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)

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.

Five takeaways from the Craft Brewers Conference

30.04.19

As you might have heard, we don’t just drink beer. No, our relationship with the beautiful brew is much deeper than that. You might call it our muse. But our inspiration doesn’t just come from guzzling the stuff down—we also take to putting ourselves in the shoes of brewers to better serve them.

So when the Craft Brewers Conference came to Denver, our resident American put on his coolest hat and braved the booths to see what’s happening in the industry. Here are our five takeaways from #CBC2019:


1 Ingredients matter.

The Denver Convention Center is a scary big place and the floor was crawling with farmers and salespeople pushing hops and barley. With the big names in craft brewing now available in Colorado supermarkets and ever-increasing consumer consciousness, brewers have got to be picky with what they put in their beer. The moustached dude dropping $6 for a can at his local shop cares where those hops come from and we designers need to help brewers put that information front-and-center.


2 The merch game has transcended simple branding.

In an overwhelming space, it was Brist MFG’s booth that really caught our eye—and for good reason. Their quality hats (given away for free!) and 90s throw-back Hawaiian shirts, gave off relaxed, too-cool vibes in an otherwise sterile space. Think about how this applies to your brewery’s merchandise: cheap logo t-shirts are no longer enough. Felt baseball caps, real flannels, technical hoodies and other quality wares should be in your future if you want today’s consumers to hit the town sporting your logo.


3 Quality print finishes are still the exception.

Surprisingly, quality still doesn’t seem to be the norm with packaging. Although some craft brewers work with artists and designers to push boundaries, most of what we saw on the floor at CBC was pushing efficient but uninteresting print finishes and can wraps. Just like with fine food, you don’t simply experience it with your taste buds. You also drink it in with your eyes and feel it with your hands. As long as you can work within the bounds of regulations, it looks like there’s plenty of room in the craft space to do something special with packaging.


4 Look up from your phone.

It’s the bane of our times, isn’t it? We met some amazing people, formed meaningful business connections and learned a lot in just a couple hours at CBC. One interaction really stands out though: one that didn’t happen. A company threw a lot of money at a booth, only to be squandered by their representatives sitting down to stare at their phones (they were middle-aged men, by the way, don’t blame the millennials). This is less about brewing than a general reminder that engagement is a human phenomenon and nobody is safe from apathy if you let it waltz in through the front door.


5 There’s just a LOT going on.

Hops. Barley. Water. Kegs. Cleaning systems. Brewing technology. Label printing. Regulations. In-house canning. Marketing. Merchandise. Branding. Sustainability. Brewing is not a simple endeavor; you could spend three days at CBC and still fall well short of stopping by every booth. It’s sort of like running a brewery, actually: there’s just more to do than you have time for. So, pick your battles and delegate what you can. May we humbly suggest design?

Is Logo Design Dead?

08.02.19

A social media post made a splash when designer Mirko Ilic posted an image featuring the vintage logotypes of several famous fashion brands alongside their new logos. His caption simply read, “Interesting logos are being replaced with boring ones. This are the people why are destroying respect for graphic design.”

The post immediately caught fire and was soon being debated across the internet and mentioned in industry leading podcasts such as The Observatory. Reactions tend to fall into two camps:

1 The redesigns are legible, in the tradition of Modernism, and that’s dandy.
2 Graphic design is dead.

We’d like to propose a third option:

3 Brands used to set themselves apart with a logo, but now they’re now differentiating themselves in new and interesting ways.

First, a look at the two initial camps. With its roots in Bauhaus universalism, capital-M Modernism—not to be confused with its generalized cousin ‘contemporary’—stresses legibility. In typography, this tends to express itself in simple, geometric sans-serif typefaces. With Modernism, creativity is thrown in the trash in favor of simplicity and straightforward communication. It’s all KISS (Keep It Stupid Simple), a tagline thrown around so much you don’t need to look far to see it in the comments for this debate:

Modernism has its place in design history, but it’s important to remember that it was a specific movement in the arts and advertising. While there are Modernist principles that will live forever, practicing Modernism like it’s 1960 has become an aesthetic; a statement in and of itself. Many of us are just suckers for its legacy, look, and feel. Some days I’m one of them.

But we have this other camp to contend with: graphic design is DEAD. Burn your black turtleneck and dig your grave.

For many designers, what makes them relevant is their creativity. They’re just as much artists as they are communicators, and graphic design is their opportunity to make a mark on the world. To apply that unique artistry to a brand, and set them apart from their competitors, is the best thing you can do for said brand. Postmodern design took the rigid rules of Modernism and burned them, and in their eyes, for good reason.

Sadly, in these designers’ eyes, brands are embracing cheap Modernist tricks, and buying easy sans serif logos for five bucks. Lazy designers are selling them boring crap, and killing the industry with ‘blanding’.

