A Graphic Designer Reviews Dallas Beer Labels

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Maybe you don't care about graphic design. Maybe the only reason you look at a beer bottle label is to see how much you'll have to drink before saying weird things to your brother's wife isn't so weird anymore. But as consumers, we should recognize that product packaging plays an important role in our buying decisions.

The New York Times recently asked Milton Glaser, the design God behind I <3 NY, to lay down the law on craft brew beer labels. His assessment of Shiner Bock's label, saying "even though it's conventional, it's memorable," got us thinking about DFW's breweries and their labels. To help us think -- because we couldn't differentiate kerning from tracking to save our glyphs -- we got Dallas' own design expert, Jeff Barfoot, to weigh in on the letted and layered competition.

Barfoot is the managing principal of RBMM, a design affiliate of The Richards Group, and all-around knower of graphic things. He also has an illustration practice with his wife, Shay Ometz, called Bee Things. As it turns out, Jeff likes his barley stalks proportional, and his typography polished (just not too polished.)


Community Texas Pils "This label has a nice unrefined charm to it. Whether by design or by accident, I love how all of the elements feel not-quite-finished, like the design is being careful not to seem mainstream. I also like that this brand has a bit of a vintage feel to it. It looks like a cutting-edge design from the '70s, like what a great label could look like before computers made things like this easier to create. The only drawback on the Texas Pils is that the weirdly large barley stalks and desolate landscape are just a bit off-putting."


Four Corners Local Buzz "I really love this design. Using the Mexican Lotería cards as a visual device is a very fun and very smart way to build their brand identity. These slightly odd illustrations are a perfect vehicle to talk about flavor profiles or ingredients (bee for honey rye, in this case.) The bright color and simple type pair well with the illustration, and give it very different look than other craft beers on the shelf. And this system gives Four Corners a brand they can use for a long time, adding new brews in an interesting way with new illustrations and colors. It makes for a 'collect them all!' kind of desire. Very nicely done."


Franconia Wheat "To me, this one is a bit of a conundrum -- what makes this design great is the same thing that's working against it. On one hand, this label is perfectly crafted and unlike a lot of other craft beers labels, a good deal of design craft is poured into this label. The typography is wonderful, and every little detail has been thought through and designed beautifully. On the other hand, it's almost too polished. It makes them look a little like a big, national brand, a mainstream beer, not a craft one (and who knows, maybe Franconia has big plans.) Standing in the beer isle at Central Market, you would probably have to know this was a local craft beer beforehand because the design doesn't evoke that. But I love it, great design."


Lakewood Temptress "Although there are elements that I like a great deal, this design falls somewhat flat for me. The overall design could feel more special, especially when you see the full lineup of their brew labels. I really love the small symbols at the top of each brew, the temptress herself in this case. I wish the symbol and accompanying color was used more prominently so each brew in the lineup had a more unique feeling -- for Temptress, more sultry, dark, and decadent -- but it would still be evident that they were very much from the same brewery (for an extreme example of this, take a look at New Belgium Brewing's packaging.)"


Martin House The Imperial Texan Double Red Ale "This is a lost opportunity. There is a very cool, gritty, graphic illustration of two gunslingers on this label, but you can't see it because the illustration is used far too big on the can (so you can't tell what it is without picking it up and turning it all the way around, which you can't expect consumers to do at point of sale.) The name 'The Imperial Texan' is great, but again, another lost opportunity. The type (although not bad at all) is far too big, so you can't read it without turning the can all the way around, and it makes the illustration even harder to make out. In general packaging terms, anything that makes packaging hard to read won't cause a consumer to figure it out, it'll cause them to walk on by."


Rahr and Sons Ugly Pug Black Lager "So full disclosure, Rahr is a client of ours and we love working with them. We've done some event design for them, but didn't design their packaging. That said, I love the Ugly Pug name and illustration, very unusual and therefore memorable. But where the Franconia label is perhaps a bit too polished, this one isn't polished enough. It's a little haphazard - the individual elements (logo, illustration, beer name, brew name, colors) seem sort of thrown together, instead of being harmonized into something more thoughtful and appealing."

Revolver Blood and Honey "There's a lot going on with this seemingly simple label, which makes for a bit of an identity crisis. My first impression of this label was that it felt 'futuristic,' with the silver ink border and angled shape, it reminded me of an x-wing fighter. On closer inspection, the type seems very '50s, the silver on black reminds me of those old nickel plates on projectors and other equipment, almost a Wes Anderson vibe. Then there's the logo and name, which are of course Texas/western. Sometimes in design, a juxtaposition of very different visual elements makes for something new and interesting, but here it's a bit confusing."

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Kathryn DeBruler
Contact: Kathryn DeBruler