Traditional Islay Whisky bottle range

They say an image speaks a thousand words. This holds true in product design, where the first influence on a customer’s perception of the brand of product is the design of the packaging. For Islay whisky, part of this packaging is the bottle itself. There are no Islay whiskies in standard looking bottles; each has it’s own style inherited from both the distillery it hails from, and the spirit that inhabits it. Some even argue that the bottle design is in fact the first step in the tasting process, as how a bottle looks creates certain expectations.

This is true. Looks matter. That doesn’t mean that we are being superficial – it means we are being typical, at least in the whisky world. The design doesn’t necessarily have to be breathtaking or award winning. It can be demure, traditional, groundbreaking, or myriad other descriptive terms; as long as it creates a sense of connection from the viewer, it has achieved it’s goal.

Islay Whisky Box Design

Aside from drinking the whisky itself, the closest relationship a customer builds with a whisky brand is through the packaging. Packaging allows brands to represent the ideas and ideals that matter to their business. It has to be aesthetic, communicate all the key information, and conform to all legal requirements. As the brand owner, you have to ask: does the packaging convey our values? Does it create the right feeling in the viewer? Most importantly, does it link to the consumer on an emotional level?

This is a lot to incorporate into the design of  what is, let’s be honest here, a box. Creating the “look” of a new brand is a huge task. This is where the trained professionals come in handy. So what does a Islay whisky brand owner convey to a design agency when they bring them on board?

The Stages of Islay Whisky  Design

There are three main stages to creating the packaging – both box and bottle – for an Islay whisky, which are as follows:

  • 2D Conception. Several potential designs will be created in 2D. This usually takes 4 to 6 weeks.
  • 3D Conception. The chosen designs will be advanced to 3D design. No matter how good a design looks in 2D, until you see it on the box of an Islay whisky bottle, you cannot say for certain whether it will work. Again, 4 – 6 weeks is the rough timescale here.
  • Prototypes. A prototpe of the Islay whisky bottle and box designs, including the ability to hold liquid for the bottle, will be created. This allows a mold to be made from which other test bottles can be created, allowing the brand to test the structure, safety, packaging, and a variety of other parameters. This can take several months to complete.

On top of this, the new design and packaging has to be filtered into the marketplace. This means that from concept to shelf, the design process for a new Islay whisky can be upward of 12 months in total.

Traditional Islay whisky bottle design

Islay Whisky Bottle Shape – Does It Matter?

The starting point for the Islay whisky bottle design stage is the style of the bottle, which provides plenty of opportunities to be innovative, traditional, or some combination of the two. Over the past two decades, we have seen a far wider variety of bottle shape and size than what came before. The times have changed, and so have the rules.

As a result, brands have moved away from the “Up and Down” style of bottle design and have looked to non-traditional shapes. Some bottles, such as the Gordan & MacPhail Mortlach, have radical shapes (in this case a teardrop design). This new age of Islay whisky bottle design has allowed for some truly awesome designs to come to the fore. With this in mind, we will hopefully see more interesting and industry changing designs come about over the next few years of Islay whisky bottle design.