Tiago Russo

Good in Packaging Design.

Tiago Russo

About Tiago Russo

Tiago Russo is the Chief Design Officer at The Craft Irish Whiskey Co., a premium & luxury Irish spirits brand that aims to elevate and return to Ireland its former glory and reputation as home of the best whiskies in the world. Building an empire with a global mind-set and Irish heart. Over the last decade Russo has designed for some of the most respectable brands in the world. His impressive portfolio spans the luxury lifestyle domain from spirits to cosmetics, automotive to timepieces including: The Macallan, Dewar’s, The Dalmore, Craigellachie, Bacardi, Louis Vuitton, Patek Philippe, Coty Inc. and McLaren, to name a few. Russo has been obsessed with detailed design for much of his career and holds a Master’s degree in Product Design with Automotive Design specialisation. With over a decade of experience implausibly dedicated to design, Russo is the ultimate perfectionist, always focused on making ideas a reality with a spirit of purpose, accuracy and finesse. Mastering the full design process from concept through to production, Russo is continuously immersing himself in culture and innovation to create pioneering, meaningful designs. Revelation Designer of the Year in 2014 and collecting several awards and accolades over the last decade, Russo has been labelled one of the greatest luxury spirits and packaging designers of today. His design work for The Craft Irish Whiskey Co.; ‘The Devil’s Keep’ is an ultra-rare whiskey and has, since its launch in December 2020, attained the world record title for the most expensive inaugural whiskey bottle ever sold, and the overall winner of the Luxury Packaging Awards and the A’ Design Awards, marking another set of achievements on Russo’s creations within luxury product design, joined by the more recent record-breaking and award-winning creations The Brollach, The Emerald Isle, in collaboration with Fabergé, The Taoscán or The Aodh.

  • Winner of 4 A' Design Awards.
  • Good in Packaging Design.
  • Original Design.
  • Creative, Diligent and Innovative.
  • All Designs
  • Packaging
  • Limited Edition
The Devil's Keep Ultra Rare Single Malt Irish Whiskey

