

It’s time for the next instalment of Elements, a feature forming part of Graphic Design Month through which we’re taking a closer look at a few of the many sub sections of graphic design. Rather than do this ourselves we’ve enlisted the help of true experts; designers whose practices centre on one particular facet, and we’ve tasked them to select and discuss one project from any country or era that epitomises the craft for them. Last week Nicole Dalton shared some thoughts on one of her favourite examples of branding: the beautiful CI by Anagrama for a building in Mexico. Today we’re hearing from the guys at MARK Studio.

MARK Studio Graphic Design Month

Craig Keown and Frederick Peens founded their graphic design studio, MARK in 2010 with a name that indicates their ongoing mandate to ‘make a mark’ (and humbly save the world from average design while they’re at it). One manner of achieving this, they believe, is a collaborative approach that ensures the process is just as rewarding as the final product. Working from a studio space in Hout Street, Cape Town, one of MARK’s focus areas is packaging – take a look at their tongue-in-cheek concept packaging for Underpantones or the fresh design they did for Nuttall Jam – making them ideal to tackle an Elements on packaging design. Here’s what they chose and why:

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Talk about a difficult question? Well for us, choosing one piece of stand out packaging that epitomises great design and is exceptional in every way would be like asking a parent to choose their favourite child.  

A few years back we stumbled upon a real design innovator within the alcoholic beverages market. Stranger & Stranger is a UK and New York based design agency which specializes in packaging and branding. Known for their eye-catching bottles and original labels, these guys truly embody the concept of craft in every sense of the word.  

So, the outstanding “child” we’ve selected is…Absinthe No.12. This piece forms part of an ongoing celebratory Christmas series to showcase their distinctive creativity to only a select few, which means it’s not available for purchase. Each year the studio produces shameless self-promotional packaging (to inspire) for a short production run of spirits. In 2010 the spirit came in the form of the Green Fairy.  

Stranger & Stranger - Graphic Design Month 2  

There are many reasons why we are drawn to this limited edition bottle, having been described as both angelic and devilish. It’s true to say the devil is in the detail.   Packaging deals with a physical object and its size, feel, and functionality can be just as important as its visual communication. For us packaging should have moments that form part of a ritual.  

If we were ever lucky enough to receive one of these, this is how we imagine it would be. Receiving a DHL package marked “MARK Studio”. The excitement and anticipation of opening the parcel to be met with a carefully bubble wrapped tube. The black tube not revealing any of the secrets that await inside. A beautifully detailed tamper seal providing the first clue that there is something special inside. With a crack and a tear, the lid pops off and you find an eye staring back at you. The unique bottle fills your hand and from then on out it’s a visual overload!  

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Nectar, bitter-sweet – like the last kiss on the lips of a discarded mistress, is the secret charm of my existence; green as the moon’s light on a forest pool it glimmers in my glass; eagerly I quaff it, and, as I drink, I dream.” Marie Corelli, 1890.

The ornate detailing in gold invokes the spirit of late 19th century Paris where you might find Oscar Wilde sitting in a darkly lit Parisian bar with this very bottle.  

The label is a showcase of traditional printing techniques like die stamping and blind embossing, done on pure cotton fibre paper to enhance the physical pleasure of holding the bottle. This gives the pack its authenticity and premium cues. The design is dense yet delicate, packed with subtle messages to compliment the company’s ethos; “After one glass, you see things as you wish they were.”


Beautifully crafted typography and intricate ornamental filigree embelish the centre piece of the main label paying homage to a past era.   The label size cleverly maximises the available branding real estate to enhance the visual impact.  

The combination of traditional Sans Serif and modern Serif Typefaces (old and new) work in harmony to create something contemporary. Costs are kept to a minimum by utilising only two printing plates: black, foil and an embossing block.

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Stranger & Stranger if you’re reading this, please add us to your Christmas list! Every creative should live by your mantra “DON’T FIT IN, STAND OUT”. Keep up the great work.  


Keep an eye on MARK’s website for a whole lot of new projects coming soon, find more Graphic Design Month features on 10and5.


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