Saturday, November 14, 2009

Sonny Barger Beer Prototype

I recently started mentoring a U of M Design student. I decided to start a blog specifically for sharing thoughts, examples, and resources with a budding designer. Anyone who would like to, can check it out here. Feel free to comment or suggest items. One of the best things about being a designer is the community, right?

A Design Primer Blog

This is a recent post on an assignment that I was given in my school days. Sharing it here, because it's a pretty good story (and selfishly, I'm hoping that someone out there can help me get it made.)

Redesigning a beer label in school was one of the pivotal experience of my design education. A year before I received the project, I was at the Minnesota Beer Festival. There were these guys who didn't pay for a booth, instead they were hoisting cases of their beer over the fence and passing cans of their beer around. (These were prototypes: they actually came in cans that were stamped to have an actual leather feel to them. Once it went into full production, this proved too costly so they used standard cans.) Total renegades. And why not their beer was Sonny Barger Beer. (Sonny Barger is the long time leader of the Hell's Angels.)

When the instructor gave the assignment, I knew exactly what brand I wanted to redesign. I thought about the man, Sonny, and the brand, and most importantly, the end users: bikers who were non-conformists, liked to show off, and for whom the culture of renegade biking changed and defined their life. One doesn't fake it around these fellows. No way.

What carried the most clout with these dudes, was pushing the ticket.

I also thought about things like functionality. Odds are, whether it is a good idea or not, that this beer would end up in the saddlebags of their motorcycles on some several-hundred mile trek across the countryside. So, glass was out of the question, bottles would click and break along the trip. That led me to think about the types of things that would be in their saddlebags.

I dug in a bit and discovered that the original Harleys were chain driven and that meant carrying a supply of motor oil and that motor oil containers were designed to be rugged and portable.

I actually laughed a bit thinking of this big biker pounding a liter of beer out of a motor oil container, totally showboating in front of his bros. I imagined actually seeing the beer glug down through the visible measurement window that is on the side of the container. I knew I was on to something. It fit the lifestyle perfectly.

Then I got realistic. It would probably be way too costly to produce en masse. So, I thought about it being a special limited edition beer. How about a beer exclusively to be sold at the annual Sturgis Rally. Perfect on two accounts. First, it's the ultimate party for bikers. And secondly, if you've ever been to a Harley shop or a biker's garage or even closet, you can't help but notice the amount of souvenirs these guys amass.

I set out to design. Font choices were based on outlaw spirit, and a pilfered copy of Mobil Oil's proprietary sans-serif font.

I mocked up a few of 'bottles'. One for me, one for the guys brewing the beer and one I actually sent along to Sonny. A month or so after, I got a call from Sonny's longtime friend and lawyer. While logistics (liquor laws) got in the way, he said he hadn't seen Sonny laugh so hard in a long time as when he got the package. Success!

I'm still really proud of the spirit of this design not just for the end product, but because the process really opened up the limitless potential for design to make even a good thing, like beer, bikes, and buddies even better.

PS: Still looking for the small-time brewery who can make this happen. Any ideas, would be greatly appreciated.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

well done. as a designer, professor, beer drinker, motorcyclist, and having read sonny's bio, glad to know you sent one to sonny. of COURSE he laughed his ass off: you nailed it.

marc english