There’s your two camps.

At O Street we straddle a line between these two theories of practice. Sometimes, you’ve just got to communicate something so nobody shoots their eye out. Break out the Modernism. At other times, we’re itching to dig into our messy art supplies or crazy 3D digital skills, and it’s also the right thing for the client. So, we ride the line between chaos and order. Let’s call it the Design Tao.

What’s most important for us Design Taoists® is asking: “why?”. No matter the brief, the best solution starts with this simple question.

And there’s a big “why” with this logo debate. Something is driving brands to embrace these simple redesigns, so what gives? This brings us to our theory, or third camp: as brand touch-points get more interesting, logos simply hold less weight.

During the age of Modernism, all brands pretty much had the same ways of reaching their audiences. It was the quintessential ‘brand’:

– Business cards
– Letterhead
– Print advertising, and later television advertising
– Interior design

Today, it’s probably more like:

– Handheld video content
– Personal social media engagement
– Five second Youtube ads before someone hits ‘skip’
– Spacial design, specific to events and ‘happenings’ for maximum impact

Now, obviously people and brands still hand out business cards now and then, and it’s wise to have a card that’s considered and well made (call us if you want one!). But the landscape has changed, and the terrain where most engagement happens is totally foreign to the design world of decades past.

Brands have realized that logos are no longer the key identifier of their brand: interactions, digital and personal, now reign supreme. For a modern day brand operating on the world stage, a static and stable—that is, boring—logo may be necessary so that crazy things can happen on the periphery where the engagement is at. For every designer who’s sad they’re not being paid to make crazy logos, there’s a very happy designer out there making crazy motion graphics and video content.

An example from the post that set off this debate is Burberry. Their old logo was elegant and iconic. Their new one? Boring as heck; the unveiling even included incredibly self-aware email screenshots about how quickly it was made.

What’s not boring as heck is the accompanying pattern, arguably ugly but certainly not stale. The ways that it will be applied are dynamic, exciting, and interesting. The logo itself? An afterthought.

So there’s our third camp argument: logos are just being swept aside for more interesting audience interactions. Of course, we could be wrong. Maybe brands are just skimping on quality design so they can use up their budgets on celebrity Instagram posts.

We’d rather not be wrong, but if we are, you can bet we’ll ask: “why?”

How to Brew a Brand

07.11.18

Beer. Our studio has an undying love for the craft. We’ve been known to swing by Fyne Ales for a brewery tour and a wee keg or two of ale. Our team has been caught up first-hand in the wonder of the scenery, the care of their community and the craft of their beer.

The question is, how do you communicate that wonder to someone deciding what to drink at the pub or shop? That’s exactly what Fyne Ales asked us to do when they needed a rebrand. Through their own extensive consumer and market research, they’d realised that their beer owned a ‘safe’ supermarket perception.

We set out to change that.

Beginning our design process by taking a brewery residency on the farm itself, we spent time with the Fyne Ales family. What became clear was that their brand didn’t fully reflect the story and ethos that we found on the farm. And it’s not only us that saw it that way—much of the team felt like the brand wasn’t bold enough, it was inconsistent, and that the traditional style really didn’t match the exciting things going on in the mash tuns.

What we found was a family company rooted in their place in the world, with a growing community and two eyes on the future of craft brewing. Immersing ourselves in the brewery meant we had firsthand research to draw on when it came time to leave the wellies at the door and take things to the studio desk for a design-led workshop.

The emerging theme was clear: be yourselves.

Not to oversimplify, but we really believe that’s it. Fyne Ales is in the heart of Scotland. They are a family. They make real craft beer with care and integrity. In this era, the key to success is to wholly be themselves. As the poet and environmentalist Gary Snyder wrote: “Find your place on the planet. Dig in and take responsibility from there.” The trick for us—and this brand—was to represent that visually.

With research and values in place, we could get to the the fun bit: the creative. We played around with rebuilding the FA logo in seemingly endless different ways. Before long, there was a favourite—a confident ‘FA’ drawn from planks of wood. Fyne Ales is a brewery on a working farm: a Farm Brewery. We made it a cornerstone of the identity.

Putting this creative concept to work, we built a full brand identity that started at the barn door and evolved to include textures and patterns from the substance of the brewery—from keg pallets to cowpats. This library of patterns is one that can continue to be built upon as long as there’s interesting objects to be found on the farm (which there will be, until the end of time).

The resulting brand system was borne by crafting and testing designs—from choosing brand typography that works for long or short beer names, to balancing the hierarchy of a bold brand presence alongside a clear beer name, and a rich background of textures.

Building a brand is more than creating something that looks cool. It’s delivering a comprehensive suite of assets that conveys story, setting and dedication of the craft to every person that touches it.

As for the finished packaging? Well, you can see that in all its glory here.