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.
If you’re brewing your own beer and want some inspiration for your own labels, check out the Brew Your Own label design contest winners, and also Randy Mosher’s own site.