I was tasked to create a fictitious beverage line while attending Art Center at Night. The project consisted of a branding system, creative brief, and a physical mockup of the piece. 


I discovered the Yakuza after researching more of the sake culture. The Yakuza is a prominent gang in Japan who are well known for their elaborate body tattoos. I was fascinated by how beautiful their tattoos are in its composition, style, and use of color, and I wanted to engulf the entire brand and beverage within that culture.


I conducted a visual audit to see how sake is usually displayed in stores. Some have elaborate packaging for gifting purposes, while others were either standalone bottles or in individually packaged boxes. The color scheme across all sake brands was close - most of the bottles were in golds and blacks, with some blue or orange colors.



With these tattoos in mind, I found a few images to serve as inspiration on how I will be able to illustrate the label. I was drawn to images with clean lines, geometric shapes, and color that worked harmoniously together.







I generated a list of possible product and brand names for the beverage and researched words in Japanese to see how the characters would look and sound like. I drafted a few ideas really quickly with pen on paper and planned out how I wanted the label to look like on the bottle. 

Creative Brief


YAKUZA Sake is a brand specializing in sake while representing the Yakuza culture. The Yakuza is a transnational organized crime syndicate in Japan with each member being a gangster involved in organized crime. The bottle represents the gang in its motto of "Live Fast, Die Young"


40-50 year old businessmen.


The branding system will be focused on the motto of the Yakuza of "Live Fast, Die Young" in its detailed and harmonious illustrations. Their motto is illustrated with koi fish and cherry blossoms, as they symbolize courage and mortality respectively. The color palette will be dependent on the drink of choice, as each different flavor of sake will embody a meaning of every tattoo and/or a famous Yakuza persona.


The brand strives to be a company that is captivating to its audience and able to proudly display the Japanese sake tradition and the Yakuza. Each individual bottle will embody the full body suit tattoo that is unique to the Yakuza gang. 



The first two iterations have a softer vibe with clean characters. I decided it felt a little too playful and not within the Yakuza persona, so the final iteration showcases a logo that is rougher and features the traditional calligraphy style.


The process began by sketching out the rough plan for the illustration and deciding which elements to use. Because the Yakuza motto is "Live Fast, Die Young", it's typically illustrated with koi fish and cherry blossoms as they symbolize courage and the fleeting of life. 


The next step was to digitize the sketch and figure out the placement of the elements. I also established the functional narrative of the beverage which describes the necessary copy for any beverage brand. 


I thought the illustrations from the first iteration were too loose and might not display the harmonious tone that I wanted to achieve. I decided to move towards a more geometric and symmetrical style so that each element would be placed intentionally together and look cohesive as a whole.


After creating a full line drawing of the label, I explored how it would look like with thicker lines. However, I wasn't sure if a heavier weight line drawing was suitable for the label because it looked too playful and cute, which is the very opposite of the Yakuza feel.



I made the bottle cap red to keep the color scheme cohesive and test printed the first label. Overall, I felt it lost the Yakuza feel in its grit and edginess. I also felt the label substrate felt too soft and friendly since it was a glossy material. In terms of printing issues, the opening of the label in the front is too wide that the illustration gets lost from a profile view. Also, the alcohol content and net weight should be in the front of the label since it's the most important information.


My instructor showed me a very intriguing effect on the frosted exterior of the bottle. Placing clear tape on the exterior created a transparent see-through effect that allowed the viewer to see the other side of the bottle. I wanted to implement this effect in the design, and also felt the printed illustration on a transparent substrate would also give it a more tattoo feel to the bottle.


After a review with my class, we agreed that the original illustration was too flat in color. The Yakuza tattoos have a gradient that gives it dimension, so I decided to apply that effect to the illustration for more visual interest. I also deepened the colors to give it more of a manly edge, and I implemented the copy into the illustration to continue the harmonious flow throughout the label. 


I wanted to utilize every aspect of the bottle by placing elements on the cap and the barcode at the bottom of the bottle. I wanted to make sure every part of the bottle conveys a part of the Yakuza.


Final Product