Jordan Jelev, a sought-after wine label designer, calligrapher and type designer based in Bulgaria, discusses what the future holds for wine label design
Labels & Labeling (L&L): How did you get into label design?
Jordan Jelev (JJ): That was sometime in 1998. I was working for the Factor R company and I had to create brand name and label design for a range of four to five wines. This is how the Regalis brand was born and it was actually the first wine label in my career. It was a good start for me because it got me more involved in our domestic wine and I started designing wine labels for more wineries from Bulgaria.
This first label of mine was printed on sheet-fed offset. In 2001, I was commissioned again by the same company to redesign the original Regalis label, which was my first label printed on rotary flexo machine on self-adhesive paper. That was also my first contact with my favorite Velmart paper by UPM Raflatac. In short – Regalis was a cross-point of many significant events in my career.
L&L: How has label design changed since you started, and how have your designs evolved?
JJ: I think that my work has changed a lot and for the better. Print technology has changed and continues to do so. I get a lot of inspiration from all the innovations in the print industry that are really a dream come true to me – I am happy to do things that a decade ago were almost impossible in normal situations.
Understanding the technology allows me to be aligned with its diversity and to create some crazy labels. When I turn the page back to 1998, when I started, I see a lot of imperfections in my work and signs of ‘early years’ but I also see a lot of indications and marks that evidently became foundations of my present work: calligraphy and type design, which are essential to me; the balance between paper, colors, technology and composition; and special attention to bottle design, closure etc.
And speaking about how label design has changed through the years, I can only use one word: incredibly. Most people in the industry have finally realized that labels without a story and a strong brand usually drop off against the competition. Designers know more and more about top-notch print extras and they use them well. Brand owners have higher demands and expectations for their packaging. The audience is more educated and really hates seeing tired clichés. All of this points in one direction – awesome new labels, more recognition, strong competition. These are hard times for the creative people, but after all, it is all for good.
L&L: What project are you most proud of?
JJ: There are many. But above all I am most proud of my Stallion project because it’s essential for everything I do. It tells a story to those who buy it. It is unique, it is easy to remember and it shines out from among the other wines. I have received many requests throughout the years where people call me and say ‘Did you do the Stallion?’ That project opened the door of my creativity. I learned a lot from it and it lifted me to a higher level in my work. Stallion won gold medal for best wine label at San Francisco International Wine Competition in 2012, and in 2013 the White Stallion received bronze medal from the same competition.
Pixels won gold and silver medals at Los Angeles International Wine Competition in 2016. Soulmates received two gold medals from 2017 Kazanlak Rose Wine Expo and 2017 BIWC. The Deuce wine label project is very new and people seem to like it very much. For me personally, it is one of my best.
This Q&A article was published in L&L issue 4, 2017, and can be read here
L&L: What elements are involved in creating an effective label?
JJ: The perfect combination between bottle, content, paper, design and print and a good designer, of course. Above all I think that every successful label should tell an interesting story. If you have a good story, if you come up with some intriguing ideas, and you make good designs with them, people will be able to remember it and recognize it among the other labels on the shelf. I think this is how an effective label should work in terms of communication with the audience.
L&L: What role do you play in selecting the materials used for a label? Are there different considerations in the design phase of a label for various inks, materials and printing technologies?
JJ: Starting with the ‘canvas’ – the paper in most cases is my personal choice. I have a lot of experience with different paper materials, and I know how important it is to pick the right paper. I pay a lot of attention to this. Additionally, I have some great contacts with UPM Raflatac as well as Arconvert and Avery Dennison and I always have the right people to ask for advice. I also receive a lot of feedback from printers and wineries about every material and I really have the chance to gather the whole picture. In fact, I play a role in the whole process because of my experience with inks, varnish, hot foils, etc, and it is really fun to use them all in different related to design. Of course, one can’t know everything – I always try to learn and explore everything new in the industry.
L&L: What are the trends in label design? What are brand owners asking for?
JJ: There are several different types of clients/brand owners. I think the most interesting ones are those who are open to change and at the same time want to be first with something new. These are the people who usually change the game and act like a portal for new ideas and design solutions. I value them the most because on one hand they are happy with the result and get the best out of me, and on the other, they give me the opportunity to create something different and never made before.
Such people are of great importance for the industry because they set new trends and they influence the rest of the brand owners with their results.
L&L: What elements of label design help a wine stand out on the shelf?
JJ: First: an interesting, memorable idea, brand name and story behind the label. Targeted to the proper audience, this is the most powerful marketing tool.
Second: a valuable design. And here I mean not only the front label: the bottle, label, closure, box – all must be in pure harmony. Third: attention to detail. Paper choice, embellishments, special die-cuts, different varnishes and special print extras – all these, harmonized with the design, make the whole product amazing at the end. They add more value to the product, develop its personality and highly influence buyer’s decisions. After all the best wine is the one that is sold.
L&L: What advice would you give to other label designers looking to enter the wine label market?
JJ: The wine industry is like no other. It is very interesting and very specific. My philosophy is to understand yourself first and get clear idea who you really are and then try to understand the wine itself. It is not just an alcoholic drink – it is sun, nature, process, passion, history, people, nose, taste, aftertaste. One must see and feel all these in their different aspects to understand the wine in depth and successfully enter the wine label market.