Do We Really Need This Kind of Disruption?

(This column originally appeared in February of 2018. Dan Blanchette is on vacation.)

In the advertising world these days, there’s a lot of talk about disruption. What the advertisers and designers at some firms are talking about is making things like print ads, TV commercials, and package designs way out of the norm to rattle the consciousness of the American consumer to garner attention faster. Defined as interruption, in advertising disruption translates more to interjection.

The new movement is done at a moderate level in the print arena, much more specifically with tech and Internet magazines, both with placed ads and the overall design of the magazines themselves.

With regard to package designs, it’s done in a watered down way by comparison. Customers in stores are at an average age older than most online buyers, and the designs here cannot be too jumbled or “futuristic” so as to avoid confusing consumers.

But television is an all-encompassing medium, a ready-made stage where anything can happen before you have time to react. You can be watching your favorite telecast and the ads that come across in any given commercial break can not only annoy you, but can actually disturb you.

Such is the case with Subway ads we see while watching the 2018 Winter Olympics on NBC. The ads are pure disruption to be sure: the harsh panorama of visuals dancing on the screen with in-your-face large type (of course all in caps).

This isn’t advertising. And it isn’t good design. It’s yelling. And to make it much worse, accompanying the mind-numbing visuals is the music—or what amounts to music—by a band known as the Country Teasers, a Scottish punk group whose sound can be pure noise.

Not all of their music is terrible. It’s almost always off register, dissonant and discordant, sometimes off-color. Their production values are off the charts, so to speak, and not in a good way. What you hear during these Subway commercials is loud cacophony, filled with rancor that most anyone watching the Olympics wouldn’t pay to hear otherwise. Which makes me wonder about the placement of these ads.

Do Subway customers by and large watch sporting and Olympic events? I’m not sure. Or is it that the airtime was a creampuff that Subway just couldn’t pass up?

The ads were created by Dentsu Aegis Network, a multinational London-based ad agency owned by a Japanese conglomerate. That’s about right these days to be owned by a company in another country. In this case, being based in London might have a lot to do with the choice of (so-called) background music used here.

There are no beauty shots of Subway’s sandwiches, by the way. Nor of their brick-and-mortar franchises. Just the noise you see and hear in these ads, costing Subway a lot of cash.

The series of visuals in the commercials show people doing daring things. But the message Subway is trying to get to you is make your life choices so things will pan out for you. Here, it’s about their sandwich choices (doesn’t ”make it what you want“ sound like a burger company’s tagline ”have it your way”?). In other terms, don’t really do what you see on the screen.

But with the jarring presentation shown, you’d have a tough time convincing viewers of that message.

Why Do Store-Brand Package Graphics Appear Cheap?

(This column originally appeared in August of 2018. Dan Blanchette is on vacation.)

We’ve all been to the supermarket and sometimes comparison-shopped for quality ingredients per money spent. Economically, this is wise. Especially if the ingredients are comparable and taste of the food is at least close to the brand-name item you’re accustomed to buying.

Some items are easier to compare-shop. The two cereals above are practically the same, and one could venture a guess as to who the manufacturer of the Great Value brand really is. After all, it’s widely known that big name brand producers make many store branded foods by contract. This helps both the producer and the discount store: the producer extends its manufacturing volume and therefore its profit, and the discount store has a supplier and still makes a profit on the subsequent sale. They both win.

But the graphics on the containers—either boxes, plastic bags, or cans—is not the same apparent design quality, as exemplified above. (One discount retailer—Aldi—does have decent quality graphics on their packages, a definite departure from other discount stores, but Aldi sells very few SKUs that are not their own brands. They are basically a proprietary retailer.)

Look at the two boxes above. From a design standpoint, they aren’t even close, except for one thing—color, an important detail (see below). The fonts used are way different, including the different sizes. Those fonts are expressive and more dynamic on the General Mills package, including the fact that they’re on a diagonal, an attention-grabbing quality. The photo on that same box has action—almost motion—going for it, with the cereal sitting on acrylic “milk”, and more than probably retouching. Even the gluten free violator has more pizzazz than almost anything on the Walmart box.

Is this kind of quality design hard to do? Of course not. But store branded items generally look drab, almost generic against the national brands.

Why do you suppose this is? Is it because discount chains have a tight budget and don’t want to shell out extra money for the design process and review? Or is it that some imposed differentiation is in the mix between the higher-end producers and the low-end retailers?

