Craft (Your) Beer (Brand)

15.10.19

In years gone by, when I was a student at art school, the choice of beer in the union bar was poor: Lager, Heavy or Guinness. Or, if you were a fancy pants, you might be lucky enough to get a can of Red Stripe. There has been a revolution in the beer scene since those days. Walk in to any bar or bottleshop today and the choice is overwhelming, from the vast number of breweries now making beers, to the wide range of styles available.

Good design is key to helping the modern consumer navigate those said bottleshop shelves and taproom lineups. New challenges are cropping up for breweries that were once able to guarantee sales on beer quality alone. Here are a few basic lessons we have learned over the years:

Build trust and recognition in your core brand.

Consumers trust a brewery like they used to trust a record label or publisher. Once you realise that a certain brewery makes tasty beer, you’re obviously going to be comfortable choosing one of their other beers. Help the consumer recognise your brewery by reflecting your overall brand in every can.

Stand out from the rest.

Look at what all the other beers on the shelf look like and do the opposite! There are only so many ways you can copy Beavertown before everyone looks the same. It’s common sense; by making your design different you will make it easier for the consumer to notice you.

Be authentic.

The days of brands hoodwinking consumers with made up back-stories was over in the 1950’s. Today’s consumers want a brand they can trust and believe in.

Don’t underestimate the visual sophistication of your audience.

Everything is looking more sophisticated year on year; movies, video games, fashion, kebab shops. When your target audience see how cool things can look, they are no longer going to be seduced by a design your best friend’s flatmate’s nephew has knocked up on his laptop with a hooky copy of Photoshop.

Basic lessons however only equip you to deal with basic challenges. The recent explosion in the beer scene requires breweries to develop designs that move and grow as fast as the choice of beers does. In the early days of craft beer, producing a single ‘craft beer’ was enough. As consumers demanded more variety, a wider selection of core beers was required. A label system designed to fit one beer style needed to be stretched to fit a wider selection. In Scotland, we saw Innis & Gunn’s original red label, being used in blue to differentiate their Rum Cask variation. Breweries with a wider range of core beers, like Brewdog, required a much wider colour palette to accommodate all their beers. But, how many colours can you add to your palette before customers confuse the ochre of your lager with the burnt orange of your pilsner?

A cherished brand in the design industry is Brooklyn Brewery. The brand and basis of the labels was designed by the legendary Milton Glaser, the famous designer behind the ‘I heart NY’ logo. The labels employ combinations of colours that allow them to visually define a much wider range of beers than single colours could. However, even these guys are struggling to come up with new combos to differentiate their beers. We’ve recently noted that in addition to flipping the colours on the label for each beer, they have also introduced different textures. The orange and green of their East IPA is used again on their Orange IPA variation, but it’s in tandem with an orange peel illustration to keep the label distinguishable.

We might assume at this point we have a handle on how to develop a label system that can grow and develop as you do: A strong core brand; bold headline type defining beer style; a colour palette (of single colours or combos); and texture or illustrations to add a further level of differentiation.

Problem solved? Naw, nae really.

We’ve found new curveballs entering label strategies. Suddenly one-off, seasonal beers are becoming more of a priority for brewers than their core range. This offers a huge amount of variety to consumers, but a real headache to designers. We can handle a slowly growing core range, as you have time to optimise on work on each label design. But with seasonals, new labels are required with much more frequency, and beers can be dropped just as quickly. We have the same challenges of stand-out and differentiation for a label that might only be on the shelves for a few weeks before we need to be ready to develop a new one.

To be honest, when I say it’s the designers’ problem, what I really mean is it is the breweries problem. Most breweries can’t afford to hire external design studios to design every one of their experimental seasonal beers. Instead, we have begun developing label template systems for our clients that, alongside a little training, allow the breweries to design their own labels. These very often have areas where variables can be introduced to differentiate the new beers. We don’t rely wholly on colour but allow multiple ways to personalise a beer whilst still remaining ‘on brand’. We can’t forget that first golden rule of building trust in your core brand. Making labels that look different for the wrong reasons often dilutes your core brand, eroding this trust.

The next curveball (and I am sure not the last) is the recent trend for collaboration brews. Again, brilliant for the consumer, it’s bringing amazing new beers and the best features of our favourite breweries together in delicious harmony (think Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan singing together on Nashville Skyline – David) (think Linkin Park & Jay-Z combining forces on Numb/Encore – Jonny). To tackle this new nightmare for designers we still recommend a template approach, like the seasonals, but this time it includes the added complexity of a second brewery brand (who’s logo and personality often need to be incorporated).

