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Barrel + Ink: Drink up these enticing collaborations!

Yes. No. No. Maybe. Definitely not. No. Yes. No. Maybe. I guess I could take a chance…

That is my mental process when I am strolling down the wine aisles at the store trying to figure out what bottle of wine I want to purchase. Admittedly, I am only looking at the wine labels and trying to discern how much I will enjoy a bottle of wine based on the typography, interesting vineyard name, and level of cleverness present on that tiny 3 inch x 3 inch canvas. What’s worse (or better depending on if your perspective is mine or the vineyards), is that I have HUNDREDS of labels, er, bottles of wine to choose from.

But let’s be honest with ourselves here: Unless you have decided to educate yourself on the various wines, vineyards, and grapes out there, most likely you’re picking your wine based on a label. It is indeed a lot like judging a book by its cover and we’ve all been hoodwinked by that process in the past. So what is a customer to do?

Enter Barrel + Ink, a San Francisco based company that “pair designers and winemakers together to create exceptional, limited-run wines.” The idea is that winemakers and designers are makers in their own right and oddly their individual processes intersect on a regular basis, but perhaps without a ton of intention. Often the marketing of a wine is separated from the actual vineyard and perhaps doesn’t truly embody and pay homage to the winemaking process. Barrel + Ink decided that missed connection was an amazing opportunity not to be ignored again.

Barrel + Ink

The most recent collaboration is between design rockstar Jessica Hische and Napa Valley winemaker Andy Erickson. Whoa. Their 2014 White Blend is just beautiful. Not only the pale, golden wine within the bottle, but the way Hische’s design aesthetic embodies the craft, sense of fun, and taste notes of the actual wine is spot on. But this is not just a designer fulfilling a client’s design needs. It truly is a collaboration. As Hische mentions in her interview (which by the way, the website offers audio interviews with each collaborator, which is a beautiful extra touch!) she was able to actually meet and work with Andy. She visited the vineyard and was able to draw inspiration for her final design. As with any good collaboration, it was two maker experts that did 110% and created something exceptional. Other design collaborators include Erik Marinovich, Invisible Creature, and Lab Partners.

Barrel + Ink

Barrel + Ink: Winemaker Andy Erickson

Barrel + Ink: Designer Jessica Hische

Barrel + Ink is also pretty tight lipped on which designers and winemakers they’ll be bringing in on the future collaborations. Smart move. I’m certainly going to keep checking back to find out which of my favorite designers has now made a miniature piece of art aka wine label, that I have to purchase now (obviously!)

Interested in getting your hands on a bottle? You won’t be able to pick this up at your local shop. These wine + design collaborations are only offered through the website. But you can get on their mailing list and be notified as each new collaborative bottle becomes available for purchase.

Emirates Airline: Not your average brand!

I’ve had brands on the brain. The final project for the class that I recently taught at the University of Washington was based around brand channels ranging from logos to websites. So obviously, everywhere I look my brain is on brand overload. While my class focused on visual communication design skills, I knew that there were many brand channels that we weren’t even getting to discuss. One of which is sponsorship. Think about Coke: if there is ever a sporting event, you can bet their logo can be seen on every cup, to-go container, exit sign, and hallway (I’ve heard even urinal cakes can be branded! What won’t they think of next??). But as my amazing TA and design extraordinaire Chad P. Hall once said, “Brands are living, breathing, and growing. Let them.” That hit a note with me. When managing and designing for a brand, it’s important to be consistent in the message you’re sending your audience, but the form in which that takes can come in many varieties.

Emirates is an airline based on of Dubai. While I have never flown with them, I would certainly like to one day! Their brand represents high-class, luxury, and a dedication to full-filling any and all needs. But that level of service is available from their first class to their economy. They’re an equal opportunity service, if you will. Over the years I have seen several of their advertisements and all those brand attributes are strong, but there is always a playfulness present (See their ad with Jennifer Aniston). That could not be more true than in their sponsorship of football (soccer for you Yanks) games. They could have easily slapped their logo on a few banners (which I’m sure they did), but they went a step further to show just what they’re all about, perfectly combining their business (airline travel) with the activity they’re sponsoring (football). A truly perfect blend!

Viewers were obviously delighted when it went from a cute “safety presentation” of the stadium to full out and kick-ass football moves by their airline staff. You can tell that the audience’s experience will retain an even more positive image of the Emirates airline brand going forward. More so than any logo on a cup could ever do.

So the big questions is…when can I book my flight?

Do you have a favorite brand? One that delights you are every new turn? Tell me all about it in the comments section!

The Hunger Games: A battle of the brands

The first movie adaptation of the Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins came out a little over 5 months ago, but I have put off watching it until now. I have read the books previously and I just wasn’t ready to let go of the image I had in my head to what competed (pun intended) on screen.

For those of you who have not seen this movie, it’s a gripping story set in an undefined period of time (Perhaps a statement about our future?) where there are 12 districts, each with a group of people with a specialized skill that exports a specific natural resource, such as fish or coal, to The Capitol. These districts were established after the people rose up against The Capitol (the richest and most well-to-do) and were subsequently defeated and restricted to these districts depending on how close they were to The Capitol (one being closest and 12 being the furthest away). To show tribute and how benevolent The Capitol was towards the districts (read: to keep keep everyone terrified from ever revolting against the government again), they hold The Hunger Games each year, televised to all the districts in real time. A boy and girl tribute from each district is offered up to compete, to the death. There can only be one winner. May the odds ever be in your favor.

