Thursday, June 14, 2012

Beer Labels as Fine Art? Occasionally.

While recently enjoying a Sierra Nevada Ruthless Rye, I decided that I liked the beer label more than the beer itself.  Don’t get me wrong – I think this beer is good; it’s just not great.  It’s very restrained for a “rye-PA,” so I admire that Sierra Nevada is not joining the malt and hops one-upmanship game that so many craft brewers are playing.  But overall I found it to be, well… meh.  Apparently this is a replacement for their Glissade spring bock, which is a little surprising to me, as this rye ale just screams autumn.  As does its label.

And the label is striking!  Done in a style reminiscent of high-end graphic novels, the first thing you’re drawn to is the color scheme.  The hues are analogous enough to be soothing, but just far enough apart to throw you off a little and create an uneasy feeling.  The woman is haunting yet beautiful, like Patrick Nagel meets the witches from MacBeth.  Details, like the ominous clouds and strands of hair in the woman’s face, complete the picture.  The overall impression is chilling, hypnotic, and mysterious.

It turns out the artist is rock and roll illustrator Ken Taylor.  Best known for his album covers and concert posters, he dabbles in other areas too.  Somebody at Sierra Nevada must be a fan, so now he can add beer labels to that list.  Perhaps he’s a craft beer lover too?  Check out his portfolio.

Most beer labels have an illustration of an animal, landscape, person, or some other scene that matches the beer’s name.  It is usually competent and professional, but unmemorable.  Those who try to make the artwork take center-stage often go over the top in my opinion, producing art that’s better suited for the next Motorhead or Insane Clown Posse album cover.  (Sorry Coney Island and Ska Brewing.)  To me, the best beer labels are ones like those shown below.  The monochromatic, accented color schemes and easy to read fonts make beautiful, elegant designs.  But they are not art.  And that’s just fine, because it’s about what’s inside the bottle.

But Sierra Nevada may have changed the rules with their latest label.  Look at the crowded craft beer section in any well-stocked liquor store, and you’ll notice that Ruthless Rye really stands out.  That's the whole point of packaging.  You are drawn to it because it’s unique; it’s fancy, but it’s classy.  It’s a Bellagio in a sea of tacky Las Vegas strip hotels.

As the craft beer scene becomes more crowded, small brewers are struggling to come up with unique beer names and packaging that attracts attention.  I have a hunch that some of these brewers will follow Sierra Nevada’s example and start employing established artists.  For us beer-geeks who love art and design, this will be a nice bonus!

Please comment and share some your favorite beer label designs, and check out these links for more on this topic: The Pour Curator, and  15 Beer Labels we Love.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Product Development Use Cases and the Libyan Civil War

We all know that social media played a role in last year's Arab Spring, but I certainly didn't appreciate the extent of that role. This article from Technology Review is a fantastic read: Technology Review: People Power 2.0.  It provides some truly mesmerizing examples of how social media was used in the Libyan civil war to gather intelligence and receive critical weapons knowledge.   For product development professionals, it also leads to an interesting discussion regarding "use cases."

Most product development processes require "use cases" to be created very early in the process.  The purpose of doing this is to try and define all the ways a customer or user will interact with the product.  In other words, what will they use it for, and how do they want to go about doing that?  From my experience developing new products, I've concluded that there are typically three valid categories of use cases:  1) The ones the development team and product management come up with based on their experience; 2) The additional ones actual or potential customers and users come up (using interviews focus groups, demonstrations, etc,); and 3) The ones nobody came up with, but the product ends up being used that way none-the-less.  Kleenex and WD-40 are well-known, classic examples of the third category in which the unanticipated use cases led to vast, commercial success.  More recent examples are SMS text messaging and Gorilla Glass.

I have a hunch some of the examples cited in the Technology Review article fall into the third category as well.  In one example, Twitter was used to crowd source weapons knowledge, and an unusual type of landmine was identified in less than 40 minutes.  In another example a rebel commander received critical information about how a certain type of rocket launcher works from two civilians a continent away, using Skype.  This allowed his brigade to successfully attack the weapon.

I'm fairly certain Twitter never had a focus group to understand how their product might be used for weapons identification.  I'm also reasonably sure that Skype doesn't have an "intelligence" division tucked between the cubicles focused on small business and grandma.

So what does this all this mean regarding the way we develop new products?  I'm not ready to throw the baby out with the bath water.  Today's product development methodologies work pretty well, and most companies are able to bring new product to market faster than ever.  But product development professionals need to be opened-minded and acknowledge there are potential use cases that nobody can imagine... think of Donald Rumsfeld's "unknown unknowns."  I once worked for somebody twenty years ago whose philosophy was to "just throw a bunch of stuff at the wall and see what sticks."  Perhaps he has never been more right.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Building a Better Bug: the Anti-Apple

If you work in product development and technology, you're probably sick of hearing, "this is how Apple does it!"  I certainly am.  The attached article about VW's great success the past few years provides a nice counterpoint.  A more traditional (but always evolving) management approach is what works for most companies.  Think big, lofty goals; understanding your core competencies; and constant, incremental growth from great execution.  Building a Better Bug Colorado Business Magazine