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Graphic Design USA Magazine

Making a Mark: The Changing Landscape of the Beer Aisle

Guest Blog Post by Ben Steele, Hornall Anderson

These days, a trip down the beer aisle can be downright overwhelming — with mainstream and craft brewers all vying for consumer attention in an increasingly crowded space. Consumers are demanding distinctive package design and true innovation.

The question is … are designers listening?

Graphic & Structural Trends
Mass domestics have seen dynamic change — from thermo chromic inks to custom forms. Inside the craft market, the focus is more on storytelling and creating a cohesive brand experience. The biggest recent trend in craft has been the move into cans—an unbroken design canvas with an opportunity to create a consistent story without the interruption of bottle structure.

Messaging Trends
Many breweries have created more personal narratives, bringing the voice of the brand and the brewery through on-pack. Copy is also being used as a design element, acting more like a billboard that grabs attention and less like body copy.

Brewery First
There has long been a tendency to name flagship beers more evocatively than functionally. Consumers will order the beer name and not place the emphasis on the actual brewery (or even sometimes be aware of it). The opportunity is to promote the vision and philosophy of the brewery first, and the beer as an extension of it.

 Current Design Challenges
The challenges are the same for beer designers as they are for all brands. How does this brand speak to me? What does it say about me? What is true about the brand that’s also true about the consumer, and how do brand designers convey that in the few seconds it takes to travel down the aisle?

Changing Beer Consumers
There’s definitely been increased focus on specialization—breweries known for a style, a taste, or an expertise. And part of the change is delivering to specific audiences exactly what they are looking for: you see more big IPAs, more deep Porters, and even hyper-specialized customer bases like Gluten-free.

 Innovate Like Brewers Do
The opportunity for designers is to catch up to the artistry being offered in the bottle or can. We need to be innovating in the same way the brewers are — to be telling stories in new ways, finding ways to break through to consumers and connect with them. The challenge is on us to do right by the breweries with which we work.


Ben Steele

Ben Steele is Executive Creative Director at Hornall Anderson. He is charged with leading the firm’s creative teams, as well as overseeing key client relationships “always emphasizing a solid concept as the foundation for great design.” Steele was a GDUSA ‘Person To Watch’ in January/February 2013.



  1. Neil Harner says: July 2, 201310:49 pm

    You pose a very interesting point with your article. I’ve worked with brewers for the last 4 years as well as beer wholesales, distributors, bars, restaurants, etc. I agree, it has to be a passionate and innovative partnership to create distinction.What’s interesting though is that designing for a brewery or their beer brands goes far beyond the packaging. For example, most bar owners would agree that a tap handle can drive a purchase. Therefore it becomes important to make sure there’s consistency in that physical tool to the packaging. On the flip side, some bars actually are getting away from the use of package, tap handles, and essentially all marketing components to the beer brand in order to level the playing field for the beers. The debate among beer lovers is to promote quality and let the product speak for itself. In this case, it’s important to make sure collaborating with the brewery occurs so that the artwork of the packaging closely mirrors the product’s name to make it more easily recognizable even if the supporting artwork isn’t present.

    For example, Magic Hat #9 — Perfect positive example. You have a #9 as the focal point to the artwork and that’s reinforced all the way to the tap handle. Or Founders Breakfast Stout which is memorable as a result of it’s nostalgic artwork of a child eating cereal. On the other hand, Half Acre Over Ale doesn’t tell you at all what the beer is, it’s somewhat a one dimensional and non-memorable packaging design, and you find generic brewery tap handles. So – If you had that blank-slate menu of options, guarantee it wouldn’t be the beer ordered.

  2. David Bates says: July 2, 20131:07 am

    Back in 2000 I helped name, brand, package and launch Pyramid Breweries Belgian line of beer called MONX. The beer was totally authentic, and had a great starter yeast from on of the great brewmasters recipes. Four genuine Belgian beer styles in all branded to look like they came from the mother country and in a timeless designed package that still looks good to this day. What went wrong you ask? Well Pyramid Brewery decided to put the beer into Thomas Kemper twist-off root beer bottles. Authentic…not. Furthermore, Belgian beer likes to be kept under pressure and over time, the bottle lids blew off or the bottles the self exploded. Innovative hua!

  3. Mike Henderson says: July 1, 20132:45 pm

    Agreed. Brewers are passionate about their craft and the end product. I think pairing passionate story tellers with people who care deeply about their product makes for a great partnership. I think you pose a great challenge in matching brewers iterative and experimental approach. Sometimes you hit a home run the first time but most times you need to mix and match the ingredients many times to eventually create a master solution. It’s being able to see those opportunities in the fringes that makes for great work and great beer!

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