I believe that packaging design is this country is very reflective of South African society on the whole: one foot in an internally focused local arena but the other trying to get a toehold in a global marketplace. We are on the verge of an exciting breakthrough from behind the cobwebs of legacy thinking.

If South African designers can be blamed for one thing, it’s trying to design for all sectors of our society at once. Instead, design as part of the entire marketing effort should be about acknowledging and understanding niche markets. A generalized design concept can only fool all of the people some of the time – for a wine brand to resonate, it needs to speak more intimately to a subset of consumers. Never dumb down to the consumer, always make your design inspirational and give it aspirational uplift if possible.

When designing packaging for food and particularly wine one has to take into consideration a number of factors from the outset.

Firstly, the positioning of the brand, your market, your pricing and “what your five to ten year plan” is for the brand/wine. How many varietals or products do you intend producing, are they all going to be on the one brand, and if so how are you going to tier these wines? As a rule of thumb, packaging should be strong enough and consistent enough to have a shelf live of 5 to 7 years, with little tweaks along the way.

Fads and gimmicks do not last… they are exactly that. A good unique concept that is simple and based on fundamental design rules will always prevail and stand the test of time. That, combined with the world class printing technology that is now available in this country, gives us the opportunity of putting best of breed design and packaging on the world stage.

People are often jumping onto a particular “brand wagon” and imitating other design trends instead of initiating our own. We are too often followers instead of design drivers.

We have not yet created a strong enough South African brand identity and are still caught up in a love affair with the Big Five which has seen too many wineries embracing wildlife in their packaging, Instead of building long lasting brands, we make packaging that starts to look like products sold in curio shops.

The challenge for wine label design in this country is to create a South African identity that is sophisticated and unique as well as globally competitive . Such a design idiom would speak to the geography and history of our whole society without following the beat of a “hide drum.” In my opinion, traditional Afrocentric labels don’t work.

Especially in wine, the label should tell a story about the farm or the owner. Drinking wine should be a sensual emotional experience. The reality of the marketplace is that the vast majority of consumers are not that informed about wine which means that the bulk of point of purchase decision making, assuming parity pricing, is being driven by label design and packaging. With trial accomplished and if the consumer enjoyed the wine, repeat purchase becomes a possibility leading to a continuum of brand loyalty. In an increasingly image-conscious society, wine is a social marker and thus the packaging of wine becomes an integral part of the status experience.

As we try to compete as serious players in the global market, the shelves are groaning with some good but often bad and ugly designs. I believe that there should be a greater cohesiveness between the specialist wine label designers, printers, marketing bodies and producers. This will help to create our own South African identity, improve the standard of label design and unify the industry.

On the global stage, South Africa is perceived as a sexy place, we are part of the coterie of desirable “new world” wine producers and as designers we have the challenge and the responsibility of reflecting this.

By Vanessa Fogel.


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