According to Tim Harford, an English economist and journalist who writes for Britain’s Financial Times and the BBC, it’s entirely intentional. The cheaper looking packaging is there to get the most from the buying public. Shoppers are smart and know by looking at the package that they’ll get comparable food at a lower price, simply because of the lesser design. And the discount retailer knows this as well, banking on the fact that what’s in the box is the real difference—to them, none.

By aiming the packaging at the price-conscious buyer, they’re fulfilling what makes this work for them—price targeting. The budget-minded consumer doesn’t have to spend several minutes grazing the store aisle, comparing categories for the best item on their shopping list. Especially if the store brands are right there next to (or more probably the next gondola down the aisle) the big name brands. Shoppers can see what they need in plain Helvetica (or Futura, above). And apart from color, which is relational for recognizability, the discount store brands really do need to differentiate themselves readily from the big name brands. And the larger the category, the more chance you’ll see store brands for it.

Thing is, doing store packaging is harder for a good designer to do. Going through design school, a student is taught the nuances of designing to different social strata. And designing for a premium-minded retailer becomes a self-flattering exercise, because designers will use fonts that are more expressive and even decorative, then build those into rich colored backgrounds with beautiful photography and dynamic graphics. Those are then the penchant, the driving force in that designer’s pride of production, what he/she seeks to pack into his/her design portfolio.

And then to step down—in the real world—and design for a store brand, well, that’s just not fun by comparison. Sorry, Walmart.


Salsa Label Designs

When you think of salsa, you think spicy, tasty, festive…right?

Salsa is one of those things that America “discovered” back in the ’50s and ’60s, when our palates came of age after the GIs had come back from WWII and the Korean Conflict and while baby boomers were on their way into the world. Pizza had become one of the new things to try, even if it was out of a box of Chef Boyardee. And items like La Choy Chow Mein were getting to our tables, things that made preparing dinner easier because in many households (mine included) both mom and dad worked.

And the way of the world in this country was that American food companies processed these foods especially for American tastes. Pizza in Italy is not like American pizza. And a burrito in Mexico is different than an American chain store burrito. And that’s OK, for us. Taco Bell and Pizza Hut will keep hoping you don’t mind.

Today we’ll examine salsa labels. I’ve chosen a bunch of images from various companies to compare designs. I have a good working knowledge of package label design because that is one area that I worked in during my last several years as a practicing designer and photographer. And the thing that always sparks my attention here is the kind of thinking that was done that brought these items to the store shelf. All these designs are different, of course. But the thinking behind each is what we’ll look at.

I chose two prominent brands first: Pace and Ortega. These two have very similar graphic items in their designs: both have a graphic sun as part of the logo, and both have images of tomatoes, peppers, and garlic as peripheral elements to dress up the designs. Adding vegetables and other condiment items to label designs is nothing new, but notice that the eight other brands shown have almost none of these. And we’ll get to that.

The Pace and Ortega designs are also the most colorful ones, and you might think that they were made by the same company. But Pace is a Campbell Soup brand, and Ortega is owned by B&G Foods. And they are the two most widely sold salsas in this country. The Pace design is somewhat freeform in that the text blocks are all “banners” flanked by the vegetables. The Ortega design has tighter, more rigid banners within a framework flanked by the veggies. Both work well, and the colors show off the banners for text readability, best for legibility as you cruise down the store aisles. Very good at catching your attention, and these two are the stars of this show. Nothing is out of place, nothing over- or under-done. A on both. Remember—inviting color, contrast, legibility, and one other important quality: graphic balance.

We can jump down to the bottom row to compare the Tostitos label to the Pace and Ortega labels. The designers at Frito Lay lost on this one because the label is yelling the brand name at you at the expense of the pictorial elements behind the type, which you can’t really see much of—the tomato, pepper, and garlic. It’s just black type on top of red and white shapes on top of a dark background. Surprising for the top name in snacks in America. D. What Tostitos lacks in design, the brand makes up for in sales  merely because they merchandise their salsa right next to their corn chips. If it weren’t for that, Tostitos would be a second-rate salsa.

Moving along, we’ll address the rest of the top row. The Arriba! label is also sad, one of the drab ones here, in color especially. The Arriba! brand has several salsa flavors in its line, but  I chose this one because it is the worst. The black shape behind the type is an iron skillet flanked by cheddar cheese (whose red sliver of color is the only save) and a slice of bacon. And behind the skillet is a drawing of a grill, which you can’t make out. The whole design is over-wrought, as if done by three designers. D.

