W&V Packaging Conference

Designers Grilled & Speed Dated

On August 19th Wines & Vines magazine hosted their second annual Packaging Conference at COPIA in Napa. I was flattered to have been invited to participate in both the opening Innovation in Packaging Designer’s Panel Discussion and the Designer’s Speed Dating event that followed.

W&V’s Editor, Jim Gordon asked Andrew Rice, Creative Director of Trinchero Family Estate, to moderate the discussion with Tony Auston of Auston Design Group, Jeff Hester, of Cult Partners and myself. Andrew organized the discussion into three categories starting at the top of the wine bottle; closures, glass and labeling which included paper, silk-screening, ACL’s and even rubber bracelet’s. Everything was on the table. Andrew also spiced things up with surprise questions.

Visuals from A to Z Presented

The visuals behind each category featured work from each designer. Since the emphasis was on innovation, we were asked to put-up images of unusual assignments and give brief explanations of choices and methods made that led to each design solution. All of us agreed that most decisions are client driven. After all, it is their package and their money driving the project.

That said, it is also our responsibility to offer alternatives and, in some cases, totally different approaches that lead to getting noticed on the shelf. It was also agreed that there are paths to elevating a brand, particularly at higher price points. Distinctive packages seldom come dressed in a red polyester suit with flashing lapel buttons. A more subtle approach is required.

Do’s and Don’t Explored

Often times we strayed from our script. Each one of us asked questions about one another’s work, which led to pros and cons of pursuing certain paths. I recall an exchange about custom bottle molds that on one hand promoted the singularity clients achieve when they create a custom bottle. That led to some downsides – custom bottles don’t always fit retailers shelving and facing requirements. Wine is more driven by tradition – Burgundy, Bordeaux and Claret bottles! As Tony Auston put it, “Spirit producers have all the fun.” Their glass treatments are all over the map.

Questions from the Audience

My favorite, “Why don’t we see more imaginative package designs from some of the big wine companies like Consolidated Brands?” I jumped on this question. Larger firms, like Consolidate Brands, arrive at decisions that are more consensus driven. Focus groups and brand managers are seldom going off the beaten path, in my opinion. I also pointed out that in today’s crowded landscape, difference is exactly what is needed to attract attention. A package has about 1.5 seconds to make a connection. Why not make it happen with an attractive, clever design?

Wines & Vines observers reported that the audience was engaged.  I was told that many people were taking notes, which was a good thing.  At the conference lunch the people at my table were very complementary.

Speed Date A Designer

Following the keynote presentations, Wines & Vines introduced a Designer Speed Dating event. Eight package designers were seated at small tables. Conference attendees were given 10 minutes each to discuss their respective package concerns. I talked to a few vintners who actually brought their existing packages and asked for an on-the-sport analysis. I didn’t feel it was right to be harsh. For all I knew, the vintner could have designed the package themselves? It was a challenge to find the right language that didn’t offend. I found the exercise to be fun and an opportunity to be nimble. I made a few contacts that might move forward.

Overall, the conference was fun, and from what I was told, well attended. For more information on the conference go to Wines & Vines website for an overview:

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