Only a few decades ago, a common belief was that the more contemporary the design of the label, the more mediocre the quality of the wine inside. The legendary luxury wines of Europe remained faithful to the centuries-old tradition of featuring labels with ornate script lettering, fine line engravings of chateaus, gold foil borders and corks sealed and stamped with red wax. Only upstart nouveau wineries in places like California ignored proper wine labeling etiquette by hiring graphic designers to come up with something colorful and stylish.
But perceptions have changed. Fine wines are being sold in supermarkets, online and even Costco. Wines from around the world compete for consumer attention and shelf space. The assumption that bottles with traditional labels contain better wine no longer has validity. Wine packaging and labels are projecting unique brand personalities, and not shying away from presenting a look that is bold and innovative.
Kombucha Dog is one of those “only in California live-your-passion” stories. According to the Kombucha Dog website, the beverage company was started in L.A. by Michael Faye, a successful commercial photographer who loved traveling the world on assignment, until he found that the photo business was beginning to require spending more time on the computer than on location. That’s when Faye sold his studio and set up DogIsArt, a dog portraiture business, combining his avid love of dogs with his professional talent.
The kombucha link comes in because Faye, who was raised as a strict vegetarian by a mother who even made her own yogurt, was strongly into the raw food movement and yoga. An early adopter of kombucha, Faye started drinking the fermented tea back in 2005, but had to stop when actress Lindsey Lohan failed an alcohol test. Lohan’s attorneys launched a “kombucha defense” saying that drinking lots of kombucha caused a false positive on the test. The controversy caused L.A. retailers to pull kombucha from the shelves, forcing Faye to experiment with brewing his own.
Wine packaging is steeped in tradition and sometimes unfounded biases, and connoisseurs are quick to form opinions about the quality of wine inside by the bottle’s shape, color and design. The cork versus screw cap debate, for instance, has been going on for well over a decade. So, it will be interesting to note the wine-drinking market’s response to Paperboy, packaged in a bottle made entirely from compressed recycled paper. UK packaging producer GreenBottle teamed with California wine producer Truett-Hurst to unveil the world’s first paper wine bottle. It is being sold in Safeway supermarkets on the West Coast now, with plans to offer it across the U.S. soon. London/NY-based agency Stranger & Stranger designed the Paperboy label graphics, which were printed with natural inks.
GreenBottle reports that the paper bottle, with a liquid-tight insulated plastic bladder inside, has a carbon footprint that is one third of an equivalent glass bottle. The bottle is feather-light, weighing about an ounce when empty, thus reducing shipping, handling and energy consumption costs. Despite its lightweight, Paperboy bottles are said to be rigid and strong, and ice bucket safe for three hours. Sounds good. Now let’s see if wine snobs can get past the fact that they’re drinking a brand sold in a paper bottle.
Here’s a new twist on an old Japanese folk art – painting kokeshi doll faces on matches. The original kokeshi figures, introduced a couple centuries ago, were inexpensive souvenir items that visitors to the onsen (spa) villages of northern Japan would buy to give to friends back home. (Even in California, we used to have a half dozen kokeshi, along with snow globes from New York, native American trinkets from the Grand Canyon, and seashells from Hawaii – don’t know what happened to any of them.) It’s the kind of gift that would merit a T-shirt that read: “Grandma went to the onsen and all she brought me was this wooden kokeshi.” Kokeshi dolls were distinguished by their simple rectangular torso, lacking arms and legs, and their enlarged round wooden heads, minimally painted to indicate eyes, hair and maybe a mouth or nose. (Think “Hello Kitty,” who is also missing a mouth.)
Delhaize, a supermarket chain in Belgium, issued its own private label brand of regional wines and commissioned Spanish design studio Lavernia & Cienfuegos to create a label that looked festive and fun and great for casual entertaining. Quirky characters carved out of cork represented the regional origin of each wine in a playful, unpretentious way. The label design positioned the house brand as a value product with personality.
