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Vancouver firm Ambient redesigns beer labels for Full Sail’s rebranding

A local graphic designer’s work entered the limelight after he redesigned labels for five beers sold by Full Sail Brewing Co.

The Hood River brewery’s new designs are now on bottles, cans and tap handles that rolled out in 25 states.

Steve Cross, 41, owner of Ambient, nabbed the deal with Full Sail in October after networking with the local brewing scene for years.

Cross said his use of social media was a key factor in getting Full Sail’s attention for Ambient’s design work.

“I started a social media Instagram account that’s beer-centric,” he said. “It was a way to reach out and have connections to the beer industry. I’d make a post about someone’s beer, and they see you’re promoting their product for free. I would also do live interviews with breweries.”

Cross got a call in August from Sandra Evans, Full Sail marketing manager, asking for a portfolio. He assembled one that day and sent it over. Evans wanted him to make some mock-ups for one of Full Sail’s most popular beers, an Amber Ale, and Cross said he was shocked. Evans said that Full Sail “wanted to work with a local creative who is deeply engaged in beer culture.”

“In my mind, you’re like, ‘The Full Sail Amber? The flagship of the Northwest beers?’ ” he said.

In October, they reconnected. Evans told him she liked the designs, and she wanted him to rebrand five beers.

Cross went to work at his home office to designing the body label, neck label, crown tops, 6 pack, 12 back, 24 keg case, keg collars, tap handles, swag, hats, hoodies and shirts.

“There’s a lot of work that goes into rebranding,” he said.

The look Cross was aiming for was a more contemporary design that “didn’t want to be your Dad’s beer,” he said.

“It’s minimal, modern, but still hangs on to the legacy of the 30-year-old brand,” he said. Each of the five beers had similar styles that made them “look like a family,” he said.

Evans wrote in an email to The Columbian that the packaging and beers “focus on local and — of course — ridiculously tasty. They are all complex and balanced, and we think people will gravitate to our lineup for that reason, and we hope the new design will also attract new customers who maybe haven’t tried Full Sail before.”

About three months ago, Full Sail distributed the newly designed products around the country, which offered another benefit for Cross. Showing his work off for his parents.

“My parents live in Arizona,” Cross said. “My mom will go to the beer aisle and take a picture of Full Sail and send it to me.”

Cross began his design work while at Portland State University, where he’d borrow his roommate’s laptop to play around on Photoshop. He co-founded Ambient in Vancouver in 2009.

During the pandemic, Cross said, business evaporated almost overnight, so he began offering design services to companies for free.

“If they die, I die,” he said.

But as companies realized that rebranding their product or service was a good way to stay ahead during the pandemic, business began to pick up for Cross.

“They’re having to learn how to market without people talking to them,” he said. “It’s been busy.”


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