Randy Mosher, a homebrewer and commercial designer, argues in his excellent book Radical Brewing that a badly designed label says to people: “I don’t respect my beer, so why should you?”
I think this is an interesting point. There are certain beers whose labels I like almost more than the beer. A bad label can lead to a good beer being ignored; and a great label can make you try a beer you’d probably otherwise not look at twice.
There are several different schools of label design. Here are just a few.
1. Primary colours, gilt – “modern but traditional”
Fuller’s and Cain’s. This really works for me. Somehow suggests quality. Fuller’s carry this style of gold and enamel all the way through their brand. Cains – a great brewery, I’m beginning to think, from the two beers I’ve had – do it even better. All the better for being entirely ersatz!
2. Antique, brown paper – “found in a crate aboard a sunken Napoleonic frigate”
Guinness, Burton Bridge Brewery and… er… us.
Another good style, and a good option for the skint brewery with no innate design ability. Immediately looks credible, restrained and, again, suggests tradition. The downside is, your beer can look like a jar of pickle from a church fayre.
3. Quaintly amateurish – “my son is a talented designer”
My least favourite school of beer label design, but often concealing great beer. I’m not going to name names here, but you know the kind of thing I mean: cheap illustrations, names ALL IN CAPS; probably in Times New Roman; possibly even clip art. OK, I will name one: Sierra Nevada. The beers are great. The bottles even look nice – they’re at the top end of “amateurish” – but they look a bit cheap. Like maybe they were coloured in with felt tip pens.