The Devil's Keep Ultra Rare Single Malt Irish Whiskey

Packaging Design

The Emerald Isle Rare Irish Whiskey Packaging

The Emerald Isle Rare Irish Whiskey Packaging

Packaging Design

The Taoscan Irish Whiskey Packaging

The Taoscan Irish Whiskey Packaging

Packaging Design

The Aodh Irish Whiskey Packaging

The Aodh Irish Whiskey Packaging

Limited Edition Design


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Interview with Tiago Russo

Could you please tell us more about your art and design background? What made you become an artist/designer? Have you always wanted to be a designer?
I am the first ever designer in my family. My parents/grandparents’ background is in photography and fishing, and although not a direct link, my father’s work as a photographer and the measurement of light - the way that light and shadow influence the environment around you - represents an early inspiration and the basis of several of my design processes when designing spaces and lighting systems years later. But another, much more direct influence was also the fact that my father is a fan of everything motorsports, and since a very early age I would go with him to the local racetrack to watch the races, and consecutively draw cars, either from memory or by looking at pictures in the magazines, and immediately start to tweak them, to create an evolution of that model, of improving it. At the time, there was no real consciousness of becoming a designer, but I knew, probably since around 3-4 years old, that I wanted to draw new things, new creations. It was only natural then that my entire education was focused in the arts field, culminating in a product design degree and subsequent Master’s in Product / Automotive Design.
Can you tell us more about your company / design studio?
As one of the founding members of The Craft Irish Whiskey Co., I was approached by Jay Bradley after he saw my previous spirits and luxury designs, with the aim of joining him in creating a product (The Devil’s Keep) that would return to Ireland its original whiskey notoriety and heritage, whilst creating not just another whiskey to put on the market, but instead, to actually create the most luxurious, immersive and sensorial whiskey experience ever. And that is the premise, the aim and the mindset that this company works and creates new products, new designs and innovations. Our motto is “obsessive whiskey perfection”, and that is exactly what we do at The Craft Irish Whiskey Co. This brand has become a perfectionist designer’s dream. To constantly keep challenging, keep finding new ways of creating a meaningful interaction, of telling the whiskey’s story, not driven by the constant rush of putting new products onto the retail markets, but to perfect every single detail, from the liquid to the bottle, from the glasses to the way the user sees the box and interacts with it, every single element is developed and perfected with the utmost notion of creating the ultimate whiskey tasting experiences.
What is "design" for you?
Design is the full, thorough process of developing a product, a solution for a constraint, a meaningful interaction between a user and the artefact being interacted with. Whether physical of digital products, services or spaces, “to design something” should always be “to create something that improves our life, our existence, our story in this world.” Design is often seen and misinterpreted as the field of embellishments, but if a design is just about aesthetics without any other regards, then that is no design at all. At least not good design.
What kinds of works do you like designing most?
Due to some of my earlier works over a decade ago within limited series products, and the tendency to work with raw materials and real finishes, I have been, since a very early stage in my career, labelled as a Luxury Designer, although my background is more focused on Automotive Design. Nonetheless, over the years, I have discovered, evolved and tailored my work and some of my favourite approaches on design to when I can combine, in a product, innovative materials and technologies, disrupting traditional approaches and constantly evolving the way the product interacts with the user and the user wants to interact with said product. Innovation and technology are in the core of everything I design, and needless to say, as someone with an automotive background, I would obviously enjoy the ultimate challenge of designing a new vehicle to implement the market.
What is your most favorite design, could you please tell more about it?
I see my designs as a constant process to perfection, and therefore, psychologically, my favourite creation is the one yet to come. That said, in recent years, one of my absolute favourite projects has to be the design of The Devil’s Keep whiskey. It marked not just my inaugural design for The Craft Irish Whiskey Co., but the very first time a brand has put on me the full responsibility of creating a world-leading product, with a fully blank canvas of a brief where I had the freedom, and ultimate responsibility of creating something the world has never seen, where I could deploy my inspirations from Japanese design, combined with mythological connotations and culminating in a sought-after, recognised design that granted me my first history-defining Gold A’Design Award.
What was the first thing you designed for a company?
In late academic years, I had the chance to collaborate on the creation of some ceramic serve-ware collections. Although I had done several projects towards graphic design, editorial and curating before, those were actually the first physical products I created, and that consecutively granted me my first relevant design awards.
What is your favorite material / platform / technology?
I really like working with “raw” materials. Wood, metal, glass, there are always inventive and innovative ways of exploring their textures and expression, of combining them together into new languages. In recent years, and aided by the development of alternative/eco-friendly materials, it's more about the actual ways of evolving and highlighting the expression of any given material than staying locked with one favourite.
When do you feel the most creative?
I don’t see creativity as a divine inspiration. It is the culmination of hours, days, months of hardworking research and development, in order to immerse myself in everything that already exists, so that I can create something that doesn’t. Associated with that, I have a very strict methodology when creating something new, and it is always deeply accompanied by music. Certain songs, certain sounds or instruments will deploy specific feelings or mindsets in me, and therefore, depending on the type of work u am doing, depending on the type of product, I will play very specific playlists in order to help me fully immerse into the creation at hand.
Which aspects of a design do you focus more during designing?
As an advocate for perfectionism and good design values, I can’t honestly say there is a specific aspect or detail I will focus more within the product. Everything I create, from the apparently simpler designs to the more complex ones, deserver all my dedication, effort and attention to each and every single detail, in order to ensure the best possible solution is always achieved, considering every single detail and feature that will make that product a success. Nothing is left to chance; nothing is seen as a lesser relevant detail on anything I create.