Mrs. Renfro’s Habanero Salsa label is not terrible, but with four flat colors (not process), you’d think their budget would allow something more here. The drawings of the veggies don’t really cut it in this subdued design, which by the way, the cap on the jar is not the right color— a red cap would be much more appropriate. C+. I’ll save Archer Farms for last.

Bottom row, Amy’s Salsa looks like something Amy is doing when she’s not quilting or needlepointing. The bowl of salsa framed amid all that patterned whatever is not appetizing enough for me to try it, even though it is a tight nifty layout that’s at least readable. But no veggies. And the cap is a little off. Thought process? Is the pattern more important than the salsa? C+.

Old El Paso. Here we go: all that label space, and wadda you got? Small logo, small flavor descriptor, small bowl of salsa way off to the right. Enough space left to drive a Jeep through. Terrible. Nice cap, though. C-. The Santuario Salsa has a pretty painterly background, but it suffers in its use for a label (no punch) and the red type gets lost along with the even smaller red and green type midway down. Too delicate all over. C-. Jardine’s Tomatillo Salsa is not bad for not having pictorial elements in it. It’s at least clean, but that descriptor to the right—“Made Fresh”—what’s with that? I hope it’s made fresh. B-.

Now to the Archer Farms. Target’s own food brand has an understatement about it that tries hard to be top tier. To them, less is more. To me, it’s just another way to look posh, but isn’t. Having no graphics (that tiny blue banner telling me this one is “mild” does not hack it at all). It’s like Archer Farms is trying to look like a wine label on that squat low-hipped jar. No appetite appeal, no effort expensed. And once again, the cap is the wrong color. Does Target know what “dour” means? F.

What some of the ones here lack is that graphic balance: an even application of elements that no one part is overbearing or encroaches on the rest of the design. Example: the Tostitos name is too big and heavy for the space on that label. Another: the fabric background on the Amy’s label is too cloyingly craft-like and takes up way too much space. The designer should always be asking what’s important (the brand name and SKU) and enhance those with subordinate elements that relate in context.

Package design is all about artful design of a container—jar or bottle or box—enveloping a product—an implement or perishable—and making it desirable to the consumer at the shelf level. The container should be ergonomic, and the label should invite the consumer to enjoy what’s inside. It isn’t hard. Here, you have a choice of a jar, a cap, and a label. Easy, right? So why are so many so bad?

Probably because most of these were designed by committee.






Now Anyone Can Be an Illustrator

While perusing through an online news magazine (NPR) the other day, I came across the above illustrations. Every time I see this kind of art, I want to cringe. It is this kind of display that makes me almost ashamed to call myself an illustrator. This is the state of current artwork shown in magazines and online sites, the kind of art that accompanies editorial articles these days.

There isn’t a colleague of mine who wouldn’t refer to this as anything other than garbage.

I was an illustrator in the 1970s and 1980s in Chicago, where drawing ability was a necessary factor in getting freelance assignments. In fact, you almost had to have an art rep in order to get in the door just to have a prospective client review your art portfolio, and art reps wouldn’t even begin to consider you as a talent without drawing ability.

By drawing ability, I’m referring to the acumen needed to draw realistic anatomy, features on faces and hands. There were other talented illustrators who could draw humorously with less realistic detail, but their style still required drawing faces and hands that showed they could articulate the actions needed to depict their figures’ agility. No matter your style, trying to get by without drawing those things would put you out on the street.

The Golden Age of illustration was early in the last century, when artists such as Howard Pyle and N. C. Wyeth were at the height of their careers. Drawing and painting were equally admired, each in different ways: drawing for the artists’ ability to depict realistic detail, and painting that showed color in a way that added mood or beauty to the drawn composition.

When I was in art & design school in the late 1960s, the admired illustrators like Bernie Fuchs, Mark English, and Bob Peak. These were illustrators in and around New York City, whose careers took them from the far corners of commercial art for advertising to the wider expanses of editorial art for magazines. They painted beautiful art for anything from Cadillac advertisements to movie posters, from simple splashy spots for soft drinks to story illustrations in Redbook and Ladie’s Home Journal.

I also admired Milton Glaser, a New York artist and designer who could do everything and often did both in an ad or design.

