A Package Design That Remains True

      

As package designs go, few in the marketplace stay true to form as much as Frito-Lay’s. That Dallas firm has recognized their customer better than most.

Sure, there are others such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi, those long standing brands from way back (more than 100 years). As history records it, Coca Cola has been around since 1886. Likewise, Pepsi Cola emerged from a local drink—originally “Brad’s Drink” from a pharmacist in North Carolina—in 1898.

The Frito Company was born in 1932. Charles Doolin bought a recipe from a local corn chip manufacturer in San Antonio for $100, and along with a manual potato ricer and an oven, started making his own snack. I had a tough time running down the history of the name, but he called them “Fritos”—I would imagine meaning “fried” or “fritter”.

A year later he’d moved upstate to Dallas and by 1945 granted a license to H. W. Lay & Company (Lay’s Potato Chips) to make and distribute Fritos in the southeast. By 1961, the two merged into Frito-Lay. Then in 1965, Pepsi and Frito-Lay merged, and things were sunny for both companies after that. A year later, Doritos was born.

The name Doritos was derived from the Spanish “doradito”, meaning golden brown.

The thing about Doritos, as in all the Frito-Lay brands, is that it’s maintained the same design flavor, meaning it’s kept its brand design equity in two distinct areas: color and style. The red-orange-yellow color palette tells the consumer that the taste is bold and spicy, and the design style of the type and graphics tells us it’s festive.

Experience just one taste of Nacho Doritos and you won’t forget it. Just seeing the package on the store shelf reminds your taste buds of the spicy flavor.

Looking at the history of the package from left to right reinforces all this. From the 70s’ color blocks through the freeform scribble designs of the 90s reflect the zapping taste inside the bag. And lately the lightning-esque triangle shape of the chips reminds us of what’s inside, that true-to-form snack that remains true to itself.

How many brands across the spectrum can you honestly say remain true to form such as this? Relatively not many.

 

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Letterspacing With Initialed Names

  

It’s probably one of those things you rarely look at. And even if you do, do you really see it?

Graphic design has many facets, many parts. One of the most overlooked areas is typesetting. Back in the day, before the personal computer came to the fore and applications made possible what became “desktop publishing”, we relied on professional typesetting companies to format our text into conventional norms of appearance, flow, proper punctuation and letterspacing.

And now that those typesetters are gone, it’s up to us—the designers—to set our own type according to those time-honored conventions. We still follow things like paragraph conventions (flush left, justified), single-spaced sentences, etc. Why not proper letterspacing with initialed names?

In the visual at the top, which is the correct way to typeset the name? I combed the Internet, that bastion of reference material that holds tons of information, and the reference guides that held sway were these:

• The Penn State Visual & Editorial Standards

• The Modern Language Association Formatting and Style Guide

• The American Psychological Association

• The Chicago Manual of Style

And in all those widely accepted references, it was found that the across-the-board standard is the first example. In other words, spaces after each period. The only exceptions are U.S., abbreviating United States, and P.O., abbreviating post office. But those of course are not proper names.

Funny, because when going to the Internet’s foremost search engine and typing in P. G. Wodehouse, you subsequently get the visual at the bottom. Note the differences in the way the author’s name is listed, all on the same page in Google (the color highlights are mine).

I even found one listing with no punctuation at all.

Either we have two schools of thought on this subject or we have half of all people being largely ignorant of just how to type a name such as this correctly.

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Not the Best Western

      

Close to where I live, there’s a Best Western Hotel. And on the side of the building is their new logo.

Plain and simple. But mostly just plain.

I couldn’t believe it. It’s been almost two years since they changed their logo, but it wasn’t until recently that I saw the new monogram. After seeing it, I immediately thought of my childhood when my parents took us traveling during summer vacations and we often stayed at a Best Western. The hotels weren’t the best, but they were good and they fit my parents’ budget.

The logo was similar in feel to the first one pictured above, although this particular one is the most recent before the change.

So back in 2015, they changed the logo. Something about bringing it into the 21st century or some such malarkey. The official wording had to do with making the new logo reflective of all the “brands” offered by the hotel chain.

What got me was the way they worded the change. Apparently it took them two years to do it. Ouch. That’s one. The word “contemporizing” was mentioned. Really?

They actually said this: “Best Western used today’s graphic design and digital printing capabilities to create an array of logos that use special effects to be distinctive and striking to consumers.” I am not making this up. The italics, however, are mine. Read on…

“The design…uses hand-drawn lettering, which is familiar and personable and pulls through the company’s updated blue color. The centerpiece globe comes to life through the use of special effects such as gradient, highlighting and a 3-D treatment. These effects will be distinctive within the hotel industry which traditionally uses two-dimensional logos.” All that is two. Once again, the italics are mine.

