Anchor & Orbit: All Tapped Out

Emily Katz in Issue 8. Photo by Laura Dart.

Emily Katz in Issue 8. Photo by Laura Dart.

Hi Sarah,

I am an artist and illustrator who has dabbled in graphic design and home design. My partner recently started a brewery with his brother and a third partner, who was brought in to help with the financial end. The two brothers have always had a fun, creative vision and I was never worried about the taproom design or logo process until we actually got down to it.

Initially, I wanted to help with both logo and taproom design as I was confident that I could turn their personalities and spirit of brewing into visuals. I soon came to realize that these three men, all have very strong, differing opinions on the ‘look’ they want. The challenge is that they could not verbalize their desires and could not come to unanimous conclusions. Getting to the bottom of visual work with one person is difficult, but with three it is impossible.

This has been going on for months and I’ve tried all sorts of ways to hone in on the process including making a ‘lookbook’ and meeting one-on-one. Generally, I feel that they should be giving a designer (either me or a professional) the trust and respect to pick what he/she knows would work best for the business (not necessarily what they like, but what the customer would like). All projects have been either been put on hold for later due to disputes or settled in the middle resulting in a flat, boring look, including their logo!

I would love to step back and let someone else work with these guys because I care too much to let them fail over lack of design consideration. I mean their product really is amazing!

Thanks so much for any advice you can give.

The Fourth Wheel


Dear Fourth Wheel,

I commend you for putting yourself right in the thick of it and caring so much to help your partner and their team find solutions. Business partnerships are complicated. If they cannot move forward with this simple task and learn to let go of their ego, embrace imperfection, compromise and prioritize the business’ best interests (i.e., their customers), they will fail before they even begin. If the team cannot figure out how to divide and conquer, they will find this exact complication at every single turn in the business, and that kind of distraction will lead to failure.

Branding is significant, but it will not make or break this venture [I will now hide under the desk as all designers fling their keyboards at me!]. The actual core aspects of business take much more effort, thought, and fear. Which is why people like to take their anxiety out on the “brand” and design. I assume they won’t and cannot compete by price (no one can really compete with the commoditization of big industry beer). So, they are going to have to lean on the few assets they have within their control: quality and variation of the product; sales strategy'; internal systems; customer service; an intimate understanding of profit margins; and—last and least—design.

Branding is significant, but it will not make or break
this venture.

What does branding do? A brand and good design will get people in the door (and their attention) and helps you gain industry respect. But, if your product speaks for itself, then the branding will not matter in the long run. The opposite is true as well - there are plenty of garbage products and businesses out there with great brands. In regards to beer, across the board, the brand and design of the tap room never indicates whether or not the beer will be good. But! Good branding and a beautiful space can help customers make a choice between two places.

Here’s the real deal: I fear that the “brand” problem is code for a bad situation. That this team is stuck in this conflict and that they’re having a hard time moving forward in this simple task are worrisome signs. I have something to say about this third partner who is there to help with the ”financial side” but seems to get in the way of decisions: get rid of him. That person signed on as a support role; to take what the visionaries have created and leverage their financial assets to help them succeed. He needs to step back and let them work, or he needs to leave. Long ago a mentor taught me that “those who seek control lack talent.” It seems that this third person needs to enforce their power, just to have a voice, even when it’s not the best move for the business. On the spectrum of problems, this is an easy one, so imagine this dynamic when there is a truly tough problem in front of them. Each person on that small, essential team should do everything in their power to push this project forward, not slow it down.

As for you, Fourth Wheel, it’s possible that you will have to step away from the project and be the business owner’s partner and not the designer. I don’t think you’re the reason this project is sputtering, but I’m not sure you’re helping either. So, lead by example! Step away to let them work. As you know, there’s a shift in people’s psyche when they pay “an expert.” Expect a fire in their bellies to not to drag it out forever because, money.

No matter how much they like each other, especially the brothers, if they continually negotiate small decisions rather than assigning specialties and trusting in the others’ abilities, they are in for a long, resentful relationship - in and out of the tap room.


Sarah Schulweis
Anchor & Orbit

Sarah Schulweis is the founder and head-honcho of business consultancy Anchor & Orbit. Because our Knit Wit community is chock full of small business owners, we asked Sarah to answer your burning business questions, here, once per month. Have a question? Submit it here.