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.
Name one major company founded or headed by a designer? (Apple doesn’t count since Steve Jobs wasn’t actually trained as a designer.) If you can’t come up with one, you’re not alone. Designers create, they invent, they innovate, they make products and brands more successful, more visible, more desirable, but other than running their own design studios, they typically don’t lead businesses. “30 Weeks: A Founders Program for Designers” in New York City is determined to change that. Operated by Hyper Island, a Swedish educational company, and supported by Google in partnership with the SVA, Parsons, Pratt, and The Cooper Union, the experimental program wants to transform designers into founders through a 30-week course in start-up mentorship, discussions with industry leaders, group critiques, tools, hands-on help, and an environment where participants can focus on their own products. Enrollment for the 2014 program, which starts in September, is closed, but it is worth following nonetheless to see if designers can be trained to take the lead.
Of all the sections in a supermarket that have design display potential, the produce section is number one. Unlike branded packaged products such as cereal, ice cream and canned goods, fresh fruits and vegetables are set out loose without wrappers. They come in bright colors, different shapes, textures and sizes, and change frequently with the season. Speaking personally, I tend to judge the quality of a supermarket by the freshness and diversity of its produce. Nothing is a greater turnoff than limp leafy greens and overripe brown bananas. Artfully arranged displays emphasize the natural beauty of the fruits and vegetables, help shoppers instantly see the difference between each item to quickly pick out the red leaf lettuce from the Bibb, the onions from the radish, the bitter melon from the cucumber, etc. The marvels of nature’s bounty are a joy to explore. With a little effort at design, the produce section can become the star attraction of any food market. Shown here are a display of chard and bell peppers (photo by tretorn) from ICA in Tyresö, Sweden, and a display (photo by cool hand lucas) from Zupan’s in Portland, Oregon.
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.
Clocking in at two minutes, this Honda commercial would be a very expensive ad buy on prime-time TV, but thanks to the accessibility of YouTube and Vimeo, audiences are seeking it out online. The Honda “Hands” ad starts with a cog, just like its award-winning Cog commercial (see July 24 post below). This time Honda teamed with Wieden + Kennedy London to “celebrate the curiosity of Honda engineers” who have made Honda the world’s largest engine manufacturer and racing company since it was founded in 1948. Through “slight of hand” and brilliant animation, the cog morphs into a dazzling array of products, from motorcycles and jet planes to solar-powered cars and robots. The making of this video, directed by Smith & Foulkes and Nexus Productions, is a technological feat in itself. For brands that think they don’t have the budget for such an ambitious production, consider this: Is it better to do something middle-of-the-road and run it on prime time TV or to create something awesomely original that people will “google” to see on their own. If it is good, it will go viral.