This was artwork. I can’t say the same about what’s displayed today.

These days, the illustration classes in art schools do not require the ability to draw, and it seems they prefer that you don’t. (My inquiring letter to Melanie Corn, the president of a well-known art school in the midwest, remains unanswered; I asked her if anatomy is still taught at her school, and if not, then why not.)

The art now shown in magazines and in online editorials seems to require that you have to visualize only internal feelings, such as anguish, hate, and frustration. If none of those, then only the ability to use tools such as Adobe Illustrator (third example, top right).

I’ve often told colleagues that the name Adobe Illustrator is a misnomer: you can draw with it only to a very limited degree, and then only mechanically in a very stilted way, that takes hours to do what would normally take—with a pencil—only minutes. There’s nothing intuitive about it. In the grand landscape of all art, Adobe Illustrator is more a design tool than anything. We use it in package design as a composition and production application.

So it appears anyone can become an illustrator now. No need to draw. Just scribble what depicts fear and anxiety. There is no more beauty—and real art—in today’s illustration. And that’s a real shame.


Absurd Animals & Vegetables

It never ceases to amaze me how far we’ve come in our daily living in the last 50 years, at least technically. But it never ceases to amuse me how stagnant we’ve remained in the last 50 years, in visual ideas.

I was watching television last week and remember commenting to my wife that cartoon movies, which have come so far in animation over the last eight decades, from acetate/still camera flat art to wild 3D, still have what they’ve always had—talking animals. From Steamboat Willie to The Secret Life of Pets 2. And movies especially have pushed the envelope: we’ve had talking toys, talking cars, and even talking trees.

Advertising is no different in many respects. I was watching the newest ad from K9 Advantix II, an ointment in a tube you apply to your dog’s coat in weekly or monthly applications to repel fleas and ticks—apparently more effective than merely having them wearing a collar. The ad I watched has several different breeds gathering around a campfire discussing their doggy anxieties about pests.

The ad instantly reminded me of one of several paintings I’d seen back in the day: dogs sitting around a card table playing poker. I don’t know where that image came from or who might’ve first painted it (there are different versions of it, some I believe showing at least one dog wearing a banker’s green visor.)

Of course, there are many other ads on TV having animals doing human things, such as cats playing piano (The Shelter Pet Project) and that know-it-all owl wearing glasses (America’s Best). Apparently America finds it absolutely hilarious seeing and hearing animals playing instruments and talking. It has been this way forever.

Then we have another kind of ad in which we find people dressed up as vegetables. This takes theater to a whole different spectrum. The first time I saw this was in the old Fruit of the Loom series from the 1970s. And then, it was inventive. Fruit of the Loom was pushing its line of men’s underwear, and with the company’s logo of assorted fruit, having a gaggle of goofy men dressed up as the depicted fruit from the logo was funny.

I would dare say that Land O’Frost Foods has obviously picked up on this theatrical idea. Land O’Frost makes packaged foods, one of which is their line of lunchmeat. And if you’ve seen their latest ad, it shows several lunchmeat ingredients sitting around a conference table supposedly discussing company food matters.

Actors dressed up as vegetables (or animals) is no longer a novel idea. Times change and audiences become more sophisticated. Their tolerance for some things goes down and some themes have long become tiresome.

One local ad series we see down here on the SunCoast of Florida is for an exterminator, in which actors are dressed up as roaches. They talk and think they’re funny, telling jokes a la Henny Youngman. Then the exterminator spokesman carts them off to his van. The whole schtick is as old as theater itself and is very tacky. Yet there are countless advertisers still using this trite gimmick.

I think the reason they go to that bastion of hackneyed themes is that a business owner who takes himself too seriously in a series of TV ads is going to look too self-important. But if he uses a humorous approach, it may work regardless of how old the line is. Of course, law ads can’t be too humorous, and by contrast, an ad for an exterminator shouldn’t be too serious. Getting sued is always serious, but a bug infestation can be funny—as long as it’s not yours.

Talking animals, on the other hand, somehow perpetuate to infinity. Don’t ask me why.


Newer Is Better

(This is a repost from the original back in March of 2018. Dan Blanchette is on assignment.)

Why does a company introduce a new package for a seemingly ordinary line? Can’t they use an existing brand and indicate that it‘s new?

Well, yes (sorry) they could. But it wouldn’t have the impact that a brand new line would. Remember, good design has impact. And in packaging, impact is almost everything. Without it, a package will die on the store shelf.

