I confess to being a bit of a design geek. I profess no training, no particular design skill or expertise. I’m not an expert in colour choice, fonts, drawing or photography. But I am fascinated by design choices and the way those choices communicate the essence of a brand. To my eye, sometimes they are perfectly in synch – you know exactly what the company is trying to say about itself and the product. In other cases the design may be pretty – but it really tells you nothing about what’s inside.
I think this is also true in the craft beer business where you can walk into a beer store or the LCBO and be confronted with hundreds of different cans all screaming for your attention. Some of those cans are quirky, some are fun, some walk the line into minimalism. Let’s look at a few designs.
Here’s a great example of the minimalist approach. Ace Hill, Toronto brewery just launched last year. The can is almost all white space – other than the type of beer, pilsner, and the capital A on the front – it doesn’t tell you much about the company or the beer. But it does stand out on the shelf.
Lost Craft takes a similar approach to branding with white and minimal colour – but it provides more information on the back of the can with details about the type of beer, how it was brewed and what you can expect inside the can. It also talks about the brewery’s social commitment to the community. So not much “show” and lots of “tell”. In a sea of browns, blues, and blacks – it’s easy to spot.
The next two are a contrast in approaches. Steam Whistle selected a unique colour – there’s nothing else like it on the shelf. The art is retro, fun and tells you about the spirit of the beer and the company and delivers information about what’s inside the can. Steam Whistle bottles are also bright green, lending a symmetry across packaging formats. Maclean’s makes delicious beer – the packaging delivers the basics but the silver on gold lettering is a struggle to read and doesn’t tell you anything about the remarkable history and brewing heritage of the company. It feels like a bit of a lost opportunity.
The final pair are what I’d describe as the story tellers, Woodhouse Lager and Cameron’s Ambear Ale. The front of the Woodhouse can is a study in essentials – clear, straightforward with basic information. The story on the back of the can is a kind of ode to simplicity, and describes the beer as simple and “to the point”. While I don’t love the art, or the colour choice (but, as I said, I am no judge of artistic talent), I think the design and the message on the can are in synch. I have a sense of what the company and the beer are all about. The can matches the message, and it matches the beer too!
Cameron’s also tells a story, though it’s much more whimsical and humorous. They’ve had fun with the names of their different beers – and the story they tell is perfectly matched to the art on the can. The art is as whimsical as their story – and the colour selection is modern and unlike any other combination you’ll see on the shelves. Cameron’s produces three styles of beer and the art and design deftly connects across the three lines. You could look at the back of the can, never see the logo or the cover art – and tell it’s a Cameron’s product. To my eye it’s actually one of the most successful packaging redesigns I’ve seen. They’ve moved from an old school, maroon and navy blue traditional package to something eye catching and fun. I also have a clear sense of the Cameron’s brand.
There’s so much more to say about cans, bottles, packaging and beer art. Flying Monkeys has a design sense that’s just this side of an acid trip. Collective Arts in Hamilton has made a virtue of lending its can and shelf space to local artists, which is a completely different approach to branding.
I’ll return to this subject in future blog posts. It’s a part of the beer world I haven’t seen reported on a lot and it’s always worth a look.