Craft beer is rather like indie music: a hard-to-define genre where authenticity is key and beards are plentiful, and in which our choices say a lot about who we are.
The Big Picture's recent market research with beer drinkers and bartenders revealed the 'three Ps' influencing buying behaviour – product, provenance and personality – and showed how these are all communicated through design, as well as looking at where the category seems to be headed.
Here’s what to watch out for…
01. Cleaner designs
Fun as the 'sweet shop' style of the craft beer shelves has been, it's left consumers unable to even pick out the names, the brands or the product at times, let alone choose between them.
Look out this year for others to follow anti-establishment hero Brewdog's recent example and ditch some of the crazy labels and mishmash styles in favour of more grown up brand identities and cohesive ranging.
02. Understated confidence
Craft beer drinkers expect a superior product, delivered through care and consideration in the brewing process, and quality ingredients. Brands such as Bermondsey-based Kernel use a deliberately 'un-designed', industrial style in order to communicate at a glance that they focus on the beer, not the packaging.
However, as other brands follow Kernel's lead, watch out for extra touches to the simple, undone packaging.
Textured typography or corrugated paper labels may still communicate that the brands are happy to let the beer do the talking, but as Dolly Parton once said, "It costs a lot to look this cheap" – and these 'handcrafted' additions may soon only be the purview of the bigger brewers.
Though the 330ml brown bottle remains the industry standard, craft aficionados know that it's actually the humble can that best protects the beer inside from the degrading influence of heat and light.
In order to change the perception that drinking from a can is a negative experience, several US brewers are innovating to replicate 'glass-feel' – see the raised lip of Sam Adams and Sly Fox's fully open can.
While the high production cost again means that most craft brewers will not be able to deviate from the standard structure, or add textures, such as this embossed can recently developed by Heineken (above), design agencies have nevertheless already started imagining how cans could communicate those attention-to-detail credentials essential to craft beer.
04. Cult of personality and place
E-readers and MP3 players have made it harder for us to judge each other by book and music collections – but craft beer is stepping forward as a viable identifying alternative.
As well as drinking Camden Hells when in Camden, or a Belgian summer ale from Hangar because of the country’s brewing credentials, craft beer drinkers we spoke to also used the provenance of the beer to stand in for their own characteristics – whether real or aspirational. So while Nordic noir's Sarah Lund fans might go for the pared back Scandi-cool of Einstok, wannabe Shoreditch Blondes or Brooklyn-ites are in luck too. Surely only a matter of time before there's an online quiz called 'Which craft beer are you?'…
05. Mastering the craft
Showing expertise and artisanship through serious, apothecary-style packaging might be more commonly associated with whiskey or perfume, but it could be the next major route for craft beer.
As tasting evenings and food pairing menus start to emerge, watch out for the gold or silver edging, crests, and scientific or scripted labels that communicate care and attention to every detail of the brewing process.
06. Craft… other
And finally – look for craft beer brands to diversify into other areas, such as sprits and soft drinks.
Because craft beer brands, in Simon Sinek's words 'start with why', they usually come with an inbuilt brand narrative and personality, as well as a strong visual language.
If consumers have already bought into the story, whether that's a tale of supporting the little guy, or of going against the grain, extending the brand becomes much easier. Germany's Fritz-kola is already showing how a grown-up craft soft drink range could be done, and Chiswick-based Sipsmith is leading the way with passionate production of artisan gins and vodkas. Independent spirits, indeed…
Chris Aukett will be presenting some of The Big Picture's key craft beer research findings in a webinar on Thursday 30th October, 3-4pm (UK time). Sign up here. For more information on design research in general, visit the Big Picture website or call 0207 9281377.