What kind of emotions do you feel when you design?
My emotions towards a design will highly depend on the product itself and its backstory. Depending on the envisioned look and feel, and on the mood or theme around a product, I will always work associating my processes with music as an aid to deploy certain emotions I want to feel when creating something new. My latest work for The Craft Irish Whiskey Co., is bound to whiskeys that have an incredibly strong sensorial connotation associated with storytelling, I tend to evoke, during my process, a range of emotions that will allow me to feel immersed with the products being designed, fulfilled by the experience and interaction with the creation at hand.
What kind of emotions do you feel when your designs are realized?
To see the physical result of my ideation, the ultimate interpretation of my vision, right in front of me, for other users to interact with, to take experiences and memories from it, is always an incredibly proud moment, one that is always associated with a sense of mission accomplished, of a realization of a job well done. Nothing fills more the joy of being a designer when you see your creations materialized and people interacting it them, making, in a way, their experiences also yours, guiding themselves through the sensorial journey you created for someone else to enjoy. It doesn’t get any better than that.
What makes a design successful?
For a product to succeed, its purpose, presence, interaction and sensorial reach must be truly merged into something omniscient. It must reach the users through most if not all of their senses in a pleasing way that provokes the desire to be interacted with, and be manipulated into creating such immersion with the user that will provoke and enhance the bridging of a meaningful connection and interaction. A successful design must consider all details, all aspects of the interaction with the user, into making it a pleasurable, meaningful journey that will make the users feel positive emotions towards a specific product, that will fill their soul, that improves their day and ultimately their life, even if just the slightest.
When judging a design as good or bad, which aspects do you consider first?
Purpose and interaction and always the two constraints and filters on top of my list. A design has to be truly meaningful; it must have a purpose and reasoning for its existence, otherwise it’s just a gimmick, it’s just noise added to the market. It can be a beautiful object, but if ultimately it doesn’t provide a solution, doesn’t fill a need, doesn’t have a strong meaning for its existence, aesthetics will mean very little in creating an immersive interaction between product and user. Its handling, operation, and interaction must be so well thought out that any user feels that object as an extension of themselves, as something that completes them, not as a barrier or a lock to total sensorial immersion.
From your point of view, what are the responsibilities of a designer for society and environment?
Designers are in a privileged, high-stakes responsibility, front-running position to actively act on the development and implementation of new, innovative solutions to keep this world of ours moving forward. We know most of the core game-changing decisions belong to higher powers, and it will never be easy to change the world with a single great idea, but ultimately, designers are responsible for every new product, for creating the items, whether physical or digital, that will reach any person and ultimately influence the course of social paradigms, resources and interactions. It is our job to keep searching for solutions for this world’s problems, to keep innovating and finding new ways of making better with fewer resources, of being conscious of entire product lifecycles, of considering ways of reaching a goal, a target, a specific market, always with the mindset to achieve what is the best way to improve the environment around us, and that is applicable from the very first stage in any product development until the product reaches the market. It is in our hands, to use the good values of design, and think in ways to improve our planet, one product at a time.
How do you think the "design field" is evolving? What is the future of design?
Over the last 6-8 years, there has been a complete shift in the notions of design worldwide. We have witnessed the boom of technological product development, with more and more companies investing in digital products, from apps to NFTs, from AR to the metaverse. It’s great to see so many different technologies and possibilities bursting in recent years, but in a way, it saddens me to see that, even from looking at the job market, the connotation of “Product Design” has taken an overwhelmingly digital connotation. It almost feels like there are no physical products anymore, there is no need for designers to create tangible, physical solutions for our daily lives. In a world that is going more and more digital at an insane pace at the moment, one must not forget that we still need designers to create the physical artefacts that will make our digital lives possible, there are still several unresolved issues in our physical world, there are still limitations in resources, critical social and environmental needs that must be answered, where physical considerations must be taken to help and sustain our planet and all life within, because, at the end of the day, it is easier to escape into a digital, alternative reality, but the one that rules it all is still there, with real, tangible issues that are of the utmost importance designers take part and help improve and evolve our life and our planet.
When was your last exhibition and where was it? And when do you want to hold your next exhibition?
I have been lucky enough to receive the awards and recognition that allowed me to have my work exhibited in various occasions across the years and in several countries. Before winning 4 A’Design Awards in a row, my latest showcase was at 100% Design 2019, in London, where I had the opportunity to showcase the products my wife Katia Martins and I, developed for our own little brand, Trick Design, where we explore raw materials and ways of making environmentally friendly products with simple techniques, always reusable, always recyclable, both packaging and product. After winning the A’Design Awards over the last couple of years, I know now that my next showcase will be at MOOD, The Museum Of Outstanding Design, In Italy, but would definitely like to keep showcasing and hopefully sharing my passion, vision and constant search for innovation across design communities and enthusiasts worldwide.
Where does the design inspiration for your works come from? How do you feed your creativity? What are your sources of inspirations?