It’s not easy, and we also realise that trying to rationalise a design approach for each new industry fad is not the only solution. Keeping things clean is important both in the design process and the brewing process, but allowing space for creativity, allowing the wild yeast to add some funk, is also a door we must leave open. Some of our favourite label designs break all the rules: the candle stub design for Ominipollo’s Maz pale ale is a modern classic, where colour, brewery and even beer name are all thrown out the window (or round the back).

However, you can’t fight all battles, on all fronts, at the same time. Helping breweries define their priorities at the outset of a project is key. What is your brief? Do you want to develop a label that will make your beers appealing on a supermarket shelf; develop a label that will build loyalty with a local community of superfans; develop a beer label that optimises e-commerce opportunities; make a splash on Instagram; gets rival brewers jealous; make your ex notice you again, etc. etc.

Whatever your priorities are, a good designer can help you get there. We’d recommend your best friend’s flatmate’s nephew, we heard he has Photoshop!

(adapted from our original article featured in the October 2019 edition of Brewers Journal)

A Work Trip With Porpoise

25.09.19

At O Street, few things are held in such mythical regard as the annual fishing trip. Chaotic to organise, usually involving rain, and in danger of being overhyped, it is a trip held close to all of our hearts (and brains). It’s a chance to put the tools down, pick the rods up, and spend time with your work colleagues doing anything but work.

Having just returned from another successful voyage out onto Loch Fyne with the same number of team members that we left with, we can share some snaps (sorry mackerel, too soon) and our arthouse holiday video edit as is tradition.

First things first, stock up on fish catching fuel at Fyne Ales. We popped by and picked up some old faithfuls (Easy Trail & Workbench), as well as a keg of Hopsmuggler, a limited run West Coast Pale Ale done in collaboration with Little Thistle Brewing Co. Safe to say it was DELICIOUS and quite possibly unfairly portioned amongst the O team (I’m sorry it was just too tasty).

With the admin out the way, time to get out on that sea loch my dudes! Rods in hand, boat in water, hope in hearts; we set out to catch some mackerz.

Our main goal was to catch some mackerel for the crackerel, but nature had more to offer! A smorgasbord of Scottish sea-life was presented before us! Seals belly-chased us from their island to the middle of the bay, cormorants swooped nearby, a pod of porpoises came to say hello (we didn’t take any pictures but it was definitely because we live in the moment and definitely not because we tried to take a picture and took a blurry video instead). Last but not least, Tessa caught a MASSIVE starfish! Look at that sucker!

We chucked Patrick back in the water, and continued on the hunt for McMackerel. After another hour or so, we took back a tidy haul. There’s really only one thing you should do when you are gifted some fresh lads from the fish kingdom: sushi. It would be rude not to.

It was truly a nourishing time, belly-wise and soul-wise. Ended in true O Street fashion, with a dubious jam session round the log-fire. As we know, when you pair any black and white footage with a borderline upsetting rendition of a folk song, you have yourself an arthouse production. So please, enjoy our short film, and take care.

 

— Jonny

 

The Bonnie Neon Signs of Denver’s Bonnie Brae

23.07.19

You’re walking along on a hot summer day and feel a craving coming on. The ‘ol sweet tooth. Panicked, with your very survival at stake, your eyes search for the first hit of sugar available. If you’re a mile within Bonnie Brae Ice Cream in Denver you’re in luck, because you’ll see this sign from a distance:

If you’re into visually rich signage, a quick scan of South Denver neighborhood Bonnie Brae will give you the feels. It sure did for us. We are a design studio born in Scotland that’s since moved out West, with an affinity for vintage visual culture.Therefore, we love stumbling on visual gems that tie us to home.

…And tied to home it is. Surprisingly, this hood isn’t called Bonnie Brae (“pleasant hill” in Gaelic) for nothing. According to the neighborhood’s historical record, it got its name when a 1920’s developer “strived to recreate the aura of peaceful Scottish village in Denver”. Tissue, please. We’re crying.

The neons are lit and the ice cream is handmade. So, what could be better? For designers who love to incorporate neon into logotypes ourselves (like our logo for Pretend Lovers above), nothing. Want to talk about getting your own bonnie neon sign or logo? You can sit down with us at Bonnie Brae Tavern, established in 1934.

O Street, buy me a pizza.

