Act of Treason brand creation by Sam Lachlan at Red Dot Studio

The Australian project “Act of Treason” involves the cultivation of 600,000 agave plants imported from Mexico and planted near Australia’s Airlie Beach, emulating the tropical and conducive climate for agave growth similar to that in Mexico. While the product cannot be called “tequila” due to geographical indication protections, it is instead branded as “Australian agave spirit”. Part of the proceeds supports the Whitsundays environment, adding a positive twist to the brand’s rebellious image. The farm also serves as a tourist destination, offering tours to understand the production of Australian agave spirit. We had a chat with Sam Lachlan, Creative Director and co-founder at Red Dot Studio about the project and to find out more about his design world.

Design that's easy to understand and hard to forget

Sam Lachlan

“If you look into the details, you’ll spot mini maps of Mexico and Australia in the dirt…”


Can you give us a bit of an insight into the brand and it’s creation?

We love the name “Act of Treason” because it’s got a real edge to it. The fact that the plant was taken from the Mexicans; you can imagine some sort of deal at the back of a truck to get all of these plants over to Australia – quite an incredible story! The logo’s got a cool twist, literally – the agave’s turned upside down, making it look like a sneaky dagger right under the name, giving it a treasonous feel. If you look into the details, you’ll spot mini maps of Mexico and Australia in the dirt, plus some lightning bolts in the agave’s roots. So we absolutely love these little Easter eggs that are hidden within the logo and identity. It was quite an International project, we sketched this all up in West London and then we worked with a Belgian illustrator called Mathilde, who lino cut the logo and then hand printed them. We sent the prints over to Australia for approval and now they’ve got the prints on their wall in their office. What I loved about the print side of things, is that when you go to the agave farm, it’s real sort of dirty hands, proper tools, doing things properly; it’s not a world of computers and PDFs; so we just love that we’re creating a logo and using mediums that are similar to the farm work and a lino cut just felt right for this project. There’s something just nice about thinking it up, getting your hands dirty and I love the fact we’ve got a proper lino cut plate for it. We’re excited about taking the logo and building a brand world out of it, where we start to have a bit of fun with that with that tone of voice “sorry not sorry” and “thanks amigos”, that sort of tongue-in-cheek, playing on the story of “treason”, but the reality of doing it with a philanthropic story that’s proudly Australian and creating a new liquid that hasn’t been seen before; so it’s a world first!



What was the core message that you wanted to communicate through this brand’s identity?

Australian agave. We’ve got it up big and proud on the front of the label; that’s the USP. So to tell the story of taking the plant from Mexico, raising it in Australia. I think sometimes when you’ve got a really interesting story like that, don’t fight it and don’t get in the way of it, celebrate it and bring that to life.


Can you describe the client management and feedback process?

It was a lot of fun, actually. I think it helped that we went over there and had had a good week drinking with these guys in Melbourne, talking about where they wanted to take it was just a fantastic way to work. I formed some great friendships with them over there. I think the only downside with this was the late night calls. Often we’d be presenting to them at midnight, our time, because you’ve got to get 10 people on their side on a call and you’ve completed your working day here in the UK. That was the only real challenge, but to see their faces when there was something they liked, was all worth it. There was something great about us being a tiny design agency in West London, but we’re working on this incredible project and presenting to these guys in Melbourne that just felt fantastic. There’s a lot of negativity around virtual meet ups and Zoom calls but for us, the fact that we were having presentations with people in Australia once a week, was incredible.



Were there any challenges that you had to overcome trying to bring the brand to life?

One challenge is that growing agave plants is quite a long game. This project is two and a half years long; it’s probably one of the longest projects I’ve worked on. We started the project really early and then fine-tuned the work over two and a half years, which was perhaps too much time.


Do you have any rituals that you do before starting a project?

Getting around the table and really discussing the brief is always a great way to kick off the project. If there’s an opportunity to go to a gallery, or visit the factory, if it’s something that involves manufacturing. I think just immersing yourself in that product and the world around it is absolutely key to getting the work right. We’ve worked with a handle company and going up there to see how those handles were made was just a brilliant experience; a great way to understand their company and what they need to communicate. So, I think really understanding the brand and what you’re working on is key.


What kind of benchmarks do you use to gauge the success of your projects?

I think for me there are two things. Creatively, I want my peers to be jealous of our work; I want to do work that gets acknowledged and talked about, for people to see it and say “I wish I’d created that”. Then another aspect of it is, helping people with their business, so I think there’s a commercial element to it as well. We love the team in Australia and we want to produce something that really helps them grow their business; it means that they can employ people in the area and ultimately our work gets seen more when it goes further.


What started your journey in the creative industry?