I am a methodical perfectionist by nature. I do not believe in creativity as a momentaneous spark, but the product of great efforts in studying, researching, truly and completely diving into the world around us, in order to find everything that has already been created, so one can design something that never had. Knowledge is power, and you can only be truthfully innovative and creative if you study everything that is around you, not just similar designs or market research. I use the same keyboard model for a decade and a half, the same mouse design for over a decade, and have very specific playlists depending on which product I am creating. Music is a key part of optimising my inspiration, my creativity, and I simply cannot design without music in the background. Ultimately, I am a tech-savvy, automotive and Japanese design enthusiast and that also influences my work and the language I put into every product I design.
How would you describe your design style? What made you explore more this style and what are the main characteristics of your style? What's your approach to design?
My approach to design is very technical, with little to no room for meaningless creations, for gimmicks or half-developed solutions. I enjoy a good challenge, going to the core of every single detail across the product I am creating, just to ensure nothing is left to chance, no component receives less attention and dedication than the next. My inspiration tends to float between technological innovation, automotive design, Japanese design, and a hint of Scandinavian design due to my wife’s influences and her own taste, as a fellow product designer, in the Nordic mid-century modern creations. Therefore, I employ all those notions and backgrounds into creations that can, in their own way, express minimalism, exploring raw, noble materials and the sensorial connotations attached to them: the feeling of a grain of wood, the cold texture of metal, the refraction and reflection of a specific glass, I prefer to let the core properties of each material speak for itself, interact with the user, with one's senses in the deepest, most raw connection paradigm possible. If we are creating a continuous, meaningful experience for the user, then it’s halfway across to achieving a successful product.
Where do you live? Do you feel the cultural heritage of your country affects your designs? What are the pros and cons during designing as a result of living in your country?
Over the last 8 years, I have been living in London, where I had the chance to work alongside some of the greatest studios and brands around. It is an amazing city with such a varied, rich, broad range of cultures, influences and expressions, which ultimately allowed me to embrace wide range of information, knowledge, and inspirational assets for my work, namely in the luxury and spirits businesses due to the central position London has to offer in relation to the rest of Europe. Nonetheless, during last year (2021), my wife and I had the opportunity to grow The Craft Irish Whiskey Co.’s design department, and due to our roots, Portugal was the chosen destination, and therefore, in a real going back to the roots mindset, we ended up settling in Cascais, Lisbon, where, in the meantime, our daughter Camila was born as well. The Portuguese design culture is still a few steps away from the global relevance and cultural osmosis noticed in other countries, and that is one of the main reasons why we wanted to return to Portugal and to be able to give back and bring to the table some of the views, know-how, even skillset on how other countries, cultures and design markets operate. But the Portuguese design connotation is growing and expanding, and more and more young generations of designers are becoming aware of the global markets, the methodology and good design practices, evolving not only the quality of design within the country, but also elevating the views of entrepreneurship and quality of design overall.
How do you work with companies?
Over the last decade, I have felt a constant relevant evolution in both methodology and tasks when designing for a brand. Obviously, 10 years ago, I would join a project and be solely dedicated into the technical aspects of the design. Technical drawings, simulations, and presentation packs, all gradually evolving to a level of seniority where I am lucky enough to have been granted the full trust and responsibility of creating new products from scratch, sometimes with no brief, having brands relying solely on my quality and vision to develop innovative, disruptive, world-leading solutions. I have now reached a phase in my career where I have a great amount of freedom to bring a new product to the market, and ultimately, that is what every designer should aim for in a company, to find clients/partners that are able to trust in the work of the designer as an elevation, an immersive, sensorial enhancement to the product, and not just as a cheap embellishment exercise.
What are your suggestions to companies for working with a designer? How can companies select a good designer?
As any other creative industry, browsing through candidates for a design role is always subjective. There isn’t a specific rule or formula to find the perfect fit. And depending on style, vision, guidance, software or background, a designer might create very interesting solutions for one brand and appear less innovative for another. I believe, first and foremost, the core stage of choosing a good fit is to immerse into the designer’s portfolio. Output quality, presentation and content are important, but even more relevant than searching for a portfolio that has work very similar to what the company is already doing – which is not desirable, as with design you always aim for a fresh vision, not more of the same – is to see if the techniques used in the several design stages and software are aligned with the rest of the team’s way of designing and if the proposed solutions and techniques bring a sense of novelty to the work being produced, a sense of differentiation from what the competition is offering. It is in that capacity to innovate and disrupt that lies the vision, and the designer to move a company forward and keep ahead of the market.
Can you talk a little about your design process?
My design process is very methodical, and science-focused. Research is the primary stage. The ultimate search for all the available knowledge. Although online you may find tons of great inspiration assets, I do enjoy the physical search, by constantly visiting Design shows and events, and also relying on my private library of 420+ Design books, a project that I started over a decade ago with my wife Katia Martins, with the goal of creating one of the most relevant design collections available. After the research is finished, comes the ideation. Sketches, doodles, exploring the different ways a product can be achieved, highlighting the technical constraints and challenges, whilst combining shaping with purpose. Depending on the complexity of the product, once the majority of function, shape, features and technologies are achieved, everything starts do be explored through CAD, leading to simulations, material tests and further shifting towards prototype and ultimately, production. Every stage has to be severely tested and all potential challenges and constraints perfected before advancing. Every detail must be considered, every scenario of usage, interaction studies before moving forward, always with the goal of creating a meaningful immersive sensorial experience between the user and the product being designed.
What are 5 of your favorite design items at home?