While this book has many political undertones and at times isn’t as outlandish of a leap as it seems (Some of the events and actions sound eerily familiar to our current government), it is the intense branding that occurs for each set of tributes that really got my attention. Admittedly, when I was reading the books my branding strategy and graphic designer spidey senses were tingling, but I was so wrapped up in the story, I ignored them. But with watching the movie, since I already knew what was going to happen, I could focus more on the details.

As designers and marketing folk, we know that developing a brand is no easy task. There are a lot of factors to take into account, but there are some oldies, but goodies to always keep in mind: Know your product, know your audience, create a story, keep interest high, and be consistent. Most people would probably think that only products or technologies are branded in today’s market. While the world may have the most interaction with product branding, branding also occurs for people. Think about any of your favorite athletes, musicians, or politicians. Certain words or actions probably come to mind when their name is uttered. Those same words also probably come up for everyone else who thinks about them too. They have created an “image” aka brand for themselves. The Hunger Games makes good use of creating an “image” for each team of tributes.

If we had to break this down, Katniss and Peeta are products that are launching to the public (The Hunger Games). Haymitch, the always inebriated, disheveled, and previous winner from The Hunger Games is the branding strategist (mentor). He certainly knows his audience, The Capitol members, who love a good story as much as a good kill. They’re flashy, over the top, but with money to burn. But convincing this audience to act as sponsors (read: buy the product) is the difference between life and death. Tributes from other districts are branded as “Professional Tributes” or as sweet and adorable, in the case of Glimmer from District 1 (She’s actually a sadistic girl that laughs as she kills other tributes. Ugh).

Haymitch Abernathy


The Capitol People

While Peeta understands how to play the game (of branding), Katniss really struggles with being branded. Haymitch tells them that they need to be gracious, pleasant and to sell a good story. After their mentoring (aka branding) from Haymitch they are ready to face their audience. Basically the product is launching to the public. To garner interest, Peeta and Haymitch create a story that Peeta and Katniss are star struck lovers doomed by The Hunger Games. Haymitch even goes so far as to say, “I can sell forlorn lovers.” Ever the seemingly sleazy ad man.

The next part of a good brand is keeping interest high with your audience. If you don’t give them anything to pay attention to, they’ll just move on to the next interesting brand. This is best shown while The Hunger Games are in full swing. While Katniss is slow to play the part of forlorn lover, she slowly starts to see that to survive she has to sell her and Peeta’s brand to the sponsors. Get them to believe in the story they’re telling. She helps heighten the story by giving several PG kisses, snuggling in a cave and risking her life to save Peeta’s. Peeta held up his side of the brand by telling the audience/Katniss how long he had loved her, even back when they were in District 12. The Capitol ate it up with their expensive silver spoons.

The being consistent part of their brand really comes in Book 2 and 3. So we will see if the brand of Katniss and Peeta as forlorn lovers who survived stays true or if they end up needing a rebrand (I’m not giving the ending away!). Either way, the proverbial wool wasn’t pulled over this designer’s eyes! Sneaky branding!

Happy Anniversary!

Now whether you agree that Steve Jobs is a good guy or that Adobe updates make you want to stomp your foot in frustration, you have to admit that Apple is a leader in technology products that span the globe. They’ve managed to take something that scares and intimidates most people and packaged it down into something small, user-friendly, and that usually doesn’t give you an error messages every 5 minutes (Stupid Gateway computer my parents had when I was in high school. We were not friends.)

Most graphic designers use a Macintosh or prefer to use one. It’s definitely marketed to us that if you’re creative, you want to use a Mac. Well I fell for it hook, line and sinker. Now while I realize there are other opinions and thoughts out there that are all very valid, I admit that I just feel more safe and comfortable working on a Mac, trusting it with my hours upon hours of work. It’s like I’m technologically married to Apple and so far the relationship has really been lovely. My laptop has been with me through college, a mini flood, and anything else that’s happened in the last 6 years and hasn’t let me down yet.

While I’m a few years off of a decade, Apple just celebrated it’s own anniversary with it’s retail stores. We’ve all been to one and they always made a statement. To celebrate Apple released a poster to commemorate the decade. Foregoing their usual marketing basics which is fantastic images, large amounts of white space, they went in the complete opposite direction. They made a black poster covered edge-to-edge with words. Very different.

At first I was really put off by it. We’ve all see that companies makes mistakes from time to time with their marketing, but I was really surprised by Apple. This was a major departure. It seems overwhelming to have to read all of that, but I decided against my better judgement to do so. Where once was skepticism, when I had finished reading, I was smiling and had a fuzzy feeling in my heart. They hadn’t departed from their brand messaging. They had taken away all the visual distractions and really made their audiences focus on what they were saying. Smart really when you think about it. So go ahead and read it here. It doesn’t take too long and you’ll be happy you did.

Tylenol: Too much branding?

I recently twisted my ankle moving into my new apartment. So I was on a regiment of Tylenol Extra Strength for a good week. I kept popping the pills without really looking at them, but then one day I stopped and really focused on these little pills. Even the pill is branded with a red and blue gel tips and has an icon on it that explains how it works! Graphic designers strike again!

In Tylenol’s commercials they show the two halves of the pill breaking apart after ingestion and that the two parts work together to relieve pain. Well I never gave it anymore thought than that. Having looked closer at my pills though I see that there is a tiny little icon/information graphic in the gray band (which is in the center) that to me shows dissolving, thus explaining to the user how their medicine works. I was truly floored that most likely a graphic designer had designed this icon and here it was, stamped into the pills I was taking.

I know that graphic designers often wonder how far they can get involved with their projects. Is it simply the marketing of the product? Perhaps the strategy behind the product? Or based on Tylenol, even in the actual product development? I believe Tylenol has proven that a graphic designer can get involved and stay involved all the way down to the development of the product. That’s one step further for graphic designers everywhere!