It might be considered tacky to give a bar of soap as a gift, but not if it is beautifully wrapped.
Established in New York more than 30 years ago, Michel Design Works found its niche merchandising tasteful gift products in lovely garden-themed designs and packaging. Scented bar and bubble bath soaps, body lotions, paper napkins, coasters and placemats, kitchen towels and potholders, and the like are delightfully decorated with antique botanical prints. In the case of the soap, the wrapping paper makes the product look like a luxury item, but is inexpensively priced to give as an appropriate hostess thank-you or as a shower party favor. The packaging for the soap even features the Michel Design Works’ elephant logo as a hot-wax seal. What makes this soap “gift-worthy” is not the actual bar of soap (however good it is); it’s the packaging. The packaging defines the brand.
The credits for Elephant Gin read like a project conceived by the United Nations. Handcrafted by London Dry Gin, the product is distilled in Hamburg, Germany, using 14 botanicals including African ingredients like Devil’s Claw, Baobab and Wormwood. The packaging design by South African designer Simon Frouws was inspired by the pioneering spirit of early explorers in Africa. In keeping with the theme, the packaging design features a finely drawn map of South Africa and an old-fashioned cork label with a seal wrapped around the bottle neck with twine. Produced in small batches of 800 bottles, each batch is named after past great elephants or those that the group is committed to protect. The names are handwritten and numbered at the bottom of each label. Fifteen percent of the sales profits are donated to two African elephant foundations. Great packaging, good cause.
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Anyone who doubts that we live in a global economy needs to look at packaging and products from the far-flung reaches of the planet. These lovely labels for sauces and marmalades were made for Italbu Charcuterie in Burundi, a little landlocked country in Southeast Africa, bordered by Rwanda, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Italbu Charcuterie is a deli shop offering organic products made from original Italian recipes.The design firm Ya Ye lists studios both in Zagreb, Croatia, and Bujumbura, Burundi. Ya Ye’s design has a contemporary universal quality that could have just as easily been produced in New York, London or Sydney. Cultural design differences were more distinctly identifiable before air travel and multinational retailers. A World War II vet once told me that if a soldier was parachuted onto foreign terrain, he would know where he landed by the typography and architecture, even before hearing the spoken language. With the Internet today, the whole world is exposed to the same visual references and design styles can’t be pinpointed to a particular culture or part of the world.
Who would have thought that a box of No. 2 pencils could exude style, sophistication and Art Deco flair? But leave it to New York-based designer Louise Fili to use her mastery of typography, pattern, color and all things Italian to create a product that you would be proud to present as a gift – and thrilled to receive. Invited by Princeton Architectural Press to design a line of elegant gift products, Fili came up with a boxed set of 12 double-tipped pencils. Fili felt that the two-sided pencils seemed perfect, thus the name “Perfetto.” On her website, Fili explains that her design was inspired by her collection of 1930s Italian pencil boxes. “Our most preferred are the two-color, double-sided pencils, commonly in red and blue, for teachers to correct homework…red for a minor infringement, blue for a serious offense.” Fili says that they chose not to use blue because it was our least favorite color. Instead she says, “We opted for our signature red and black.” There’s no eraser because that would spoil the beautiful symmetry.
Only a few decades ago, a common belief was that the more contemporary the design of the label, the more mediocre the quality of the wine inside. The legendary luxury wines of Europe remained faithful to the centuries-old tradition of featuring labels with ornate script lettering, fine line engravings of chateaus, gold foil borders and corks sealed and stamped with red wax. Only upstart nouveau wineries in places like California ignored proper wine labeling etiquette by hiring graphic designers to come up with something colorful and stylish.
But perceptions have changed. Fine wines are being sold in supermarkets, online and even Costco. Wines from around the world compete for consumer attention and shelf space. The assumption that bottles with traditional labels contain better wine no longer has validity. Wine packaging and labels are projecting unique brand personalities, and not shying away from presenting a look that is bold and innovative.
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Kombucha Dog is one of those “only in California live-your-passion” stories. According to the Kombucha Dog website, the beverage company was started in L.A. by Michael Faye, a successful commercial photographer who loved traveling the world on assignment, until he found that the photo business was beginning to require spending more time on the computer than on location. That’s when Faye sold his studio and set up DogIsArt, a dog portraiture business, combining his avid love of dogs with his professional talent.
