Free-Run, Platter's new social media feature, entered its second week on Friday morning with a fascinating and informative conversation with in-demand Stellenbosch label and packaging design team, Fanakalo, about the state of the art of wine label design.
Free-Run, on Facebook and Twitter (@wineonaplatter, #freerunfriday) each Friday at 11h00, is a space for linking up with lovers of South African wine locally and around the globe, and finding out what they think about the topic of the day - which could be anything from choosing housewine by the glass (without setting your teeth on edge!), to selecting a South African dream team for an imaginary Wine Olympics, to creating a nest egg for you and your significant other with investment-grade South African vino.
During Free-Run Friday, Platter's connects with celebrities, bloggers, journalists, cellarmasters, industry professionals, "anoraks" and casual quaffers, and invites all wine lovers to join in the conversation via Facebook, Twitter, Skype, email or any other preferred channel. Wine lovers are also encouraged to suggest their own topic for the following week’s feature, and thereby get in line to win an invitation to the launch of the 2013 edition of Platter's in Cape Town in November.
The second Free-Run conversation was about wine label design, its challenges and opportunities, and featured Fanakalo Visual Communication Studio, based in historic winelands town Stellenbosch.
Platter's: What's involved in the design process?
Fanakalo: We find this a hard question to answer as we don't think it is ever 100% the same.
1. Research, brainstorming and conceptualising.
If we're not given a direct and specific brief we would always start with research or asking questions. We try to “tell a story” or convey a philosophy with each brand that we work with. Whether it is as simple a philosophy as “wine should be fun”, or whether it is more complex to include a “green” consciousness, terroir and something specific to the winery that is more unique, we try to make packaging that conveys or draws inspiration from this “story/philosophy”. We often see it most simply as the label should be conveying the winemaker or winery's personality.
Incorporated in the questions that we'll be investigating will of course also be the general marketing placement. Is this wine commercial or niche wine? What is the price point, competition and target market looking like? How and where will it be distributed and sold? Etc.
2. Researching visual styles
From the then established philosophy or story we will then research visual styles, executions and nostalgia that we can draw inspiration. This could be anything from vintage matchbook designs to old book cover designs.
We will then design the labels. We do this either directly on the computer or we do illustrations by hand - it all depends on what is necessary. The complete design is then laid flat over bottles on the computer in order to create mockups that clearly give an idea of the end product. Sometimes we'll print the design out and physically mock it up on a bottle.
4. Presenting to client and feedback
The mockups will be presented to the client and their feedback and input would then be taken into consideration. From here we'll be repeating this process until we reach a final design.
Lastly the labels get printed. We have almost always been instrumental in aiding the client with the quoting process. With the current economic climate we're always getting the quotes before we even start designing in order to design in such a way that the end product is also designed with cost-effectiveness in mind.
Platter's: What is your opinion of current wine labels in South Africa?
Fanakalo: Again, by answering this question we have to try not to generalise. To us, each country has its own heritage. France is very very traditional and it makes logical sense as they are seen as one of the fathers of wine, whilst America and Australia are a lot more open towards 'funkier' packaging that does not draw value from a history (like France). So there's always a context for each wine and wine market and South Africa was, at least in our opinion, following the French very closely. With the apartheid era and sanctions, the South African wine market was forced to follow the KWV's ideologies and those were ideologies and methodologies that were based on following Bordeaux, seeing as Bordeaux proposed good investment value. Therefore (and again this is how we have made sense of our wine history in a nutshell), our wine varietals were and to a large extent still are dominated by Bordeaux varietals - or at least in the commercial market.
So, in our opinion South Africa has only had the room to experiment more with terroir-specific approaches in the last 20 years. SA is thus in an interesting place as it is truly developing its own identity at the current point in time. And, accordingly, the same is happening in design. Not just wine labels, but design as whole has been abuzz about SA needing to discover its own identity. Now that is a whole essay on its own, but we really believe that the wine market is sometimes inward-focused and doesn't realise that at the lower price-points we reckon consumers simply don't care about the 'heritage' of wine.
Our opinion is thus that there is definitely a lot of room for improvement, but the designs that are done right are well designed in SA.
Platter's: When it comes to design, what percentage of clients go for modern/trendy versus still sticking to tried-and-tested designs with slight upgrades/tweaks?
Fanakalo: Here we can't answer you in a way of percentage as there are too many factors to consider. Fanakalo, our design company, is only 3 years strong and we started off doing 'funky' labels. As such, we tend to attract clients who come to us for these types of labels. We would love to do more clean and classical designs, but we think the wines that require these type of design executions need to be very strong brands to stand on their own. These wines are the wines that have the brand value or winemaker with a name behind them and they are also the wines that are above roughly R80. Obvious examples are Kanonkop and Meerlust, but then you also have wineries like Diemersdal and Sadie Family Wines who have that brand equity behind them.
Looking at the shelves and what we know about the SA wine scene, there has, like we pointed out in the previous question, been a lot more exploration and open-mindedness to trendier, funkier and more modern labels. This is again something that is not purely restricted to wine, but can attributed to globalisation and the exposure that the internet has given SA to what is being produced and designed overseas.
Platter's: What makes a winning label, in your opinion?
Fanakalo: If we can look at a label and get a vibe from the label as to what the product and winery is like, then we think it has succeeded - this is again what we refer to as the label 'telling a story'. No label can encompass every existing target market and thus no label will be a “winning label” in everyone's eyes. But if a label can communicate and thus be desirable (this is packaging after all) to the intended target consumer, then that is most certainly a winning label.
Platter's: Many people admit to purchasing wine based on the label - as designers, what message do you want your wine labels to convey?
Fanakalo: We want our labels to be desirable to their intended target consumers. Designing a label for a R20-R30 wine, where a consumer will often be very unfazed by the contents of the wine is of course a completely different ballgame to designing a wine that needs to sell for R100 and up, where your consumer “sees through” a label. We'd specifically like to design labels that capture the imagination and add value to the product's value.
Platter's: Which are your current favourite labels?
Fanakalo: Sine Qua Non, Grattalops, Burn Cottage, Le Cigar Volante, Chemin de Moscou, Lopez de Haro, Portal del Priorat, Cotes du Coast, Porseleinberg (we are very proud of this label as it questions convention by using no printing whatsoever, but also the fragile label speaks of how fragile and precious porcelain is).