Anyone who doubts that we live in a global economy needs to look at packaging and products from the far-flung reaches of the planet. These lovely labels for sauces and marmalades were made for Italbu Charcuterie in Burundi, a little landlocked country in Southeast Africa, bordered by Rwanda, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Italbu Charcuterie is a deli shop offering organic products made from original Italian recipes.The design firm Ya Ye lists studios both in Zagreb, Croatia, and Bujumbura, Burundi. Ya Ye’s design has a contemporary universal quality that could have just as easily been produced in New York, London or Sydney. Cultural design differences were more distinctly identifiable before air travel and multinational retailers. A World War II vet once told me that if a soldier was parachuted onto foreign terrain, he would know where he landed by the typography and architecture, even before hearing the spoken language. With the Internet today, the whole world is exposed to the same visual references and design styles can’t be pinpointed to a particular culture or part of the world.
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.
Editor’s note: Packaging design presents its own unique set of challenges to graphic designers that differ from other kinds of print design. Here, we asked Brad Murdoch from Process, a premium packaging manufacturer based in Salt Lake City, to help us identify some common mistakes. Process handles custom packaging and fabrication through its network of overseas manufacturing facilities.
Wild Winter Ale is the fourth in a limited edition series of seasonal beers released by Danish brewery Mikkeller in 2012. The label, created by Swedish graphic design agency Bedow, features a simple silhouette of a leafy apple tree, printed with thermochromic ink. The ale is meant to be kept refrigerated or at least cold until serving. What makes this label intriquing is that the ink is heat sensitive. As the label gets warm from being held in the drinker’s hand, the tree begins to shed its leaves until only its bare limbs remain.
Thermochromic inks were first popularized in the 1970s, appearing in “mood rings” that changed colors supposedly indicating the wearer’s emotional state. Increasingly, designers are finding creative ways to use heat-sensitive inks in printing.
Sydney-based design agency, The Creative Method, says “give us a great story and we’ll give you a great brand.” So when Alternative Organic Wine asked them to design the packaging for a premium limited edition of its organic Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, they focused on the product’s naturalness and not on the traditional way that luxury wines are presented. Creative Method explains that the “concept shows a vine, from the leaves to the bark to the wine.” Every aspect of the packaging was natural, from the outer wrapping paper with the grape leaf pattern printed using organic inks, to the laser-cut balsa wood label, to the string and the wax seal used to affix the label. Just by looking at the packaging, it communicates unique and organic.
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.
Morrisons, one of the largest supermarket chains in the UK, recently unveiled its rebranded entry-level “value” line, now bearing the name “M Savers.” The work was done by brand design agency Coley Porter Bell as part of a strategic assessment aimed at transforming Morrisons’ own label into a more coherent brand. With some 17,000 products and their variants in Morrisons’ own brand, positioning different tiers and categories of products was a daunting task.
Morrisons’ entry-level value line presented its own unique challenges. Stephen Bell, creative director at Coley Porter Bell, said that the term “value” had a negative meaning to some consumers. “Value ranges tend to be somewhat utilitarian, using template designs and basic corporate colors. Research shows that consumers are often ashamed to be seen with them. But with the economy stalled for the foreseeable future, value ranges will be competing on more than just price. We wondered why shouldn’t entry-level products have some charm and engagement?”
How do you convince consumers that your tequila is authentically Mexican and not an Americanized version of what the South of the Border drink is all about? Skip the piñatas, the sombreros and all the hokey souvenir-type imagery for starters.
For the reintroduction of its product in the United States after an absence of several years, Espolon Tequila wrapped its brand in the rich traditions, history, festivities and artistic style of the Mexican culture. Spearheaded by Landor, the rebranding program was inspired by the engravings of renowned 19th century artist Jose Guadalupe Posada, whose skeleton people are best associated with the Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebrations. Finely drawn illustrations by Steven Noble pay homage to Posada’s style and incorporate iconography reflecting the legends and lore of Mexico.