When a Redesign Misses the Mark: A Critical Essay on the Highland Brewing Redesign
I want to provide you with a little background first before I dive into the meat of this essay. Full disclosure time. I am a fan of Highland Brewing and the beer they offer. I am an even bigger fan of Asheville, NC, the home to Highland Brewing and a plethora of other craft breweries. I am a little biased when it comes to this work as I also call North Carolina home and this beer is a part of that culture. As a designer who loves and studies alcohol and beverage design, this redesign was one I was excited about seeing and I can’t hide my disappointment in what was unveiled.
First things first, I greatly respect the work that Helms Workshop does. As the agency tasked with the Highland redesign it wasn’t a surprise considering their portfolio of work and the skill that they have executed that work for their clients. They have a roster of breweries and the designs done for them are creative, energetic and unique. I respect their designs and some of the work they have done for other breweries is inspired. Here is a link to their website and I would encourage you to check out their work. The work stands out on the shelf and is memorable in the best way. Here is a link to their website and I would fully encourage you to check it out. https://helmsworkshop.com/work
That said, I feel that Helms Workshop missed the mark on this redesign. I understand that Highland wanted to move away from the Scottish motif and theme and give their brand a facelift. They felt they were getting lost on the shelves and wanted something that stood out. Unfortunately this redesign just doesn’t take it to that point. I agree they needed a facelift. Their old design felt dated and busy and needed a fresh look but this attempt feels generic, uninspired and left me wanting so much more for this brewery. Let’s break it down into three parts; the logo, the label design and the packaging and dive in.
The old logo of the bagpiper was dated but had a unique charm that spanned across all the different types of beer Highland brewed and most importantly made it easy to identify whose product you were holding and hopefully drinking. The new logo is simply generic and forgettable.
The circular badge has a templated feel and the star in the middle, that I can guess represents a compass, is a weak attempt to capture the theme of Pioneers of Craft. The biggest issue I have with the logo is the “H” in the middle. Being the most important part of this lock up it suffers from readability problems. At first glance it doesn’t read as an “H” and I am not sure how this relates to Highland other than it being the first letter of their name. This is also a failed opportunity to provide a truly unique and custom letter “H” that could have been a part of an overall logo system for this brand.
The label found on the can and bottles has some good and bad parts. The color choices are great. I love the pairings and the choices are bold and eye catching. Unfortunately, the design stalls after the color choices. The layered mountains are executed well but I don’t see how this makes me think Blue Ridge mountains as opposed to any other mountain range in the country. The greatest sin, and bless their hearts, is the fact that it is boring. It falls flat and is not indicative of the work I have seen come out of Helms Workshop. The patterns and unique designs they have produced is not on display here. It’s like the benchmarks that they jumped on were Blue Ridge Mountains, check. Need to showcase pioneering craft so grab a compass star and toss it on there. Check. Well we can’t just put an “H” in there without doing something to it so let’s replace the cross bar with another star. Check. Design done. Where is the energy? Where are the elements that embody the culture of this brewery and the vibrant artistic city they call home? And for the love of god what is up with the tangent created by the name of the beer being so close to the bottom valley of the front mountain. The name of the beer needs to be centered in the space between that bottom valley and the beer type. It is driving me nuts and I can’t fathom how no one pointed that out and let this get produced. It’s maddening.
On to the packaging. Sigh. They unrolled the label and wrapped the box in it. Come on man. I know the colors are going to draw people in. They got me at first too. It’s lipstick on a pig and the colors alone aren’t strong enough to carry this work. The elements are not there to jump this product off the shelf and into my hands. I want beer packaging to wow me. I want design to catch my eye and make me want to try that beer and then keep the can or six pack because it looks awesome. I want the design to be so damn good that I am willing to give any beer a shot based on the packaging alone. There is no humor, character, life or soul in this packaging and it falls into the worst category of design. It’s not good, it’s not bad, it’s just lukewarm. And lukewarm is forgettable. And much like a skunked beer at a tailgate, lukewarm doesn’t get drunk.
This redesign is a huge missed opportunity. Asheville is one of the coolest cities in North Carolina with a thriving craft beer scene and an even more vibrant art scene. The fact that none of that made its way into the design work for the pioneers of craft is a bummer and feels like this work is simply unfinished. It has that sense of an agency that just didn’t understand the surroundings of the city this brewery calls home and left me wanting so much more with this work.