The kombucha link comes in because Faye, who was raised as a strict vegetarian by a mother who even made her own yogurt, was strongly into the raw food movement and yoga. An early adopter of kombucha, Faye started drinking the fermented tea back in 2005, but had to stop when actress Lindsey Lohan failed an alcohol test. Lohan’s attorneys launched a “kombucha defense” saying that drinking lots of kombucha caused a false positive on the test. The controversy caused L.A. retailers to pull kombucha from the shelves, forcing Faye to experiment with brewing his own.
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The Dutch Simavi Foundation, an organization dedicated to promoting safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene in the poorest regions of developing countries, launched its own line of body soaps to help fund their programs. There’s no need to appeal to public’s sense of duty to get people to buy Mama Sopa soaps and bath gels, however. The playful yet sophisticated packaging of Mama Sopa rises to the level of any high-end branded product on retail shelves. Consumers will want to buy the product simply because they like it, not just because they see this as a way to make a charitable donation. Ina Meijer and Marjolijn Stappers of Con-fetti design agency created the playful hand-drawn identity of a woman with curly tall hair and big eyes. A muted color palette of apricot, taupe and seafoam blue gives the packaging a spa-like style that projects a clean, warm and relaxed look. Mama Sopa undoubtedly makes buyers feel good – doubly so knowing that they are helping to give poor regions sustainable access to safe drinking water, a problem that afflicts more than a billion people today.
Mexican food is not considered exotic to locals in Mexico, which is why Habibis, an Arabic-Mexican taqueria in San Pedro Garza Garcia, emphasized the Arabic side in its brand identity. A municipality that is part of the Monterrey metro area, San Pedro Garza Garcia has a large third-generation Arab population that has infused intriguing flavors into the local cuisine. In transitioning from a taco stand to an alluring taco cafe, Habibis looked to Monterrey-based creative agency, Anagrama, to build a brand that conveyed the fine fusion quality of its food, while preserving its street-friendly and casual ambiance.
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Explaining its views on coffee, illy argues “If coffee is experienced with all five senses, the very objects that hold coffee should please the eye.” Given that brand philosophy, the Trieste, Italy-based coffee company sought to elevate the humble coffee cup “to meld the sensory pleasures of coffee and art.” In 1992, it commissioned renowned architect Matteo Thun to design what is now the iconic illy espresso cup. From there, illy asked some of the world’s foremost artists to use the white ceramic surface as a canvas for their original art. The illy Art Collection was born. Over the past two decades, some 70 artists, including such contemporary masters as Robert Rauschenberg, Jeff Koons and Julian Schnabel, have contributed to the collection. The cups and saucers in the illy Collection can themselves be appreciated as works of art worthy of display in galleries and exhibitions.
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Wine packaging is steeped in tradition and sometimes unfounded biases, and connoisseurs are quick to form opinions about the quality of wine inside by the bottle’s shape, color and design. The cork versus screw cap debate, for instance, has been going on for well over a decade. So, it will be interesting to note the wine-drinking market’s response to Paperboy, packaged in a bottle made entirely from compressed recycled paper. UK packaging producer GreenBottle teamed with California wine producer Truett-Hurst to unveil the world’s first paper wine bottle. It is being sold in Safeway supermarkets on the West Coast now, with plans to offer it across the U.S. soon. London/NY-based agency Stranger & Stranger designed the Paperboy label graphics, which were printed with natural inks.
GreenBottle reports that the paper bottle, with a liquid-tight insulated plastic bladder inside, has a carbon footprint that is one third of an equivalent glass bottle. The bottle is feather-light, weighing about an ounce when empty, thus reducing shipping, handling and energy consumption costs. Despite its lightweight, Paperboy bottles are said to be rigid and strong, and ice bucket safe for three hours. Sounds good. Now let’s see if wine snobs can get past the fact that they’re drinking a brand sold in a paper bottle.
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Editor’s note: Packaging design presents its own unique set of challenges to graphic designers that differ from other kinds of print design. Here, we asked Brad Murdoch from Process, a premium packaging manufacturer based in Salt Lake City, to help us identify some common mistakes. Process handles custom packaging and fabrication through its network of overseas manufacturing facilities.
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Corona Canada is going all out to celebrate the Day of the Dead (Dias de los Muertos), an annual Mexican holiday (November 1 and 2) commemorating the lives of loved ones who have passed away. It has just issued special limited edition designs for its tall-boy cans, further extending its “Live Mas Fina” (Live the good life) campaign launched in March. Toronto-based design agency, Zulu Alpha Kilo, created the concept and design for the marketing promotion, which features artwork inspired by Day of the Dead sugar skull candy treats. Illustrated by Jenny Luong, the decorative skull artwork integrates a line of text that urges people to live life to the fullest.
