The man with designs on wine

An advertising maxim has it that the way to success is to ‘sell the sizzle, not the steak’. While the general quality of English and Welsh wine is acknowledged to be shooting upwards, is the industry being let down by the labels it produces? asked noted designer Ian Bray, who has been working with Kieron Atkinson at Renishaw Hall, for his thoughts on the subject.

ukvine: In your opinion, what does a producer lose in having a poor quality label?

Ian Bray: It is my belief that with a poor label design the producer loses an opportunity to assert themselves, to make a correct and lasting impression and to initiate positive consumer response. The label is as much a part of a marketing strategy as, let’s say, picking up the telephone and making sales calls or placing an advert. It is essential that the label reflects the art of the winemaker, the skill, effort, love and care that has been invested in making what they should believe to be a great wine that will be loved by many people.

The label is, in many cases the first aspect of a wine that a prospective consumer will see. The concept of quality is one of the most prominent factors in the decision to purchase wine. Therefore, a label must work hard to reflect the wine’s quality appropriately and display the correct level of information, as the consumer often has very little else on which to base a purchasing decision. The label should have as much time and effort spent on it as is possible and practical. After all, why spent many weeks, months and in some cases, years producing a wine, to then label it with an afterthought, a well-intentioned, ill-considered, misguided or half-hearted label effort?

ukvine: What do you think makes a poor quality label in terms of design?

IB: To me a poorly designed label could be many things. For example, at one extreme, a label that is ‘home-made’ and looks home-made, but the wine is promoted and is priced as a premium product. Alternatively, at the other extreme, I have experienced occasions where a great deal of money has been spent with expensive branding, design, marketing and advertising consultants and the results just do not justify the expense. That to me makes a poor label too, even though it may look superb. Unless that route was taken for the PR opportunity of using a ‘well known’ named agency, to me, it just doesn’t make commercial sense and isn’t necessary.

ukvine: What trends do you recognise in the label design world that could be applied to the English/Welsh industry?

IB: I’ve never been one for ‘trends’ as they often come and go without really being noticed. The general ‘trend’ in the UK it appears at the moment, as it has been for many years, is to mimic the styles of more established wine-producing regions, and Champagne is the obvious and classic example. Labels in Champagne, as in many ‘old-world’ regions more often than not follow established structures that reflect tradition and quality and appear to target a mature market. They have the advantage of being able to include a protected regional name. The UK does not have that opportunity – we have no industry-wide agreement on regional terminology, no significant wine history as such.

More and more I see examples from all over the world where producers have been adventurous and innovative in order to broaden their product’s appeal, in my opinion, without detriment. I believe the UK industry is missing a real opportunity to make a statement of intent to the rest of the world. We are able to produce some world-class products that the rest of the world are only just beginning to take seriously (well, kind of seriously – possibly we might be just putting one or two noses slightly out of joint!), but we continue to insist that our labels are, in a way, representative of that tradition we don’t really have.

ukvine: In your opinion, what does a producer gain in having a high quality label?

IB: I think this may have been answered in the response to the first question but I believe a greater opportunity to connect with a consumer, the creation of the all-important impression of quality, to aid and confirm the purchasing decision is the correct one and to create a far more positive emotional response are all gains.

The label needs to compete in a cluttered marketplace. A well designed label has a better chance on the shelf than something that is forgettable or easy to ignore.

ukvine: Can a label be produced as a stand-alone or should it be developed with POS material in mind?

IB: I don’t believe a label should be considered as a stand-alone. It’s not so much POS that it should be part of, but more as part of an overall marketing strategy, that would include a plan and implementation of all aspects of promotion, sales, brand image, etc.

ukvine: As a designer, how constricted are you in terms of the legal and regulatory content that must be included?

IB: In my 25+ years as a designer there have always been restrictions, regulations and requirements that must be accommodated in design for any industry or market. Label design is no different. But, as long as there is an awareness of what must appear on the label, and how to do this correctly, then this should not be considered a ‘constriction’.

ukvine: Is the rear label as important as the front label or is it overshadowed?

IB: Not so much overshadowed – to me they perform a completely different function. The front label should be the opportunity for expression of the wine’s, and the producer’s personality and quality proposition. The back label, unsurprisingly, can carry a reinforcement of that message, can inform the prospective purchaser of details of the products unique vinification techniques, grape varieties, vineyard history, winemaker credentials or food-matching recommendations – all useful in helping a purchase decision. Plus, the additional space a rear label affords means that some regulatory information does not have to clutter the front label.

ukvine: Can labels be designed successfully in isolation from the neck/bottle stopper design or are front, back and stopper designs all a one?

IB: The decision of whether to have a foil design, back or neck label at all is the bigger decision. Once that has been decided, if they are deemed to be desirable, appropriate, cost effective or necessary, then all of the elements need to be considered as a whole, and definitely not in isolation.

ukvine: How long have you been aware of English label design? On the whole, is it getting better, worse or static?

IB: I’ve been aware of UK wine label design for a good many years – almost as many years as I’ve worked in design. On the whole, I over that period I think the situation has improved but only because as the number of producers has increased, the market has changed, and the level of competition has resulted in a need to produce better labels. I think it has a long, long way to go though.

ukvine: What work are you doing at Renishaw Hall? What are your ambitions for the new design? I understand the label will be revealed in the New Year.

IB: Kieron Atkinson at Renishaw Hall has asked me to look at labels that reflect an original and unique aspect of the estate’s history, whilst also being contemporary. And, of course, we’ll be looking to reinforce the fact that Renishaw Hall’s vineyard is, so Kieron informs me, Derbyshire’s only vineyard. Work is in its early stages, but is progressing well.

ukvine: Would you like more English label design work?

IB: I’m always keen to do more design work in the wine industry. As I said, I feel there’s a huge opportunity that’s not really been taken up at the moment.

ukvine: No UK vineyards entered the second annual International Wine Label Design Competition. What do you think this means? Will you enter next year?

IB: I may well enter if I have something I believe is worthy. I suspect the lack of entries may have as much to do with a lack of awareness of the competition as anything else, or a lack of promotion in the UK, producers lacking belief in their own labels. I have to admit that I’ve not seen anything yet in the UK that I would judge to be a winning design though.

See also

UK wine labels invited to enter international design competition
Cultivating a future on Civvy Street

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