These last two paragraphs. Seriously? Couldn’t possibly have been written by a designer. Designers don’t call a circle a “globe” and they don’t refer to gradients, highlighting and a 3-D “treatment” as special effects. Garbage. Imagine a corporation putting out a message like that. OMG.

All that points to two things: one, if that logo took two years in the making, then there were too many meetings with too many people in the decision making; and two, the above explanation was written by either a marketing person or somebody’s wife or partner who thought writing might be possible career. Any designer who’s read that explanation probably sent a text to another designer saying, “LMAO.”

But enough about the goofy explanation. The logos are too generic. Anyone can slap together two letterforms and call them a logo. Criticisms have appeared on the Internet saying it’s too much of a departure from the traditional “crowned” version. There’s a lot to be said for keeping the feel of a decades-old logo going forward.

In this case, even though Best Western was never a premium hotel chain, the new logo cheapens it. Now it feels like Motel 6.

 

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Sometimes It’s Meat and Potatoes

All packaging becomes functional at the store shelf. Before that stage, however, it’s merely a product of a designer’s vision on putting what’s inside that package on a solid footing toward a sale.

Packaging is one particular area of design I’ve always loved: as a designer, you can encompass all the necessary things you need and put them on display in one neat enclosure. A photo of the product, type design, copy to give the product a thorough description, whatever necessary legal and boilerplate copy, and all that on top of a background you want to achieve impact and tie it all together.

Some packaging is more fun than others. Food packaging, because the entire family is consuming the food, is more descriptive in several ways. It’s more colorful in all directions, has bombastic and sometimes wacky type designs, can and does employ digitally enhanced photography and/or illustration, and often uses cartoon characters when aimed at children or adults who never grew up.

But that’s what makes designing food packaging so much fun. It has boundless possibilities.

Other packaging is just plain functional. Take auto parts packaging, whose examples are shown above. With usually just one person in a household buying auto parts, the focus for a designer is toward the utilitarian. Most auto parts—once purchased and installed on the vehicle—are no longer seen. They’re not exactly something to behold.

Plus it helps if you have a little technical knowledge of the auto part. What its use is, how to describe that use, and how best to depict it on the box: what angle(s) to photograph it to show the best detail. Other than some retouching to pretty it up, not a whole lot else.

Not difficult to put all this together, having all the aforementioned pieces. In looking at the above examples, notice a few things, though.

The predominant colors chosen for backgrounds are red, blue, black, and yellow. Pretty much a primary color selection. There’s no pink, mauve, taupe, lavender, or lilac. Those colors do not reflect a mostly masculine sense of being, of one who might own a Ford F-150 or a tricked-out Honda Prelude.

That bunch of consumers are more meat and potatoes, similar to buyers of tools at Home Depot.

Also notice that the typography on these packages is also plain and simple. No fancy script fonts here. Lesson—know your consumer.

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Logos—Pharmaceuticals

OK. Here we go. I told myself I wasn’t going to go after any more dry logos. But here it is. I have to say something.

About twenty years ago, I caught a small freelance assignment to do a logo for a chiropractor. He didn’t know exactly what he wanted, but he also knew what he did not want: anything depicting a spine or even anything anatomical in appearance.

I remember part of his practice had to do with holistic approaches to his clients’ health—treating the whole person. Therefore, after a couple of meetings, it was decided I was to do a generic logo, a depiction of an awakening, a sort of “celebration of life”, a person “realizing his potential”. No faces, no profiles, no real “silhouettes”. Just a “feeling”.

Wow. How the…

This kind of thinking, this all-inclusive, worldly, enlightened conscience bearing is practically a non-goal for one to design a symbol.

I eventually came up with a design he liked: a rather calligraphic representation of a figure leaping through a cloud-like atmosphere with arms raised in joy. The Neulasta logo above is vaguely similar in feel.

What do these logos have? What do they do? How effective are they? None of those is considered a factor here. This collection you see above, there is no practicality to them. Unlike a couple of the law logos from my last column (the scales of justice or stable architecture form), there is no mortar and pestle. Nothing that banal. Thank you for that.

No, this is the most introverted bunch of logos going. They’re so introverted, they’re afraid to say anything. They’re all alike in their anonymity. Nothing in their designs that’s close to concrete. No personality. No flavor. Nothing to remotely offend.

I could say things like, “That contrived letterform made into a key in Keytruda is a bad design.” Or that the extended crossbar in the letter “A” in Tresiba does nothing to distinguish the word as a design. Or that the triangular configuration of symbols in the Cosentyx logo looks like it’s trying to be something, but misses. Or that the sun-like green symbol in the Trulicity design has no anchor—why is it located right there?—and why is it green?

I’ll venture a guess at each of the above: the designers were handcuffed in their assignments to come up with these solutions, similar to my experience.