PARTY ON, WEANS

09.07.19

The Design Weans (Glasgow’s arm of global supernetwork The Design Kids) have put on another exhibition, and it’s an absolute corker.

Among the creative whipper-snappers exhibiting are creative duo Clubhouse Paradiso, ceramicist Ruth Mae Martin, illustrator Oscar Mitchell, and our very own designer Jonny Mowat (below).

‘CALIFORN-I-ATE’ is Jonny’s tribute to all the food that ‘stayed with him’ after his trip to the Golden State last year (we get it bro, you’ve been to America).

As well as the A2 giclee print on show at WEANS WORLD, he’s also made a batch of A3, 3-colour RISO prints, available for sale here (or at an even cheaper price if bought at the exhibition), expertly printed by our CRUSH buddy Friends in the Dungeon.

WEANS WORLD enters its final weekend this weekend (12th July – 14th July 2019, 12pm-5pm), so shimmy your heinies down to 16 Nicholson Street and show your support.

Also if you are very lucky, you might be able to grab the last of these bodacious hats.

Japan’s Extra-ordinary Everyday Design

14.06.19

What we think of as ‘ordinary’ in graphic design (the road signs, the brand logos etc…) often become ‘extra-ordinary’ when viewed by someone from a different part of the world.

During a recent trip to Japan, whilst most folks were taking photos of sunsets and locals wearing traditional kimonos, I spent my time photographing drain covers and empty drinks cans.

Sad, I know, but for all you design geeks out there, here is a selection of my favourites:

Every little thing is Japan is so visually rich, you can be forgiven missing the forest for the trees. Maybe next time I’ll notice the temples and landscapes.
– David

Eastern Seaboard On An Ontarian Skateboard

29.05.19

After exploring the Land of the Free’s West Coast last year, I went back to check out its Eastern offerings. Skateboarding through the locations mentioned above meant that I got to fill my eyes with more visual curiosities than you could shake a stick at.

If there’s one thing America knows, it’s good eatin’. The way they advertise it ain’t too shabby, either. Nobody knows what the future of branding will hold, but personally my main hope is for a resurgence of funky, food-based mascots. There is nothing more tee-friendly than a bagel wearing sneakers. A hand-made, vintage aesthetic works great for a lot of things, but probably works best for food & drink businesses in making them look like a trusted, ‘Mom & Pop’ establishment.

In Toronto I visited the AGO, which is humongous and filled with inspiring art. I was introduced to many Canadian artists, such as Lawren Harris (top left, top right). The shading and colours in his landscapes are just the best. I’m in good company here, as he’s one of Steve Martin’s favourite artists. The fierce Arctic explorer (bottom right) was painted by the gloriously named Dutch-Canadian artist Cornelius Krieghoff. The AGO has been making efforts to expand their collection of work by indigenous artists, such as Pitaloosie Saila who created the lithograph ‘Smoke Rings’ (bottom left). Last but not least, we have William Kurelek’s ‘The Batchelor’—his own spelling—in the middle. It’s my favourite out of all the art I saw and is filled with random little humorous details, like a discarded shoe sitting on a copy of the Catholic Times. You can’t write that stuff.

A spontaneous visit to a friend’s Grandma’s house on Canadian Mother’s Day led to us perusing her collection of vintage matchbooks, gathered over the past 60 years or so. “Why the heck are you interested in these?” Because it’s a freakin’ goldmine is why! The 3rd matchbook on the top row is a wedding favour, which apparently was quite common back in the days of mass tobacco consumption. Why can’t we just have more matchbooks for the sake of having more matchbooks? Matches were cool before cigarettes came along and will be cool long after the tobacco empire has been torn down!

As the oldest ballpark in Major League Baseball, Boston’s Fenway Park is a treasure trove of Americana. They’ve done a great job of keeping their old-school aesthetic without being kitschy. It’s almost worth paying $12 for a schooner of Bud Light. All of the Red Sox merchandise has doubled down on their vintage logotypes and icons, which is exactly how we would do it if we were asked (please somebody ask us).

I was going to show you the skateboard graphic on the board I bought in Toronto, but I just shred the gnar too gosh-darn hard. The graphic is scattered across various rails and curbs on the Eastern Seaboard, on some sort of spiritual journey.

Another trip to the States, another pair of satisfied eyeballs. We love real-world inspiration here at O Street, so if you have any travel gems tweet them to us. Our OSA correspondent Josh is always up for a chat, so if you are US-based and want to work with us, drop him a line: josh@ostreet.co.uk

—Jonny