We like to collect small design icons that we can keep on a shelf close by, to provide some form of inspiration when creating something new. Tapio Wirkkala’s works are a must, and we have a couple of Rosenthal’s Pollo vases, and a few of his exploratory works in art glass and tone mixing glass for Iittala. Alvar Aalto’s glass vases can also be seen at home, in different sizes and colours. As fans of Charles and Ray Eames, one mandatory item is the black House Bird, and on a more vintage technological approach, with Italian design influence, I was able to achieve an old 1969 Europhon H10 Clock Radio, and Mario Bellini’s iconic and visionary Olivetti Divisumma 18 calculator from 1972.
Can you describe a day in your life?
When designing something new, my daily tasks will shift slightly according to the specific stage of development, but I always try to have an early start and take care of any structural or core brief questions and constraints first. If not going through research or flickering through my personal design library searching for insight and inspiration, I like to spend time in front of the PC simulating and working out the method, the strategy not just to create something, but to design it in a feasible way, searching for the best manufacturing method for each and every single detail. Constant playlists are absolutely mandatory, and as I am used to work towards later hours in the night, as that is when I used to do some creative projects several years ago, I will usually brainstorm once again in the evening and use a certain creative boost to re-focus and develop new creative solutions towards late-night design stints.
Could you please share some pearls of wisdom for young designers? What are your suggestions to young, up and coming designers?
If there is one thing that I learned in my transition from academic degrees to real-world scenarios, is that reality hits very differently in one’s process and methodology, and no course can truly prepare anyone for that. More than listing degrees and accolades, focus completely on your portfolio and ensure a great presentation is associated with great curated visuals, because at the end of the day, someone in a company will only spend a few seconds to filter if there is inherent value in you, Therefore, everything in your portfolio, in your presentation, from layout to renders, has to be flawless and appealing from the first moment. Companies look for killer portfolios, for showcases of skillsets that can help the company grow, so my biggest suggestion is: be creative, and fully invest in your portfolio.
From your perspective, what would you say are some positives and negatives of being a designer?
I believe in certain countries, and amidst certain industries, kickstarting a design career can be a very extenuating, frustrating process, namely in the Industrial / Product Design field, where brands act on a more niche basis than graphic/digital markets. The start of a Product Designer’s career can seem like something very limited, as junior roles will tend to work almost exclusively on the technical CAD/tech drawings and specs side of a design: it is not usually a role as creative as designers may be led to believe during their education, as rarely you will arrive a company and have a white canvas of development and be fully able to unleash all your creativity. But in time and with a certain practice and seniority that will come, and once it does, is one of the greatest feelings in one’s life to be able to envision something, and turn it into a real product from scratch; to accompany the entire process and materialize a product that was once solely inside your mind, looking at it on the shelves and seeing other people using it, interacting with your creation: very few things can beat that feeling.
What is your "golden rule" in design?
My golden rule when designing is simply to ensure every single detail is thought through, that nothing is left without consideration. I will never present or showcase a design that hasn’t received my utmost attention and dedication until reaching a point I can confidently say every single detail has been considered and it is, truly, a fully developed solution.
What skills are most important for a designer?
The usual connotation of vision, creativity, problem-solving techniques or software and materials/technologies proficiency is seen as the basis of any designer, but one pair of skills that is often disregarded is adaptability and versatility. A great designer must be immensely versatile, as no two projects are the same, but ultimately, several typologies of products can have various details and considerations applicable within each other. The more versatile the designer, the more often that person can employ and create meaningful solutions to a wide range of products and markets, whilst, ultimately, being able to adapt to each and every scenario, to each and every problem that needs to be solved. It is of the utmost importance that designers are able to adapt their design to the brands, the market, the users they are designing for, not the other way around, which still happens quite too often, unfortunately.
Which tools do you use during design? What is inside your toolbox? Such as software, application, hardware, books, sources of inspiration etc.?
I am still quite fond of a good “analogue” basis of research, and therefore, over the years, my wife and I created a library of 420+ design books that we often use as source of inspiration. Regarding software and hardware, most of my work is created digitally and simulated with close-to-engineering tools before going to any sort of prototyping stage, so I usually spend most of my working hours in front of the computer, and for that I am very methodical and performance optimisation oriented. I have a specific distance between peripherals, a specific mouse and keyboard combination I feel I can get the best pace and performance, and therefore have been using those specific models for more than 15 years, and if something breaks, I will get the exact same model so I don’t have any changes in performance. I have worked with several software packages across the years, and depending on the company you are designing for, a different software package might be needed, but the hardware is often the same. I only use full PC towers, not laptops, with strong assets, relevant when working on larger projects or rendering, as to always keep quality at the very best whilst keeping an elevated pace in providing companies and clients with ultimate designs.
Designing can sometimes be a really time consuming task, how do you manage your time?
When creating something new, there are obviously several considerations and stages where you need to spend time and always incur the risk of going back and forth, and truth be told, most of the scheduling and optimization of workflow and time management simply comes with experience. There is no one-size-fits-all kind of rule. You might want to start with the broad visual language of your design, or with a certain detail or functionality, and that is absolutely fine. There is no right or wrong order, and the main goal is to consistently work out a method that allows you to always work motivated and in a way that highlights your creativity. Personally, I prefer to engage with every single part of R&D and technical constraints early on, so I define the specific boundaries (by budget, technology or simply feasibility) and spend the rest of my design development time increasingly going over to the most creative details, in a way to never lose any momentum nor focus towards a specific creation.
