Yesterday evening, Managing Partner Alex Ririe went back to wine school, speaking at the WSET’s (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) careers talk on the subject of getting into wine and spirits branding. Here, she shares a summary of the panel conversation, where she answered questions alongside fellow panellist, Caroline Forte, Associate Creative Director at Denomination.
What are the key qualities that make a good designer?
Whether you’re a designer or not, a key attribute in any creative job is curiosity – you have to be interested in all sorts of things and want to find out more. Similarly, you need to look at what’s going on in the world around you. You will not be inspired sitting at your desk. And you need to be able to make connections between seemingly un-related ideas. Another very useful skill is being good with people and being able to take feedback and criticism – you won’t please all of the people all of the time, so you need to be able to stay positive.
Other than being a designer, what other key roles are there that work with drinks branding in design agencies?
In larger agencies there tend to be a variety of roles, all requiring slightly different skills:
Client services – this role is about managing the client relationship and the rest of your team so you need to have great people and organisational skills. The role is to make sure the agency delivers against the client’s objectives. You need to be commercially aware and it also helps if you’re a creative and strategic thinker with an eye for detail!
Strategic planning – the planning team tend to be the people who always want to know “why”? That desire to dig deeper and really understand what’s going on is essential. You need to be a problem solver and able to digest and distil lots of information into something simple and engaging. The role of the planning team is to provide inspiration and direction for the design team so you have to be a creative thinker too.
Production – the production team are essential in making sure the designer’s vision comes to life in the real world. It tends to attract people who love the nitty gritty of how things work and enjoy getting stuck into the details. It helps if you’re artistic, but you don’t need to be able to come up with ideas. The production team finesse and realise the designer’s ideas. For this reason, Mac skills in Photoshop and Illustrator etc. are essential and it’s also ideal if you’re organised and don’t get flustered easily.
Support staff – the smooth running of an agency is usually down to the amazing support staff we have such as the Studio Manager, PAs, Account Co-ordinators, Receptionists and the Finance team. Whilst the skills needed for each of the roles varies, the thing that’s common to all, is a love of the energy and buzz that working in a creative agency brings. It goes without saying that you need to be organised and proactive and of course, great people skills will also be hugely beneficial.
How does having wine and spirits knowledge help with your design/branding choices and do your clients also value and have confidence in the knowledge you have?
Wine and spirits are complex beasts. Often the differences between products are nuanced, and the production process can be hard to follow. Generally speaking, the more you understand, the easier it is to find clarity and to get to a solution. But, the trick is to always think of your consumer. Sometimes knowing too much geeky stuff is dangerous because it’s not what your target audience care about. The trick is to be able to distil that knowledge into something appropriate for the audience.
I think clients like the fact I’ve done my Diploma because they know that I’m genuinely interested in their business. It’s a personal passion, so my love for the industry translates into an energy for their project.
How important are the closures to the overall design of the bottle and do you decide what the closure will be before you design the labels?
When we work with Rioja and Champagne brands the closure is already determined because the bottles usually have to be cellared for a couple of years or more. But, of course there are opportunities to be creative with the decorative elements, especially when we’re developing new brands. Tequila for example usually has a cork stopper adorned with all sorts of shapes, from wooden stoppers, to ‘piñas’ to sombreros! For us it’s about what’s appropriate for the brand, and that’s what drives the decision, but we’ll work closely with our clients early on to understand what’s feasible.
Thinking about the environment and sustainability, do you think there will be more of an emphasis on these roles in design-led careers in the wine and spirits industry?
Yes, it’s definitely on the agenda, and designers and agencies have to be aware of how their decisions affect the environment. The challenge is that it’s a massively complex area. It’s not as simple as putting the liquid into cans or bags. We’ve worked on whiskies worth thousands of pounds and it’s not credible to package that in a lightweight bottle. So, I don’t think it’s a one size fits all approach. We need creative minds to tackle the challenge. For example, instead of reducing packaging on a luxury whisky, perhaps an exclusive refill service is offered with access to a VIP members club that has other added-value extras? Again, it comes down to what’s the right approach for the brand.
Culturally, there will be changes in attitude that see more significant shifts eventually, but we also have to be aware that different markets have very different legislation and attitudes to the problem, so it’s going to take a while. Because of the complexity of the situation I don’t expect designers to be experts on the subject. We need production specialists and environmental consultants to help us.
Does the power of social media influence your design decisions and do you think there is more pressure on label design because of Instagram?
Not especially – the role of branding and design has always been to look good, so that’s not changed. And not all consumers are on Instagram! But of course, for more youthful brands it’s really important to leverage social media and to consider how the brand represents itself in an immediately recognisable and engaging way. That’s why creating a visually consistent brand world is so important these days.
And, social media can be a brilliant way to amplify an idea as well. We used it to crowd-source imagery for the Beefeater My London limited edition, and also used Instagram for a Campo Viejo campaign and limited edition bottle in Canada.
Do you know of an instance where the design of the label has affected how the product has gone on to be made or developed?
It’s pretty rare, because usually it’s more helpful for the design team to have something to design to. There’s nothing quite as difficult as an open brief. But, we did have a scenario like that when we were developing ideas for a new Chivas Regal range extension. We had maybe five or six different territories which we took into design really early on in the process. And actually, one of those design ideas inspired a new product concept which went on to become the phenomenally successful Chivas Regal Extra. It demonstrates how a more System 1, visual approach can open up new thinking.
What are the most frustrating wine and spirits regulations that have stifled your creativity?
Constraints can often lead to the most creative solutions because you’re forced to think in a different way. So actually, as long as you know what the regulations are, you can work around them. The frustration comes if you find out about them quite far into the process. Usually, by this point everyone’s bought into an idea and it’s been worked up into a much more finished solution. Then it’s much harder to retro-fit certain changes. We much prefer factoring them in from the beginning.
Beyond packaging, the Loi Envin in France is challenging because you can’t show any lifestyle or evocative imagery in advertising, posters or other types of brand collateral. And in Russia the legislation states that you cannot show any human or animal in spirits advertising, posters or signage, and that rule also applies to brand logos. Which is interesting for a brand like The Famous Grouse where the Grouse is integral to the identity! Our solution was to develop a secondary logo for dark markets which used a red feather signifier instead.
Do millennial tastes and purchasing behaviours affect your design choices?
Yes, but no more than any other consumer group. Ultimately, the most successful ideas come from a deep understanding of the brand and how it can matter to its consumers. Consumer insight is key. With that knowledge we can tap into their wants, needs and interests and develop meaningful design that works. And this applies whoever you’re targeting and whatever their specific tastes.