I will say one final thing. The consumer names for these prescription drugs are a blessing, because nobody can pronounce the real names.

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Logos—Law Firms

Generally, I love logos. Wait a second—let me correct that: I love looking at logos. It’s one of my favorite pastimes.

Lately, because lawyers and medical firms and hospitals are promoting themselves so often on TV, it’s easy to see their logos in 1080p resolution.

And for the most part, their logos are not very good. There’s a big difference among what I’d refer to as corporate logos, brand names, and personal “monograms”. Sometime in the near future, I’ll do a column on the history of logos and what a “logo” is. But for today, we’ll just deal with law firm logos. I’ve collected a handful for examination and comparison.

The thing about this collection—any bunch of law firm logos—is that they’re dry. They’re unimaginative. They all have a very clean look, but they’re all sterile, too. And maybe that’s the thing about law firms: the practice is such a straight-laced, dignified, 1-2-3 profession. I’ll bet it’s twice as sterile as what Hollywood portrays it to be.

And being that, designers are probably handcuffed trying to make the firms look like just the happening place to take your lawsuit. Because these are lawyers, they’re very careful about their appearance. Buttoned up, as they say. But as designers, we’re always looking for ways to make our clients look their best while possibly making another design good enough for our portfolio.

The top row in this collection shows two examples of trite law firm design. I put them here to show what not to do. Forget you saw them, going forward. Classic architecture and scales of justice. Really?

Row 2 has two very different approaches of using the initials of the partners on the door.  They’re design examples of a ligature—a joining of letterforms—practically a “brand”. The “GR” is not bad—at least it’s a little different. The Hopgood-Ganim is OK (I can almost see the “hg” burned into a calf’s hide), but it’s a decent try at a logo, especially because it uses a font below that ligature that’s very similar in its design feel.

The 3rd row has two examples of poor design. The “ALF” is a weak attempt at a “monogram”. It isn’t a logo at all—it’s just three letterforms floating in a rectangle. It does nothing. To the right of that, also not so hot. The “G” in a box with a bar above the name—boring.

Then the bottom row. Here’s two examples using typographical brackets to “help” the designs. Not sure why either needs them. The Brown logo has this lacy filigree behind to make it look more dignified, I guess. Notice the off-center ampersand placement in the Morgan & Morgan design, a definite mistake.

Sometimes designing for a straight-laced client is just that. Low key and routine. But as designers, we try to be inventive, different, and somewhat showy. All we can do in an arena such as this is to try to have the client see themselves in a different light than the rest.

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Type Design: Dancing With The Stars

      

              

I guess this will serve as another of my type nits, but so be it. Type design is one of my pet subjects. Back in design school when I learned about typography and how, in a good type design, letterforms interact with one another, that fascination never left.

So, like in a recent column when I compared TV news programs’ mastheads, here I am again chewing up another.

I don’t know why a high profile television show can’t hire a decent type designer. They can hire a good host (Tom Bergeron) and co-host (Erin Andrews), and the top dancers in the world. But the producers of the show must be largely ignorant of type design. Either that or they had rushed this through at the last minute and just left it the way it was.

Let’s look at the main image, top left, followed by the graphic version. The designer used Helvetica LT Standard Black, a well-used font, but not really a premier font for any kind of distinguished design. It’s too mundane for a show like this. Maybe someone at the show stipulated a very readable font for this (I can think of twenty fonts just as readable and twice as elegant), but we’ll deal with it the way it is and still improve it.

In looking at the graphic, notice how much the designer tightened up the letterspacing. That’s OK in a super bold font such as this, but also notice the inconsistencies: the differences in “an” and “in” in the word “dancing”, and also the “ar” in “stars”. These should all have the same letterspacing, yet not so.

Then look at the two main words and how they work together. I’m looking for a coupling, a relationship starting point. But there is none. And with line spacing this tight—literally overlapping—this makes letterform relationships more obvious, or not. Notice also that “stars” is slightly larger in point-size than “dancing”, although I’m not certain just why that is. It does not help the design.

I have solutions in row 2, and a more embellished solution at the end.

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Image Intensity and Anxiety

      

Design is all about organization. Priority in that organization is paramount, because the designer needs to set about where the attention lies in an orderly fashion. Almost like the way a movie unfolds before your eyes, that order is necessary to reveal which comes first in the story.

But in the case of some areas in our daily lives, we come across cacophony. Noise. And that noise can be seen quite readily at what they used to call the newsstand, or today, at the cash register of any retail food store. The magazines on sale here are like a carnival, where the barkers are all yelling for your attention to get into the ring toss and win your partner a stuffed animal.

The Us Magazine at left is typical of fan magazines’ throwing everything at you right on the front cover. Hurry, buy it now to get the lowdown on your favorite stars’ latest anguish. Or wedding. Or life lesson. But you have to buy it now. That’s what the publishers will hope you do.

