Horse & Brett Ryder’s charming designs for Nongfu mineral water

Design studio Horse has teamed up with illustrator Brett Ryder to create some charming packaging for a new range of mineral water from Chinese drinks company Nongfu Spring, depicting wildlife in the region where the water is sourced.

The water is aimed at the youth market and comes from a spring near the Changbai Mountains, located in the Lushuihe National Forest Park. Horse came up with the idea of creating packaging inspired by the local landscape and wildlife, and commissioned Ryder to create an image for each season.

The spring label features the Asiatic grass frog; summer, the red deer and red-crowned crane; autumn, the Ussuri brown bear and winter, the Eurasian lynx. Local flowers and plants are also featured:

The water is packaged in 750ml plastic bottles, which come with a leak proof cap. Ryder’s illustrations will also feature in advertising and point of sale displays, and have been made into large-scale artworks for the company’s factory, which is open to the public.

“[The National Park] is a very beautiful volcanic region and home to a number of protected wild animal and plant species, some now extremely rare,” explains Horse co-founder Sarah Pidgeon.

“Because the product is targeted at young people, we felt very conscious of the importance of highlighting protected species. We wanted to try and use this as an educational tool about valuing natural wonders like the Changbai Mountain region, in a way that would appeal,” she adds. “Crucially, we didn’t want the illustrations to be literal; they had to be really imaginative and fantastical to express how bursting with the life the source is,” she says.

Horse spent a week researching animals and foliage at the reserve for the project – “the rest was left to Brett’s vivid imagination,” says Pidgeon. “We’ve always been big fans of Brett’s work – it’s surreal, intelligent and beautiful. His style is so skilfully drawn which roots it in the real world, with collage allowing him to take it to somewhere else entirely,” she adds.

Ryder among installations based on his artwork at Nongfu’s factory

The water is the second Nongfu product line Horse has produced packaging for: in February this year, it launched a series of bottles for Nongfu Spring Mineral Water, which is sold in luxury restaurants, bars and hotels. The bottles are shaped like a water droplet and the range features eight designs, each depicting a different species of local flora or fauna illustrated by Natasha Searston alongside a fact about the region.

The idea of celebrating wildlife and nature on labels will likely attract some criticism given the potentially harmful impact of bottled water on the environment, but both ranges are elegantly packaged and provide consumers with bottles they’ll want to keep rather than throw away. They also highlight Nongfu’s USP, which is its use of natural drinking water rather than purified tap water.

With a lovely use of colour and some sweet added details, such as animals dressed in coats, scarves and top hats, Ryder’s illustrations offer a playful, imaginative take on the region’s wildlife, and his illustrations will likely appeal to adults as much as the youth market they’re aimed at.