Designing a wine label with Stranger & Stranger

CellarVie Wines meets Ivan Bell, Managing Director of Stranger & Stranger, the award-winning packaging design company behind the wine labels for Costanza Di Mineo… 
What are the primary principals of label design?

Like any consumer brand, the primary principals are to stand out and be noticed - through shape, colour or size - and then tell the story of the brand in order to make the product desirable. This all has to be achieved in the shortest possible time. Research shows that the average consumer spends one minute and twenty seconds scanning the isles for their favourite tipple - and only a few seconds for orange juice and potato chips!

What is the creative process of designing a new wine label?

Our job is to tell a story, so first we need to understand what that is. It could be the provenance, the producer, the craft or simply the taste profile that gives the 'hook', which can then be developed to reflect the brand. Once we have researched this to further understand the concept, we start to formulate an idea of how we can interpret this on a label. We always want to create something unique that has standout presence, whilst also positioning the product at the right level. It’s about managing consumers’ expectations of a product from its visual cues.

Where did you draw your inspiration from for the Costanza Di Mineo project?

The aim was to create a range of iconic Sicilian wines. The inspiration came from the region, the family history and the brand’s unique background.

How do you articulate the ethos of a company in such a small space?

We like to refer to that as our 'black art' - we've been doing this for the past 20 years, so we've an inbuilt filter on how to approach this. It really is a 'black art'!

Can you explain the concepts behind the Magnus Siculus, the San Luca and the Cor Leon labels?

We knew from the outset there was varying ranges and price points across the Costanza Di Mineo portfolio, so it was important to have a small amount of synergy whilst creating strong individual visual propositions for each brand. When researching a project you find several 'key' points that influence the designing.

Do you have a favourite design from the project?

I do, all of them!

What makes these labels different to others you have designed?

Every project has its own unique set of factors that influences the design choices you make along the way - our unofficial packaging design mantra is to 'stand out, don't fit in', which is why we design everything fresh for each project.

Does the taste of a wine have an impact on design and did you manage to sample the range prior to designing the packaging?

Despite what many people think we don't get to taste the product too often, as a lot of the time we are designing something yet to be bottled. We have to work on the basis that the taste profile we are given by the winemaker actually matches the final wine. After all, a great design will trigger the first sale, but any repeat business comes from the liquid. If the juice is bad, then that's not a clever move. There will be no repeat sales and you'll damage the equity you have built in the brand.

How do you maintain the integrity and ethos of a brand whilst also making it stand out?

It is a fine balancing act, and it comes with many years’ experience doing exactly that, getting the balance right. You also need to be commercially, as well as visually, aware of the impact and reaction the brand will have.

How important is a wine label in today’s competitive industry?

Very! It can make or break a brand's fortune.

Is it hard to balance impressing your own design ideals on a project whilst delivering what the customer wants?

Fortunately, as we're specialists in alcohol packaging, we've built up a great understanding and respect within the industry, and also markets from a global perspective. We draw upon this knowledge and skill set when presenting concepts to clients. Sometimes we have to push back a little and explain why it is so important not to design by committee nor in isolation from the market. We always look at things from a common sense perspective and work in partnership to build a brand. We're not just making things look 'pretty', there is a real strategy and purpose behind it.

There is a perception that Old World labels are restrained and New World versions are more forward-thinking. Is this still the case?

Five or six years ago, I'd have said yes. Now things are not as clear cut and that can be fun. You can borrow typical traditional cues from one sector and apply these in a contemporary way to another, and mix it up a bit!

Are physical bottle shapes becoming an increasing part of the presentation ‘package’? The Magnus Siculus is bigger and weightier for example.

Value perception is very crucial and you need to be aware of how consumers think. They compare quality to quality, price to price and are no longer faithful to the same brand, especially in today’s economic climate. So yes, bottle shape, bottle weight and quality cues are very important to the success of a brand at sensitive price points.

When you walk into a shop are you filled with hope or horror at the varied designs?

In the UK most retailers present wines in a very clear and clinical fashion, it always amazes me to see the differentiation in design - both good and bad! Europe and North America have entirely different ways of presenting wines to consumers, so it’s always interesting walking down the aisles!

Are you a fan of newer labelling methods such as screen printing?

It all comes down to what is best to get that product noticed - technology changes all the time and it’s good to use the best techniques that will reflect the brand’s values. As the saying goes, it's better to be talked about, so if presenting yourself slightly differently gets people talking, then your brand is in the spotlight and not sulking in the shadows.

Do spirit brands have a more modern approach to design than wine companies?

Everyone is unique, it’s not the company outlook, but the people who work there that can affect the approach.

What is your desert island wine and which three people, dead or alive, would you share it with?

Château Pétrus 2004 with Clive James, Dave Allen and Peter Ustinov - all amazing raconteurs of their time, just imagine the entertainment you'd have!

Article first appeared in Under the Skin Magazine, Summer Edition 2014. CellarVie Wines' quarterly print publication accompanies all orders on 


Written by: Ben Moss

Ben Moss 


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