My Mum was an art teacher, so she could probably see that I was, I was never going to change the world with my literature, or my maths. So she gently steered me in the direction of art and would often take me to galleries and would encourage mark making. I think from an early age, I absolutely loved drawing and painting, and I actually wanted to go into sculpture when I was 15 / 16. But my Dad suggested moving towards a job that might mean that I don’t have to live off baked beans for the first 10 years of my working life.

How do your team push past creative blocks, internal disagreements etc.?

Ooh, okay. I think the team are really good at gathering lots of information from lots of sources and once a month we all go to a gallery together. So I do think if you can do as much creative homework as possible, stay wide -eyed and collect as much stuff as you can, like a magpie, hopefully that gets away from the creative blocks. In terms of disagreements, I feel like the team work well together about collectively getting round work and feeding back in an honest and respectful way. So you sort of have to leave your ego at the door a little bit when you put your work on the wall. I think that’s when you get the strongest designers and the best work, when you’re open to your work being challenged.


Could you share a pivotal career moment that has led to your current success?

I mean success is a strong word but I think I did a placement early on at Turner Duckworth and I think that was really formative. I sat opposite Bruce Duckworth, the owner of the company, who we still meet up with today; he comes in to the office to mentor us, check the quality of our work and steer us in the right direction. I think the environment that he created at Turner Duckworth was one that I just wanted to work in; the fact that when you went in there, it felt like everyone was really into their crafts. They were listening to music and there was just like a really great atmosphere of a team of people working together, respecting each other’s art, discussing what makes work better, really scrutinising a brief and having fun with their work at the same time. So that placement at Turner Duckworth was a real breakthrough and I sort of managed to hang about there long enough for them to give me a job and spent the first five years of my career there.


How do you feel like the creative landscape has changed?

I think the pace of projects has probably picked up. I can remember having a little bit longer at the start of my career; we’d have to scan lots of things in and we’d spend lots of time at layout pads. We still do that to a degree but I feel like the pace of projects and life has generally sped up. Sometimes, I think it’s worth holding a client back by saying “actually, if you want a brilliant piece of work that’s timeless, an extra week would give us the chance to have that creative play, really push the brief and come back to you with an edit on our concepts.”. There are ways of working now, if you’re using the right mediums and programs, you can get to the answer quicker and sharper, but I think it’s important that that idea is there in the first place – and I think that’s the bit of time that is important that we ring fence. So the game hasn’t changed, but the timing and the applications you use to get there has.


If you had the opportunity to rebrand any global company, which would it be and for what reason?

I really love it when you get the opportunity to make a difference, so working on huge, successful brand, I’m not sure I can add loads of value there. We absolutely love it when we take something that’s sort of forgotten about or needs a lot of love and give it a dusting down to reinvent it. So, I’m trying to think of something that that doesn’t look great at the moment, something that’s lost its way. Do you know what? I’m not a fan of the Arsenal football crest. I’ve got an Arsenal season ticket and it’s not good enough. It’s a bit cheap, the typography and the crest. I’d quite like to work on that!


“…there’s a bit of mess being created and there’s some background music and it feels like art school.”


What advice would you offer to budding creatives aspiring to break into the industry?

I think finding a creative environment where you can express yourself and find joy in the turning up to work every day is the key. I did a few placements early on in my career and I went to one place that didn’t have any music, was really serious and didn’t feel like fun and as a result, I didn’t do very good work there. So, I think if you can find that environment that’s right for you; for me it’s somewhere that there’s a little bit of mayhem going on, there’s a bit of mess being created and there’s some background music and it feels like art school. I think if it can feel fun like that and you’re getting paid for it, then win-win, happy days. If it feels like a horrible, sterile work environment, I’m not sure you’re gonna produce the best work.


Have you ever had a wild or extraordinary concept for a brand that was brilliant but, unfortunately never saw the light of day?

I mean, there are loads and loads of projects / ideas that haven’t happened and it’s normally because of the budget.  I’m quite lucky in the fact that some of my mad ideas have happened! When I was at The Partners, we got the opportunity to produce a teapot for Queen Elizabeth II that was diamond encrusted; 10 of them were made and went to auction. So that was like an absolute mad idea and because of the size of the business, it got made, which is incredible.



In an alternative universe, where you weren’t in the creative industry, what profession would you do and why?

Hmmm now if ability wasn’t an obstacle, I’d either be opening the batting for England at cricket or I’d be central midfield for Arsenal, I think.


If you were a brand what would your slogan be?

Funny you should ask as we’re working on a slogan at the moment at Red Dot studio. We’re testing this one “design that’s easy to understand and hard to forget”. It’s a bit of a mantra for us at the moment; we strongly believe that the best work communicates.


During a tea break, what are you dunking?

Oh, great question! I quite like to dunk a biscuit and a Twix works well.  Jaffa cakes are very important to our business, the printer can run out of paper and ink but if Jaffa cakes are running low, then there’s hell to pay.