And there‘s nothing like a brand new package for a brand new line in a food company‘s pantheon of products. They can make it whatever they want to be: new graphics, new photography, new colors, new copy, new name. They can make the PDP, the primary display panel, anything they want. In this case, that front of the can, it can be anything they need it to be, that endangered 40% of the label.

Campbell‘s new line of soups has a catchy name. Well Yes, of course, refers to “wellness”, one of those words I feel is kind of dumb, like “tiredness”. But no matter. It works here, and the semi-freeform design of the name works, also. Especially sitting as it does on the label. And the flavor SKU sits right below it, and the photo of the main ingredients sits right below that. 1, 2, 3. Easy and direct.

And this new label treats the consumer like he/she has a brain: there’s no “beauty” shot of a bowl of soup on the front. Don’t need it. Everyone knows what a bowl of soup looks like. It’s the ingredients that count. And the label has plenty of areas denoting what the health information is, mostly in a large and easy-to-read panel on the back.

They have fourteen SKUs in this new line (so far), all without artificial colors or flavors. Campbell’s says each has “purposeful” ingredients. And that, of course, is in line with the relatively recent wave of consumer-minded things like “organic” and “non-GMO” tags you see on food packaging. But in this new line, not all are non-GMO ad none are organic. Some are delineated as vegetarian or vegan, according to their ingredients. If you’re looking for protein or fiber, they have those, too.

So it’s new. And it’s different (part of what Campbell’s calls the Sage Project). And Campbell’s knows that if it’s new and has that impact they need, consumers will see it, pick it up, and read the label. And because the design is friendly and informative, and having all those friendly ingredients pictured right there, people will buy it. Yes, partly because it’s Campbell’s—a name we trust. But the design really carries it.

And the large “Yes!” in the name is instantly inviting. It has an intrinsic, positive vibe. Everything in the design (and ingredients) is positive. It’s no wonder that Campbell’s decided it had to be a new line. It was such a fun thing to do.





A Menu Redesign

This is a menu I was recently asked to redesign for a restaurant here in Florida, the Siesta Key Oyster Bar, otherwise known locally by its initials, “SKOB”.

As soon as I laid eyes on the existing menu (whose pages are the three examples on top), I was instantly aware of two things: clutter—especially of unnecessary background items, and poor contrast between typography colors and background colors. Clutter creates many things, none of which add to clarity of organization no matter how you look at anything. Poor contrast between copy and background creates poor readability.

I mean, why on earth would you design a menu for a high profile place to eat and drink and make it hard for the customers to read it?

The existing menu, as I was later to find out, was created by a designer who works for one of the restaurant liquor distributors in the area. The menu didn’t cost the restaurant anything to have it produced. That was a courtesy of the distributor to secure business with the restaurant. Free is not always good.

In this particular case, SKOB is a high profile restaurant in the Sarasota area of Florida. Siesta Key is a tourist spot on the Gulf of Mexico, and the nearby beach is probably the largest white sand beach in Florida, one that’s used for several events during the year, such as the Siesta Key Classic Sand Castle Competition. Plus, the real estate values in that area are hard to beat along the gulf coast.

So you have to wonder why a good restaurant such as this would have their patrons look at and read a poorly designed menu. Not only is “free” not necessarily good, but the presence of money does not necessarily make good design of anything just happen by itself. Ignorance has no price.

The cover of the existing menu (top left) has everything in it but a beached whale. There’s too many things that vie for attention: the way the name of the restaurant at the top is treated reminds one of the old vacation postcards from the 1950s; then we have the red lifeguard shack; next is the logo at bottom left of the layout, needlessly repeating the name of the place; and then the extra clutter at the bottom caused by a flock of seagulls, giving us bad readability, against an otherwise clean span of beach.

My approach (bottom row of examples) uses fewer distracting elements in the background. I felt the cover should be the first example of simplicity in welcoming patrons to the restaurant. Since this is a cocktail menu, putting a simple tropical drink in a beach setting seemed to be the easiest way to convey relaxation and appetite near the beach.

The client called for a realignment of sections in the menu (hence the reason my first inside page does not have exact corresponding copy as in the existing menu). Their first inside page is full of copy describing each cocktail, with small type reversed out of a background of overlapping palm fronds. I can see people squinting just trying to read the menu at this point. I went with a fresh approach of non-clutter with easy readability of copy and just a few seashells on a simple sand texture, with tropical banana plant leaves calling attention to the different drink categories.