How long does it take to design an object from beginning to end?
It is incredibly subjective how long you can spend on a design. Is it a product that contains technologies or an output that has been done before, or are we searching for new production methods? Is it a SKU defined by a hard corporative timeline, or a continuous R&D effort? Is it for a retail market, or a one-off collector’s piece? A project can literally take a single day to design, or the process can go up for an entire year. Personally, I like to be involved in every single stage, from initial brainstorming to actually see the production and manufacturing coming to fruition and bringing a product “to life”, and in that sense, my latest projects and the ones that have been winning their historical recognition at the A’ Design Awards, such as The Devil’s Keep whiskey, or The Emerald Isle collection, took easily a full year to year and a half to go all the way from a concept in my mind to a real tangible object, mostly due to all the detailing and craftmanship we wanted to put into the manufacturing of every single component for these kinds of products.
What is the most frequently asked question to you, as a designer?
I get asked a lot about the sources of my inspiration: where do the ideas come from to create new products, to bring something different to the market, and it’s a fair question. People (being designers or not) either believe there is some “kind of magical” inspiration recipe where a great innovative idea just pops into one’s mind, or simply that there is a specific set of rules or guides that will make it possible to always create innovative, disruptive creations that dazzle each and every user, every single time. But to be honest, the answer, in my opinion, lies in what I call my personal design motto: There is no such thing as divine inspiration. It's all about the knowledge, the research. For a design to be truly innovative, first you have to know everything that already exists in order to create something that doesn't.
What was your most important job experience?
One of my most relevant job experiences, and that was incredibly important in my growth as a designer was the very first role I had when moved to London, back in 2014. As a growingly senior designer, my role had a very important in-house balance of not only designing, but also accompanying all the manufacturing and fabrication stages as the company had their own factories and workshops. In that sense, it was incredibly important to my career in order to associate, in the real world, the transition, and all the inherent challenges, of applying something designed “in a computer” to real machinery, real fabrication method and to understand how to actually make products for the real world.
Who are some of your clients?
My connotation and renowned status as a luxury designer come from my early days in London, where I started by working on the development of limited releases for The Macallan, and since then my journey came across circa 25 different spirits brands, high-end jewellery and cosmetics and automotive brands, always within the luxury world, culminating in the work developed, now exclusively for over the last 3 years, for The Craft Irish Whiskey Co.
What type of design work do you enjoy the most and why?
After more than a decade designing products across most industries and markets, I always enjoy creating something that can associate technology, storytelling and interaction. I want to always ensure my creations are meaningful, that there is a story to be told through the product, and an experience to be immersed by the user. I enjoy working on projects that have a more mechanical or even futuristic appeal to them. The ultimate goal at this stage would probably be to work on at least one project associated with transportation design, as a great market to apply all the connotations of interactivity and technology with my personal passion.
What are your future plans? What is next for you?
At the moment, my goal is to help merging, reshaping and elevating the worlds or luxury, spirits, and collectable assets. It has been a great journey in the last few years to be able to reshape the perception of Irish Whiskey, to elevate it and completely redefine the way the world, brands and connoisseurs see whiskey and the perception of tasting whiskey of the story of the product itself, and I think in the near future the main objective is to perform that creative reshaping across more styles of sprits, completely redefining the industry for the years to come.
Do you work as a team, or do you develop your designs yourself?
Across the years, I ended up working on projects both alone or collaboratively, almost in a steady order, mostly from a standalone point during the earlier stages of my career, and gradually shifting towards larger departments, bigger teams, and therefore the possibility to work alongside other designers, leading to the establishment of our own Design department in Portugal for the creation of all the new Products The Craft Irish Whiskey Co. will have to offer in the coming years.
Do you have any works-in-progress being designed that you would like to talk about?
As part of the development of new, innovative and state-of-the-art, immersive whiskey experiences, I have already been working on the next The Craft Irish Whiskey Co. releases that will arrive in the next couple of years. And the focus is exactly that, bringing new ways of making a whiskey-tasting experience even more immersive, even more personal and meaningful. There are a lot of new technologies and methodologies at play, and I believe that in the next few months we will be able to showcase what ill be a completely redefinition of whiskey, luxury, and immersive tasting experience standards.
How can people contact you?
I am always reachable through my company’s email, tiago@craftirishwhiskey.com, as we are always keen to develop, promote and implement the great values of design to anyone that wants to collaborate with our team, or to pass on some of the knowledge and experiences that led me to this moment in my career. I am also present on Instagram, via @tiagorusso.design, and always keen to further discuss and promote the design field and all the great potential and responsibility our field of expertise carries.
Any other things you would like to cover that have not been covered in these questions?
The A’Design Awards have, in a way, provided meaningful significance and recognition to these niche creations that touch the realms of luxury and collectable whiskey, and just like it should happen to any designer, keep me motivated and inspired to move forward, to be bolder, to keep reinventing myself and my work. It is a very proud moment in one’s career to see a product I created, in this case The Emerald Isle collection, to achieve the top of the world as the no. 1 design. Looking at the history of the A’ Design awards, I can now confidently say that I have created the best 3 Single Malt whiskeys that ever entered this award, and it actually takes, every single time, quite some time to grasp the mind-blowing connotation of this statement, and only keeps me more driven, motivated and inspired to keep reinventing the design world for the years to come.

