The basic tenet of design, which was drilled into me from the start of my first class at college, is that form follows function. In fact, by the time I was halfway through my freshman year at RIT, it had been expressed so repeatedly that one would think it was the only consideration for good design.
Some twenty years later, I find myself working on a number of new beverage, wine, and distilled spirit developments. To be sure, as these categories typically afford designers a wide amount of latitude; they are great products to work with.
Given this freedom, it seems that no idea is too far out there. Sometimes this is so much so that it is curious to me that the final executions are many times constrained to the graphic presentation and the shape of the package with nary any attention paid to the tactile component.
Form for the long haul
This oversight is especially marked if the product has a long life span. And it is doubly true for dispensing items when the fit in the hand is critical and—even more so—the grip and the feel is very important.
That's why, in recent category reviews, a number of products have caught my attention. These products have considered the bottle's "grip-ability" as a primary design concern and held it to be of paramount importance in their final executions.
The best example is Effen Vodka, a simple and elegant presentation that belies a sophisticated functionality at the very first impression. Every bottle has a hand-applied rubber sleeve that offers a wet grip feature well beyond that of any other distilled spirit package.
The sleeves are seamless and slip-sealed into an indented labeling area to form an uninterrupted circumference edge along the sides. When you first hold an Effen bottle, it almost seems to be stuck in your hand. The same is true if the bottle is wet or even held in water (I know this because my curious nature tested it).
According to Lisa Saeger, brand manager at Planet 10 Spirits, Effen's parent company, the sleeve's genesis was a direct outgrowth of field research with bartenders. As such, a better grip was pursued from the get-go with development time allotted to test a number of initial variations that ultimately led to their current patented solution.
An idea to hold on to
10 Cane Rum is another spirit that has considered "grip-ability" in their packaging. For this brand, the result is a pressure-sensitive application on the neck. The label is fairly translucent and easily dominated by the bright orange of the trade dress, which makes the raised bumps easy to miss until the consumer picks up the bottle.
Similar to the Effen product, it's when the 10 Cane bottle is in your hand that you really notice the grip enhancement. 10 Cane's approach is novel and notable because it would appear to be a very cost-effective solution with easy transferability to other categories.
Another product of interest to me is Bawls Guarana, which offers a prominent bump pattern in their bottle design that is immediately visible to the consumer. The execution is well done and offers the added benefit of a visual distinction that coincides with a number of perceptible touch points in the hand.
As with many things in life, success and good execution breeds imitation, so it will be interesting to see if packaging designers and product developers can take a cue from these forerunners. As a designer myself, I could easily see an enhanced grip feature translated into a number of other products (particularly olive oils, vinegars and sauces) in categories where glass is still dominant and where there is multiple reuse of the package.
If these features come to pass and take hold in consumer's minds, I could then see a point where a grip enhancement becomes a part of every dispensing package. It would be "de rigueur" if you will. And as a student two decades removed from my freshman year, I could see knowing smiles on my professors' faces as function still finds new forms.
Bill Wynkoop is the lead creative with Lazer Design Services, a premedia firm specializing in branding and identity as well as package and structural design. He is also an adjunct professor in the packaging department at RIT. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.