The Canadian Day of the Dead campaign encompasses more than special packaging. Zulu is promoting the Day of the Dead design in out-of-home and print ads, magazine inserts and on social media. In addition to giving out tear-away posters at select locations across Canada, Corona is staging a social media contest that offers fans the chance to win a numbered, limited edition silkscreened print of the sugar skull posters. The Day of the Dead Corona cans are available in stores across Canada for one month only.
At first glance, the packaging for Coven, a new hand-crafted vodka made by Arbutus Distillery in Nanaimo on tiny Vancouver Island in Canada, looks deceptively traditional, fitting right in on retail shelves with the products of large spirit producers. But darkness changes everything.
Asked to develop a product name, brand personality and package design for Arbutus Distillery’s inaugural product, Nanaimo-based agency, Hired Guns Creative, sought to take consumers into the deeper realm of the spirit world. Hired Guns chose the name “Coven” for the Arbutus vodka brand, not only because it was a play on the idea of spirits, but because it suggested gatherings, mystery and a hint of sexual allure. From a design perspective, creative director Richard Hatter also found Coven “a very clean, balanced word that is easy to work with on a graphic level. And, of course, there are the other obvious criteria; it was easy to spell, say, pronounce, read from a distance, and it was available to trademark.”
To bring credibility to this new product in stores, Hired Guns used several traditional indicators of quality: hand-dipped wax, die-cut label, foil and embossing details, and lots of whitespace. What isn’t seen in daylight, however, is a gathering of witches and night creatures made visible through a glow-in-the-dark phosphorescent coating overprinted on the bottle. The text on the back label adds to the haunting impression: “Shrouded in the mist of the West Coast, a timeless rite enchants those who seek a greater spirit. Initiation requires strict dedication to the craft. There is power in numbers, so gather together because when the lights fade, the ritual begins. We’ve been waiting for you.” Drink up and be merry; the spirits are alive.
A wandering elephant has been the brand mascot for UK-based Williamson Tea since the company began tea farming in Assam, India, in 1869. India, then still part of the British Empire, used trained elephants as farm animals, much like the West used horses and mules. Until the advent of farming machinery, Williamson too relied on elephants. When the family-owned business moved its tea farming operation from India to Kenya, it kept its elephant logo, but changed its profile from an Asian elephant to an African elephant, which has bigger ears and a concave humped back.
To this day, the wandering elephant remains an important emblem in Williamson’s brand identity program, reminding consumers of the tea grower’s exotic history. Springetts Brand Design in London built on this tradition by featuring ornately decorated elephants on luxury-edition “tin” caddies. Each tin is color-coded to reflect the type of tea inside. More than just an eye-catching marketing ploy, the elephant tin containers are highly collectible, and are themselves charming works of art.
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An aesthetically pleasing logo is great, but when it is wrapped around a charming story, the brand becomes all the more memorable. Landor Associates did both in developing the design and branding for the ultra-exclusive Nine Suns Wine of Napa Valley. Playing off the Chinese heritage of the owners, Landor recalled the ancient Yao Dynasty legend that claimed that once 10 suns lit the earth in rotation, until one day the suns grew tired of taking turns and decided to rise all at once. The unrelenting heat from the suns scorched crops and trees and caused much suffering. Emperor Yao summoned Hou Yi, the god of archery, to save the land. The archer quickly shot nine suns out of the sky, but left the tenth sun to keep heaven and earth in perfect balance. The winery’s brand mark represents the nine suns myth with the nine black dots lyrically configured to spell Nine Suns.
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The visual identity system for Southern California-based Dripp Coffee Shop is intriguing for what is fixed and what is flexible. Designed by Turner Duckworth San Francisco and London, the Dripp branding system centers around a hand-drawn script logotype which angles upward. The rest of the visual content is structured within a grid of color blocks with minimal flat-graphic images. The flourished style of the letters sets the logo apart from the rest of the visual content and, by contrast, draws attention to itself. The silhouetted objects themselves can be changed to suit the product, season or event, as long as they retain the stylized look and simplified color palette of the brand – as shown in the set of posters below created by Turner Duckworth. This graphic system also accommodates changing needs and uses, including this sleeveless hot paper cup design by Istanbul-based designer Salih Kucukaga.
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