Designer of the Day Interview with Tiago Russo

Could you please tell us about your experience as a designer, artist, architect or creator?
I have dedicated my entire career to product design, from my academic years to the entirety of my professional path, I have been lucky enough to be able to always work within the design field for over 13 years now. My connotation and renowned status as a luxury designer come from my early days in London, back in 2015, where I started by working on the development of limited releases for The Macallan, and since then my journey came across circa 25 different spirits brands, high-end jewellery, cosmetics and automotive companies, always within the luxury world, culminating in the work developed, now exclusively for over the last 3 years, for The Craft Irish Whiskey Co.
How did you become a designer?
I am the first ever designer in my family. My parents/grandparents’ background is in photography and fishing, and although not a direct link, my father’s work as a photographer and the measurement of light - the way that light and shadow influence the environment around you - represents an early inspiration and the basis of several of my design processes when designing spaces and lighting systems years later. But another, much more direct influence was also the fact that my father is a fan of everything motorsports, and since a very early age I would go with him to the local racetrack to watch the races, and consecutively draw cars, either from memory or by looking at pictures in the magazines, and immediately start to tweak them, to create an evolution of that model, of improving it. At the time, there was no real consciousness of becoming a designer, but I knew, probably since around 3-4 years old, that I wanted to draw new things, new creations.
What are your priorities, technique and style when designing?
As an advocate for perfectionism and good design values, I can’t honestly say there is a specific aspect or detail I will focus more within the product. Everything I create, from the apparently simpler designs to the more complex ones, deserves all my dedication, effort and attention to each and every single detail, in order to ensure the best possible solution is always achieved, as that is the reason a product will become a success. Nothing is left to chance; nothing is seen as a lesser relevant detail on anything I create. For most projects, the methodology will be fairly similar, starting with research – one of the most important and often overlooked parts of design development – as you have to know everything that has already been made in order to truly create something that hasn’t. From there, I usually come on full analogue mode – paper sketches, doodles, increasingly exploring the features and functionalities I want to give to the product, culminating in 3D CAD exploration and full simulation of the new design.
Which emotions do you feel when designing?
My emotions towards a design will highly depend on the product itself and its backstory. Depending on the envisioned look and feel, and on the mood or theme around a product, I will always work associating my processes with music as an aid to deploy certain emotions I want to feel when creating something new. My latest work for The Craft Irish Whiskey Co., is bound to whiskeys that have an incredibly strong sensorial connotation associated with storytelling, I tend to evoke, during my process, a range of emotions that will allow me to feel immersed with the products being designed, fulfilled by the experience and interaction with the creation at hand.
What particular aspects of your background shaped you as a designer?
My father’s influence within photography and the automotive/motorsports world obviously played a huge influence on my vision of design while growing up. I was never too fond of other fine arts such as painting or sculpture, and always preferred a more technical, scientific-backed approach to anything I created over the years. I always sketch using pens only, as to force myself to not be able to do any mistakes, and I have been doing that for as far as I can remember. With the automotive industry influence, and also gaming, I started to discover different countries, cultures and products. We are talking about a child growing up in the early ’90s, so consoles and computers were getting more and more immersive on the cusp of the arrival of the World Wide Web, so whilst growing up, the shaping of an early teenager was surrounded by this overwhelming access to more global content, which started my passion for technological items and Japanese design in general, two factors that influence all of my work, still today.
What is your growth path? What are your future plans? What is your dream design project?
At the moment, my goal is to help merging, reshaping and elevating the worlds or luxury, spirits, and collectable assets. It has been a great journey in the last few years to be able to reshape the perception of Irish Whiskey, to elevate it and completely redefine the way the world, brands and connoisseurs see whiskey and the perception of tasting whiskey of the story of the product itself, and I think in the near future the main objective is to perform that creative reshaping across more styles of sprits, completely redefining the industry for the years to come. As part of the development of new, innovative and state-of-the-art, immersive whiskey experiences, I have already been working on the next The Craft Irish Whiskey Co. releases that will arrive in the next couple of years. And the focus is exactly that, bringing new ways of making a whiskey tasting experience even more immersive, even more personal and meaningful. There are a lot of new technologies and methodologies at play, and I believe that in the next few months we will be able to showcase what will be a complete redefinition of whiskey, luxury, and immersive tasting experience standards.
What are your advices to designers who are at the beginning of their career?
If there is one thing that I learned in my transition from academic degrees to real-world scenarios, is that reality hits very differently in one’s process and methodology, and no course can truly prepare anyone for that. More than listing degrees and accolades, focus completely on your portfolio and ensure a great presentation is associated with great curated visuals, because at the end of the day, someone in a company will only spend a few seconds to filter if there is inherent value in you, Therefore, everything in your portfolio, in your presentation, from layout to renders, has to be flawless and appealing from the first moment. Companies look for killer portfolios, for showcases of skillsets that can help the company grow, so my biggest suggestion is: be creative, and fully invest in your portfolio.
You are truly successful as a designer, what do you suggest to fellow designers, artists and architects?
For a product to succeed, its purpose, presence, interaction and sensorial reach must be truly merged into something omniscient. It must reach the users through most if not all of their senses in a pleasing way that provokes the desire to be interacted with, and be manipulated into creating such immersion with the user that will provoke and enhance the bridging of a meaningful connection and interaction. A successful design must consider all details, all aspects of the interaction with the user, into making it a pleasurable, meaningful journey that will make the users feel positive emotions towards a specific product, that will fill their soul, that improves their day and ultimately their life, even if just the slightest.
What is your day to day look like?
When designing something new, my daily tasks will shift slightly according to the specific stage of development, but I always try to have an early start and take care of any structural or core brief questions and constraints first. If not going through research or flickering through my personal design library searching for insight and inspiration, I like to spend time in front of the PC simulating and working out the method, the strategy not just to create something, but to design it in a feasible way, searching for the best manufacturing method for each and every single detail. Constant playlists are absolutely mandatory, and as I am used to work towards later hours in the night, as that is when I used to do some creative projects several years ago, I will usually brainstorm once again in the evening and use a certain creative boost to re-focus and develop new creative solutions towards late-night design stints.
How do you keep up with latest design trends? To what extent do design trends matter?
