A day in the life of a graphic designer

by | Jan 1, 2018 | Opinion

You don’t have to be a winemaker to work in the wine industry. We’re often so enamoured by wine as a product it’s easy to forget what goes into (and onto) every bottle. This series celebrates the diversity of the people and their careers that make the industry every bit as complex as its finest vintages.

 The wine industry is dynamic and offers a wide variety of career opportunities. This glimpse into a day in the life of graphic designer Jan Solms might inspire you to pursue a creative career in the wine industry.

 There were 88 entries for the 2017 Winemag Rotolabel Wine Label Design Awards of which 45 were finalists. Three of the entries were awarded gold, one being the Thistle & Weed Duwweltjie Chenin Blanc 2016 label created by Fanakalo.

Named after the South African miners’ dialect based on Zulu, English and Afrikaans, Fanakalo is a small design studio based in Stellenbosh. Founder member Jan Solms says miners made the language very visual and descriptive. “And that’s exactly what we do as designers – we talk a visual language.”

The Fanakalo team creates exciting packaging for products ranging from wine and olive oil to ice cream. When creating the designs, the product doesn’t always inform the direction of the design. “We design to up-sell most of the products we work with, but the product helps us on Fridays when we need some creative juices,” he says. For instance, when creating the award-winning Thistle & Weed Duwweltjie Chenin Blanc 2016 label the team was inspired by the great theme the name presented. “The Duwweltjie name was very specific, so we had various options,” he says.

The Thistle & Weed label is jointly owned by Delheim viticulturist Etienne Terblanche and Fairview winemaker Stephanie Wiid. It was inspired by the weeds that grow in the vineyard, particularly the duwweltjie, Stephanie says. “Weeds are known for popping up in unusual places and while not always welcome they’re hardy pioneers on virgin earth and change with every season. Coincidentally, Etienne’s surname starts with a
T and mine with a W.”

Stephanie says if she’d not become a winemaker, she’d have studied architecture. A passion for colour and design is something she and the designers at Fanakalo have in common.

Some of Jan’s favourite wine labels of all time are those for Sine Qua Non, Burn Cottage, Le Cigar Volante, Chemin de Moscou, Lopez de Haro, Portal del Priorat, Cotes du Coast and Porseleinberg.

Jan, who studied graphic design at Stellenbosch University, founded Fanakalo in 2009 with a friend. “We’ve learned a lot about beer, wine and spirits over the past eight years of doing packaging design,” he says. The process of creating a wine label begins with research, brainstorming and conceptualising.

“If we’re not given a specific brief we always start with research or asking questions. We try to tell a story or convey a philosophy for each brand we work with. Whether it’s something simple like ‘wine should be fun’ or more complex like green consciousness, terroir or something unique to the winery, we try to make packaging that draws inspiration from this story or philosophy and tries to convey it. Often we see it simply that the label should convey the winemaker or winery’s personality.”

Marketing placement is crucial to the research process. “Once we’ve established the philosophy or story we research visual styles, executions and pieces of nostalgia we can draw inspiration from. This could be anything from vintage matchbooks to old book cover designs.”

Mock-ups are designed using computer software or doing illustrations by hand – it all depends on what is required. “The completed design is then laid flat over bottles on the computer in order to create mock-ups that clearly give an idea of the end product,” Jan says. “Sometimes we print the design and physically mock it up on a bottle.”

“The mock-ups are presented to the client and their feedback and input are taken into consideration. From here we repeat the process until we reach a final design and the labels can be printed.”

Jan and his team are also savvy when it comes to clients’ budget and obtaining quotes from printers. “We’re almost always instrumental in helping clients with the quoting process,” he says. “With the current economic climate we get the quotes before we even start designing so the end product is designed with cost-effectiveness in mind.”

After 15 days the team is ready to present their client with at least three design options. It’s a process that requires a lot of coffee, Jan says. A typical day at work is: “Drink two frothing coffees, scan for new music, emails, emails, emails, meetings, research, design, design, design, collect smoothie points, design and drive home.”

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