KISS, the acronym for Keep it simple, stupid, was goodenough logic for Albert Einstein and Leonardo da Vinci, who hadtheir own variations on the theme. For designer Michael Vanderbyl,staying within the bounds of simplicity is a mantra. Who s to argue? Vanderbyl has achieved the highest honors in hisfield as a multidiscipline designer with expertise in graphics,packaging, signage, interiors, showrooms, retail spaces, furniture,textiles and fashion apparel. Vanderbyl s design firm is in SanFrancisco, but he and with his wife Anna, the owner of a textilecompany, call St. |
Helena home. He is a critic, advocate and educator dean of the arts collegefrom which he graduated whose clients have included theAmerica s Cup Challenge, Walt Disney Company, celebrity chef MikeMina and the Napa Valley Vintners. So if he says wine labels in the Napa Valley are not what theyshould be, well, maybe we should sit up and listen. More explicitly, Vanderbyl asserts that too many of the NapaValley s estimated 600 wineries have sacrificed simplicity intheir branding for, among other things, trying to look OldWorld.
Instead, he suggests, they should cultivate a Napa Valley look. My designs seem to be a little more pared down, a little moreelegant, Vanderbyl said when asked to compare his style to othersin the valley. I don t want to insult people, but when I look atother [wine] labels, I sometimes think they re trying to lookEuropean. The etching of a vineyard or a building is much more inthe European tradition. There is an individuality to the Napa Valley, an American brand,that [wineries] should be extremely proud of.
I think [labels]should not be tied to tradition because the way they make wine inthe Napa Valley is not tied to tradition, he continued. I thinkthere should be a sense of modernity to it. We aren t Old World,so I think that modern and elegant is what the wine [branding] thatcomes from here should look like, because I think that s what weare: modern and elegant. Toward that end, he says, the less said on a label, the moreelegant the product becomes. The design of modernity is sort of about the minimal and howlittle you say, and I think it also presents a confidence, Vanderbyl contends.
He cites Apple and Louis Vuitton as companiesthat have been highly successful by adhering to this theory. With respect to wineries he s worked with, he offers Checkerboardas an example, which has no wording on its label just acheckerboard. When I talked to them, I said, You need nothing more on yourlabel than a checkerboard, Vanderbyl said. That s the nameof the wine.
There s no need to say Checkerboard under it. Describing the simplistic labeling he brought to a Canadian winery Stratus Vineyards in the Niagara on the Lake region which isowned by a prominent family in Ontario, he laughs. Seeking toappeal to a younger demographic, the winery arrived at the name Wild Ass for its wine. To get the approval of the Canadian alcohol board, I designed alittle jackass to go on the label, Vanderbyl said.
If it hadjust been the name, it probably would have gotten a little bit morescrutiny. Wild Ass became so popular with the younger set that Vanderbyl sCanadian contact wanted to market a wine with a label directedsolely toward the younger-adult market. And that s how a bottlewith nothing more than a wood screw on its label came into being. The idea of a screw is pretty straightforward, Vanderbyl said. That s why I shouldn t drink with my clients while we retrying to name products.
Branding the practice of assigning the right all-encompassingdesign can make or break a product, he asserts. To me, branding is a 360-degree idea that goes all the way totouch the public, Vanderbyl said. The presentation has to liveup to what the product is, and I think there are labels out therethat are doing that, but there should be more of it. I thinkthere s the ability to hire professional designers to do thelabels and to appreciate what designers can bring to wine labels. Everything that s done needs to be done well.
You can t slideby, he added. The design is a good tool to use to coalesce andbring everything together. Vanderbyl said he has always liked art and particularly design. Inhis early life, he dreamed of becoming an architect and that swhat he told his high school counselor, whom he recalled as Mrs.Jonas.
She kind of smiled and chuckled and said, Michael, you re notsmart enough to be an architect, Vanderbyl said with a grin. Maybe. But Vanderbyl has been featured on the PBS series TheCreative Mind, and has had his work exhibited worldwide includingat the Denver Art Museum ( U.S. Design: 1975-2000 ), the SanFrancisco Museum of Modern Art, and Museo Fortuny. Permanentcollections of his work are held at the Cooper Hewitt Museum, theLibrary of Congress, the SFMOMA, the Denver Art Museum and themuseum Die Neue Sammlung in Munich.
And his home, which he designed and built in south St. Helena, wasfeatured in Architectural Digest. How smart is that?.
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