August 11, 2010

More Can Design: The Front-Back Paradigm

I am growing to believe that a litmus test for great can art is whether the designer can break away from the front-back paradigm that bottle labels have drilled into our heads. You know, the yawn-inducing arrangement of the big colorful image on the front and the informative text on the back? On a can, there is no front and back! (Warning, geek reference coming) I feel like Ender here, finally figuring out that, in space, there is no direction. The other team's goal is down. Embrace the roundness, people.

Okay, In today's episode, my can design crush on Sun King continues, but encounters some fierce competition from new challengers along the way.

The Indiana brewery with the customizable can is aiming for a Fall release of its Wee Mac Scottish ale:
Again, we see the background canvas used well with the front and back graphics featured prominently. I like the Scottish flag color scheme, and the branding stays consistent with their other cans. It's not their strongest piece, and I wish it didn't use the front-and-back-elements composition we see everywhere, but fits well and at least gives a nod to the fact that on a can there is a 360-degree canvas.

We see similar efforts from Surly Brewing and  Crow Peak Brewing Co., although it's worth noting how they use different shades of green to create some nice variety. Also note the intricacy of Crow Peak's main design element on the "front," and the Surly Hell's use of shading and wavering patterns to highlight curvature of a can.

Of course, one way to use the huge canvas is to make it bigger and then use the negative space, like Milwaukee Brewing Company:
These Roy Lichtenstein-esque designs use the huge swatches of white space to accentuate the comic stylings, and pull on historical themes. From the release (via
Louis Demise: "True story… 1886 in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, great uncle Louie was cracked over the head with a beer glass and killed. Louie’s story is one of many Wisconsin tavern legends that gives life and color to our heritage. Drink one for uncle Louie and remember: today’s barroom story might just be tomorrow’s legend.”
Flaming Damsel: “Traditional Bavarian lager delicately hopped for balance. At the height of the beer garden days in Milwaukee, brewers needed fantastic entertainment to attract the crowds of thirsty locals. One of these acts involved the Flaming Damsel. This mysterious lady made her living by lighting herself afire and diving from a high platform over the river. Always a repeat performance!”

Now, as we know, I heart 21st Amendment's cans, and I love Black IPAs, so this is good for me:
Also using negative space well (this time black negative space) and keeping the color palette limited to two colors (plus the white for the text), this can label covers close to the entire space dynamically, with only slight hints at the staid front-back model. And I dig the image; it's kind of a Sleepy Hollow-meets-Paul Revere-on-a-motorcycle motif. Yes, that's a motif.

But does negative space have to be black or white or even empty? I'm glad you asked. Look at Santa Fe Brewing Co.'s Happy Camper IPA can:
See how less is more? I could have put this in yesterday's minimalism post, but it exemplifies what I love about can design too well. On this can, the "front" is the single design element, and the "back" is the green info text field, but the rest of the can is a desert of that goldenrod color with texturing. How's that for appropriate?

Here's something completely different from New England Brewing Co.:
I mean, this is cool. And a departure from NEBC's other can art. It's bright, cartoonish, simple but visually interesting (e.g. popcorn, orange dot background, complementary colors, zooming text, waving ribbon on the left), and almost totally avoids the "front-back" composition. Cool stuff. God, I love can art.

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