Their next page is not nearly as bad as the previous one, but repeating the background image here felt too easy. I opted for a change of pace with different beach sand and surf.

I always remember one of good design’s adages: simple is best. The fewer items, the better, when it comes to communications (print and web, menus included). You can add visual interest to any layout, but not to the point of clutter, and readability—one of good design’s staples—is always paramount.


Music As Sound Design

I like music in television, provided it doesn’t get in the way.

And it occurs to me that in putting together a TV show, the producers would know that the content—the subject matter of the show itself—would be the focus of it. In “reality” TV, what we’re supposed to be shown, I would assume, is an informative presentation.

But I think that depends on the “channel” you’re watching. And of course cable television has innumerable places to catch the kind of show you want to view, especially if it is reality based. But finding what you want to see may be tricky. In the relatively formative years of cable channel lineups, it was easier to find shows based on the format of the channel. For example, TLC used to be The Learning Channel, but these days that moniker does not actually encompass what is generally offered there. Historic shows aren’t necessarily found on The History Channel—they could be on The Smithsonian Network or even Discovery. So it goes.

My wife and I have been up and down the “dial” in finding shows we like, and like most people, we stick to what we find enjoyable. But I notice that even with a show whose content I might find interesting, the accompanying music can be annoying. And so today’s column is about that: music as sound design. (I won’t add a sound design category just for this.)

If design is everything (which I believe is and which I postulated back in 2017), then everything you see and feel (and even hear) watching TV is part of the show or commercial, and therefore part of the overall presentation—and planned. The producers want you to hear that music. And if that music is weaved into the fabric of the presentation, if it truly becomes incidental, you almost don’t consciously hear it. Unless of course it becomes intrusive.

I was watching Tiny House, Big Living this morning on DIY Network, a show about building small, convertible mobile houses for people on modest budgets. They’ll build you a home that has less than 500 square feet of living space and make it livable for two people. They make the place with spaces that double as kitchen and laundry areas, living room/bedroom spaces, etc., and with nice appointments made from quality materials. Their work is actually impressive the way they can maximize space. But in watching the construction crew, the producers have you listening to guitar music that might’ve been played by the band who did the transition music from Friends. And it sounds much louder than it needs to be.

Another show we watch is Gold Rush on the Discovery Channel. This show, if you’ve never seen it, is about gold mining in Alaska. It follows three crews of miners using bulldozers, scoop loaders, and other earth moving machines along with standard gold sifters such as sluices to find gold. And they do a very good job of getting the gold, some better that others. Here, because of the continuing crews, you get attached to them and tend to root for your favorites because of the contentious yet friendly atmosphere. But once again, there’s music, for the most part when the crews suffer damages to equipment and then must rally to fix it, whereupon the producers will have you listening to heroic, almost Olympic style music so you can enjoy the comeback-from-disaster challenges along with the crew. It’s empathetic, I would guess. But the music tends to be repetitious, and it happens every week, and generally with all three crews.

Then we have another example for intrusive music with The Great British Baking Show on PBS. And here, like a lot of things British (or so it seems), the producers have you listening to what I’d call tedious music passages. The home-based bakers are all given time limits for baking anything from complicated breads and cakes to thematic monstrosities that would challenge any home cook. And during the competition, the camera crew is focusing on closeups of the process, the facial expressions of the contenders, and often the mistakes they may make, which then of course, like all other shows, is edited down to the quick cuts necessary to give maximum impact for anxious expectancy. And that anxiousness is accompanied by the tedious music, always recorded by a chamber orchestra with violins twittering their repetitious tinny notes, practically like Flight of the Bumblebee.

I will say, however, that if it weren’t for the music here on this baking show, you wouldn’t feel nearly as much in tune with the bakers’ nervousness.

So music does help you along in viewing and in empathy for the performers (or miners and carpenters) if two things don’t happen to make you tired of it: repetition of the same music, and if the music isn’t played at volume.

Design can encompass many senses: visual, tactile, and even aural. Good design uses them proportionately to achieve an end result that’s a harmonious, and pleasing experience. Bad design will use one or more of them to a disproportionate degree, with an annoying result.


A Package Design That Remains True


(This article appeared in September 2017. Dan is taking the week off.)

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.