August 10, 2010

Let's Talk About Minimalism (Baby)

Minimalism is one of those terms people like me love to throw around because it conveys an idea, rather than a strict set of rules or traits, and so is very hard to technically misuse.

Let's take a look at some of the different approaches to minimalism in craft beer label art. First, the Goose Island Belgian Style series:
As you can see, the Lolita is almost all text, while the Madame Rose uses a two-color picture of cherries. Both are essentially white with black and red print that focus on a refined and elegant typeface. Both use the small red logo at the bottom to set off the text and balance the otherwise empty label.

In this case, minimalism means a ton of negative space, limited color and form, and a focus on understated, text-driven design. It gives it a very upper-class feel. Other breweries that use variations on this are Southampton and Allagash, both for higher-end specialty beer lines.

North Peak is one of the many breweries that use a nostalgia-infused minimalism (that I generally love) in their branding.
In this case, minimalism means a simplicity of form. Shapes are clear and straightforward; text is largely unadorned; the only form is the logo used (like Goose Island's) to set off the design. The ribbon evokes some of the early beer designs (think Rheingold and Pabst), which by its very nature plays to a feeling of, as Don Draper would put it, "a place where we ache to go again."

Minimalism can be modern, too, though. Portland, OR's Laurelwood Brewery has a fairly minimal look for its Green Elephant IPA:
This woodcut, almost concert-poster look is distinctly contemporary. It's green; it's got the organic thing; it's earthy-crunchy but still appears hip; it's Portland.

Just Beer's Flip Flop follows a similar strategy, with a less hipster twist.
It's just black and white on a bright backdrop, with just quickly drawn sandals for effect. Most of the "movement" in this label comes from the tilting of text to draw your eye up and down the label. Incidentally, if you want to see how minimalism succeeds in theory but fails to be enjoyable to look at, go to Just Beer's website.

Lastly, let's look at two different tacks on the idea. First, the Captain Lawrence limited-edition sour:
This label is more ornate, but still relies heavily on text and just a few elements to set the mood of a higher-end, elegant beer. They took the flaming barrel that is the logo for Captain Lawrence, and put it with grape vines on a subdued lavender, with delicate white accent lines and text. The normally bright flame is now wispy tufts of white ink, suggesting that this is a beer for those who appreciate subtlety and relaxation.

Compare to the standard logo:
Flames and military stenciling do some different things with the same image, no?

Finally, the Odell Deconstruction is a different type of minimalism:
For one, it uses philosophy references, which I love, to make a beer. Anytime you're referencing Jacques Derrida, I'm on board. And in this case, the "minimalist" element is not simplicity of form but of subject matter. It's a barrel with stenciled lettering and hand-drawn red markup. There's almost no negative space or simple monochrome shapes, but the idea of the label plays against your expectations and maintains focus on a basic staple. In this case, the label art idea appropriately plays on the philosophy reference that named and informed the creation of the beer.

As you can see, minimalism is a wide and varied field for breweries to inhabit with all kinds of different labels. The point of all this was to demonstrate that, for as much as I love the intricacies of Left Hand or the over-the-top color cacophony of Terrapin, a disciplined focus on basic elements can lead to very effective art and design.

1 comment:

  1. If a beer is referencing Derrida on its label, do you need a college degree to drink it?

    Nah, what's the différance?