I am a methodical perfectionist by nature. I do not believe in creativity as a momentaneous spark, but the product of great efforts in studying, researching, truly and completely diving into the world around us, in order to find everything that has already been created, so one can design something that never had. Knowledge is power, and you can only be truthfully innovative and creative if you study everything that is around you, not just similar designs or market research. Trends are important tools to understand the global market vision, taste, and influenced knowledge and awareness of the products surrounding us, and whilst it is a mandatory tool for a more retail, global mass production kind of product, to rely solely on trends that try to put everyone into airtight boxes within the market is an absolute fallacy and a mistake companies do too often. To read and to understand trends is always important, but a specific design should always represent its own language and try to focus on the specific targets/users that will make the most out of it, instead of a global or commercial one-size-fits-all approach.
How do you know if a product or project is well designed? How do you define good design?
Purpose and interaction and always the two constraints and filters on top of my list. A design has to be truly meaningful; it must have a purpose and reasoning for its existence, otherwise it’s just a gimmick, it’s just noise added to the market. It can be a beautiful object, but if ultimately it doesn’t provide a solution, doesn’t fill a need, doesn’t have a strong meaning for its existence, aesthetics will mean very little in creating an immersive interaction between product and user. Its handling, operation, and interaction must be so well thought out that any user feels that object as an extension of themselves, as something that completes them, not as a barrier or a lock to total sensorial immersion.
How do you decide if your design is ready?
I believe it’s the “problem” with many designs and designers, is to have the accurate notions or perceptions of when to say “stop”. And that is normal, that is okay. In most of my designs, I will constantly consider if that product has been developed enough to supply a great solution, if it’s lacking something or if it is getting overcomplicated for no reason. It’s absolutely fine for that to happen, it just shows that you care. Ultimately, I approach the ending of each project, of each product, as that desired “perfection” stage, by testing my design over and over again, by going back to the brief, the direction, and ensuring every box can be ticked, and the rest comes by with experience. The stronger the connection a designer has to the production and manufacturing side of things, the more aware that person will be as to which details are technically and technologically feasible, and what will make that product to actually work and serve its purpose in the real world. And once that status is perceived, then it’s time to move forward.
What is your biggest design work?
I see my designs as a constant process to perfection, and therefore, psychologically, my favourite creation is the one yet to come. That said, in recent years, one of my absolute favourite projects has to be the design of The Devil’s Keep whiskey. It marked not just my inaugural design for The Craft Irish Whiskey Co., but the very first time a brand has put on me the full responsibility of creating a world-leading product, with a fully blank canvas of a brief where I had the freedom, and ultimate responsibility of creating something the world has never seen, where I could deploy my inspirations from Japanese design, combined with mythological connotations and culminating in a sought-after, recognised design that granted me my first history-defining Gold A’Design Award.
Who is your favourite designer?
I tend to not idolatrize anything in my career. When it comes to the design world, I will always see designers (renowned or not) and their work as targets for me to eventually surpass. That said, Japanese culture and design, alongside the more geometric language associated with Bauhaus have always had an influence on me. Shiro Kuramata’s Miss Blanche chair has always been an inspirational design I often have in mind, due to its sensorial exploration and light/colour/aesthetic exploration. On another hand, Wilhelm Wagenfeld’s work, namely the WA24 lamp has always been a personal favourite, where the form follows function language meets full-on ruler and compass geometries, on a very technical approach.
Would you tell us a bit about your lifestyle and culture?
Over the last 8 years, I have been living in London, where I had the chance to work alongside some of the greatest studios and brands around. It is an amazing city with such a varied, rich, broad range of cultures, influences and expressions, which ultimately allowed me to embrace a wide range of information, knowledge, and inspirational assets for my work, namely in the luxury and spirits businesses due to the central position London has to offer in relation to the rest of Europe. Obviously, my origins in Portugal, the UK and Ireland have a very strong influence on everything I do, and I believe it is of the utmost importance to keep travelling, to keep discovering new cultures and sources of inspiration as to keep evolving as a person and a designer.
Would you tell us more about your work culture and business philosophy?
As one of the founding members of The Craft Irish Whiskey Co., I was approached by Jay Bradley after he saw my previous spirits and luxury designs, with the aim of joining him in creating a product (The Devil’s Keep) that would return to Ireland its original whiskey notoriety and heritage, whilst creating not just another whiskey to put on the market, but instead, to actually create the most luxurious, immersive and sensorial whiskey experience ever. And that is the premise, the aim and the mindset that this company works and creates new products, new designs and innovations. Our motto is “obsessive whiskey perfection”, and that is exactly what we do at The Craft Irish Whiskey Co. This brand has become a perfectionist designer’s dream. To constantly keep challenging, keep finding new ways of creating a meaningful interaction, of telling the whiskey’s story, not driven by the constant rush of putting new products onto the retail markets, but to perfect every single detail, from the liquid to the bottle, from the glasses to the way the user sees the box and interacts with it, every single element is developed and perfected with the utmost notion of creating the ultimate whiskey tasting experiences.
What are your philanthropic contributions to society as a designer, artist and architect?
After 7 straight years in London, during last year (2021), my wife and I had the opportunity to grow The Craft Irish Whiskey Co.’s design department, and due to our roots, Portugal was the chosen destination, and therefore, in a real going back to origins mindset, we ended up settling in Cascais, Lisbon, where, in the meantime, our daughter Camila was born as well. The goal for that shift from the UK offices and methodology was precisely to try and bring back to Portugal some of the know-how, the skillset and the osmosis of culture and experience gained in all our work abroad, to be able to develop, even if just the slightest, the Design culture and work opportunities in Portugal, which were absolutely scarce, not to say non-existent, almost a decade ago. My goal would be to ultimately become an ambassador of Design, bringing my knowledge and the success of my work to the development of the industry, starting with schools, universities, and the overall perception of good design practices and the value of this trade to the world and its potential to bring solutions to many global questions and issues.
What positive experiences you had when you attend the A’ Design Award?
Global, renowned design competitions such as the A’ Design Awards are, for me and many, many designers across the world, the fuel for everything we do. For over a decade I dreamt of one day creating a product so great, so unique that would be deserving of such an award. It’s a showcase like this that makes you want to become a better designer, to become better and better so that one day you can be up there with all the great names in the Design World, and for that, the A’ Design Awards have played a crucial role in elevating my perception and the quality of my work as a designer, with the goal of having products that are at the level that deserves this award. I believe these kind of awards and recognition are what helps, every year, more and more designs (and designers) to evolve, to elevate their creations and to be one step closer to design greatness. With my first Gold A’ Design award, I immediately felt the urge to improve, to create something even better, to immerse even more into each and every single detail, so much so that I ended up creating The Emerald Isle Collection, which et to the ultimate Platinum award. And even now, I already feel that urge to reinvent myself, to keep constantly improving my designs, my creations, and their interaction with any user, in the endless search for design perfection.

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