A Good Designer Offers You a Choice

label design by Gail JohnstonHave you heard the commotion over Hillary’s campaign logo? As a professional graphic designer, I’m happy about the fuss because it validates the importance of what I do. My business is not one of life and death importance, but then again…maybe it is! A good logo, label, or website design, for example, could save the life of a company, and behind every company there are people trying to stay alive in a competitive world.

Anyone can buy the professional software I use: InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop, Premiere, and other mind-bogglingly powerful applications. But having the right software doesn’t make someone a successful designer anymore than having automotive tools makes one a mechanic. The difference is, it’s easy to tell if a car isn’t working, but not everyone can tell when a design is inadequate.

As in other professions, the best designers feel called to their career. I know I did. When I first started studying design, my tools were French curves, rapidograph pens, lightboxes, rubylith, drafting tables, and a killer set of permanent markers. I could render just about anything with those markers. Since the transition into technology, little of that has remained, but what has survived—what doesn’t change no matter what the medium—is the graphic designer’s drive.

What exactly is this drive? Well, it’s hard to describe. It’s a serious passion to make things happen visually, to put engaging imagery and typography together to form a message that is so clear you know without a doubt that it works­.

One of my present clients is Cobble Ridge, a start-up artisan distillery. After years of big brand clients, it’s a pleasure to work in the craft spirits industry where I meet the owners themselves to discuss their vision. Pockets may not be as deep, but I enjoy the people, not to mention the drink, and believe that every business, no matter how small, should have a professional designer to help make their vision a reality. That’s especially true in the wine and spirits industry where, well…who hasn’t bought a bottle just because they like the label? Image isn’t everything, but it clearly helps with sales.

Here are a few concepts from my first presentation to the owner of Cobble Ridge. I presented eight distinct concepts, but these four are enough to communicate my main point for this article. Even though the proprietor had a single vision of how he wanted to position Cobble Ridge in the world, my designs show a varied interpretation of that vision. There are no formulas to make this happen. Templates are the craze of the day, but they can not come close to what an experienced and creative graphic designer can do for you. Graphic design is essentially art—art with a definite purpose and people to please, but art nonetheless. As such, you can’t punch in the parameters of your project and predict exact results, but a designer can produce an exciting spread of options for you. Each option should speak to your target audience and yet be entirely different.

Label Design by Bay Area Wine Label Designer Gail JohnstonFor Cobble Ridge’s new brand, the proprietor said he wanted to be the “opposite of stodgy.” Since the distillery is located in the Sierra Foothills—Gold Country—we discussed the possibility of using imagery from gold mining and the Old West for his first product, Grappa Moonshine. The goal was to communicate a sense of place and history with a modern twist.

You’ll notice that these four designs immediately differ from each other in that Design A shows a typographic solution, Design B uses photography, Design C uses illustration, and Design D shows a strong graphic approach.

In Design A, the nicks out of each letter is reminiscent of typography of the Old West. The ascenders of the “bbl” in “Cobble” suggest the mountain range of the Sierra Foothills. The downward flow of “Ridge” entices you to tip the bottle and let the moonshine flow. Overall, the feeling is fun and fluid, yet not without weight and balance.

The photo in Design B seems to invite you into the dangerous gold mine and the hard liquor itself. Ordinarily, an image of big gritty rocks would clash with a clear liquid, but filters applied to the photo make it shine. An icon of a pick and ax icon is shown on the cap, offering another element that can be used in brand development.

Design C uses a sketch by Edward Borien (1872-1945), an authentic and prolific cowboy artist. In addition to the connection to the American frontier, the sketch offers a sense of action, spunk, and adventure—all things the client wanted as soon as he saw this concept. The border around the type is a subtle connection to the details on a western saddle. This solution also has “legs” meaning that the client can build his brand using other works by the artist for the products he develops in the future.

Design D is a modern interpretation of a mine shaft. The graphic treatment is intended to grab your attention and pull you in. Moonshine is strong stuff and this uncomplicated bold design makes no bones about it.

Again, there’s no template or software that can produce such an exploration of concepts; you need a real designer on your job, giving you the best chance of building your business with a unique and memorable brand. If you are looking for a designer or creative team, consider whether or not the designer’s samples show a creative range. Don’t hesitate to call references and ask if the designer typically presents a strong set of viable solutions. Having a choice will more likely give you the design that you just know is right. More importantly, your customers will know it too. They will be drawn to it, they will remember it, and they will be back for more.

2 Responses to A Good Designer Offers You a Choice

  1. suja pritchard says:

    These are interesting designs! I would buy design A because the quirky lettering says, artistic, unique and strong …as Bette Davis quote goes,” buckle up boys… you’re in for a bumpy ride”!

    Glad there are more wineries understanding how much the first impression of the label matters

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