For more than a century, the QWERTY typewriter was the most important business tool in any office. Millions were made and sold. Then in the 1980s, along came the desktop computer and within a decade, typewriters were destined for the trash heap. Where most people saw outmoded technology, illustrator/sculptor Jeremy Mayer in Oakland, California, looked beyond the typewriter’s original function and saw an intriguing array of metal shapes and forms that could be reassembled into full-scale anatomically correct human and animal figures.
For home remodelers weighing whether real hardwood or Pergo XP laminate will wear better on the floor, check out this marketing video, produced by Atlanta-based ad agency, Fitzgerald+CO. Pergo XP foregoes the standard product performance demonstration and shows a cast of odd characters performing unspeakable acts on the flooring. Fitzgerald+CO wisely chose to film the ad in Venice Beach, California, where even bikini-clad roller skaters and Mr. Universe muscle men don’t cause a stir — just another day at the beach.
Famed rapper Ice Cube (aka O’Shea Jackson), who once studied architectural drafting, riffs on Los Angeles’s quirky landmarks such as the Cockatoo Inn and Five Torches, freeways and the Eames House for a video series produced by Pacific Standard Time, a collaborative effort among Southern California cultural Institutions to spotlight L.A.’s art scene between 1945 and 1980. Ice Cube avoids the lofty language of architectural experts and gives his take in terms that the street can understand. Talking about The Eames house, Ice Cube reflects that with Charles and Ray Eames “it’s not about the pieces, it’s about how the pieces work together,” and notes that they did “mashups before mashups even existed.” Way ahead of their time, he adds, “The Eames made structure and nature one. This is going green 1949 style, bitch. Believe that.”
Over the past couple of weeks two separate stories appeared in the news. One was a report by Amazon that for the first time its e-books outsold its hardcover titles. For the quarter, Amazon says it sold 143 e-titles for every 100 hardcover books.
The other story, which appeared in San Francisco Bay Area newspapers, was about the town of Walnut Creek’s new library, which incorporated 17 original works of art at a cost of $300,000. The neighboring town of Lafayette (population 25,000) spent roughly $400,000 on paintings, photographs, sculptures and prints when it rebuilt its library last year. The local paper described this new crop of libraries with conference rooms, fireplaces, computers and cafes as “community living rooms.” Libraries are not just repositories for books anymore. Some public libraries are redefining their role by positioning themselves as knowledge centers free and open to the entire community – not a museum, not a school, not a social club, but a place that bridges the digital divide and draws together those who share a love of art and learning.
Just when traditional annual reports have all but disappeared in the business world, a guy named Dan Meyer in the beach town of Santa Cruz, California, has produced his own personal 2009 annual report in video format. A high school math teacher by day, Meyer aimed for the kind of accuracy that even an independent auditing firm would admire. On his blog, he credited his speed in getting his report out so fast to having a “working knowledge of a) the degree measure of angles, b) proportions, c) percents, d) coordinates, e) 3D space, f) modular arithmetic, and g) linear interpolation. “ He adds that he even calculated an integral.
Design, particularly graphic design, is not a profession that most inner city kids consider, partly because many don’t know that such a profession even exists. In fact, the whole notion that somebody had made design choices about the size, color, typography, etc. of a simple sign comes as a revelation to some kids. Jessica Weiss, a student in the nonprofit Inneract Project program, explained her surprise. “I just thought, oh, someone wrote this sign. Someone wrote that sign. No, it had to be designed.”
This is exactly the lesson that Inneract Project founder Maurice Woods hoped to pass on. Woods, a senior designer at Studio Hinrichs in San Francisco, started the program in 2004 when as a graduate student in a University of Washington’s Visual Communication Design class, he got the assignment to “Use Design to Try to Change the World.” Drawing from his own experience growing up in the violent teen-gang and drug-plagued town of Richmond near San Francisco, Woods wanted to help young adolescents expand their awareness of the career options open to them.