For me, this poses a slight uptick in my blood pressure. From a design standpoint, this frantic assemblage of information can barely squeeze onto the 8″ x 10.5″ confines. It’s all yelling at you in yellow and pink headlines to convey the things you just have to have in your mental library, immediately. The casual observer will glance at it and not know what to make of all the fuss.

Back in 1974, People Magazine came out, a new kind of fan magazine. With Mia Farrow on its first issue, it was designed with one simple image relating to the featured article inside. All the other articles in the issue were listed on the cover, but without photos. The designers felt that simplicity was enough to carry the attention of the buyer. And they were right. Those designers could still see the art involved in making news.

People Magazine no longer looks as elegant as this. It looks more like Us Magazine.

And then we have the example at right. It’s not a fan magazine, but you get my drift. This is a relatively recent issue of Golf Digest, which of course feels like a comparative breath of fresh air.

With the explosion of the Internet, Facebook and Instagram, you wonder how these fan magazines can keep up with the constant barrage of attention-seeking news blasts on the ‘Net and television. Well, this is how they at least try.

The difference is that—with TV—you can turn it off. At the checkout line, it’s in your face.

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Tenets of Good Design, Part 4

   

Design is harmony. In this article, my final lesson in the design tenets series, I’m using food packaging for the examples.

Food packaging is ideal for his exercise because food packaging, across the board, offers up the best parameters for the use of design elements in almost every category: a photograph of the product (as the consumer will use it), the brand name of who made it (or is distributing it), and the shape of the package itself.

In the print industry, what you see is pretty much what you get. All the elements on the page or, in this case, package, is static. There are no moving parts to navigate to like on the web. Easy to design to and with.

It should be easy, this assemblage of parts. All the designer has to do is tie it all up into a neat design, something easy to read (good type design), easy to see what the product is (image large enough for appetite appeal), and easy on the eyes (having harmony among the elements). But it’s important, in the grocery aisle, to have the product readability—the type explaining what it is—apparent enough that the consumer knows what he/she is buying.

Nothing to it, right? I mean, you have a designer with good design skills, so why is it that there’s so much bad design out there?

Let’s take a look at some examples. We really don’t have to look far among the six I’ve chosen to find the ones with the harmony we’re looking for. But let’s go ahead and have fun picking ’em apart anyway.

The Birds Eye Steamfresh package isn’t the worst in this bunch, but it’s close. This is a bad design because the consumer cannot see what he/she is buying. Oh sure, there’s a big plate of food there, but everything telling us what actually is there on the plate is scrunched into that small green block on the right. Here, the marketing people feel their product line, Steamfresh, is way more important than what’s in the package. Grade: D.

Next is the Push Pops. Still not the worst, but it’s still terrible. What’s in the box? The Push Pops brand name is too large and imposing, literally pushing all the other elements to the sides of the package front. The product is large enough to see, okay (and why do we have a goat at right?), but look at the flavor panel, a tiny orange thing at center bottom: with the type being white, you can hardly read it. Grade: D–.

Now we have two really bad examples. I’ve never been a fan of Healthy Choice’s design. The older designs have this exclamation point as a design element, badly chosen because the size of the parts inhibits the usage and readability of anything you put inside. Another example of the marketing people being so in love with the product line that the readability of what’s inside the box suffers. The newer designs aren’t much better (“Orange Zest Chicken”). This design is so crowded, reading the box is a chore. Grade on both: F.

Now we come to the winners. The McCain package is a classic example of simplicity and harmony: logo on top and not too large; “Sweet Potato Wedges” large and easy to read (although not certain just why “Wedges” is slightly smaller); and finally, a good clean photo of the food. Grade: A.

In the Stahlbush package, the blue ribbon (it doesn’t have a photo of the food and doesn’t really need it). A refreshing design here: logo at top left (and not too large), followed by a unitary element that encompasses an image of the food inside with an explanation of what it is and all its attributes. A photo isn’t needed because everyone knows what blueberries look like. But even if the marketers decided to use a photo instead, the design would still be as good. This design has a lot going for it. It has readability in all its parts and it has good harmony. Nothing overpowers anything else. It’s easy on the eyes and still informative for the consumer. Grade: exceptional.

Design fundamentals say that there should be a dominant portion in any good design, followed by the subordinate partners in that design, to have a good working flow of attention and overall design feel. But in the real world of practical design—where readability and product recognition are paramount, you can’t have the consumer search the package for what he/she is actually buying. You can’t stuff that information into a small panel with thin or non-contrasting type explaining what it is.

It’s a matter of balance. Show everything you need to show, just don’t have any parts shout their importance while crowding out everything else. Try to look at it with consumer’s eyes. After all, you are one.

 

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