Cartongate: Peter Arnell Speaks

February 26, 2009

Today’s 3 Minute AdAge features Arnell Group CEO Peter Arnell defending his agency’s Tropicana carton design.


February 23, 2009

The big story today is PepsiCo’s ‘New Coke’, as The NY Times is calling it. Only months after releasing their much talked (and blogged and blogged and blogged) about Tropicana carton redesign, they’ve decided to switch back to the Strawrange, citing a strong outcry from their ‘most loyal customers.’ Cool. Looks like we’re going to have the privilege of experiencing yet another shelf-off.

Do you think major rollbacks like this affect the credibility of designers?

The Illmatic Code (hip-hop album covers covered get uncovered)

January 9, 2009

Illmatic, Ready To Die, Tha Carter III

Behold! The three greatest hip-hop albums of all time.

Just kidding. Actually, most hip-hop scholars would say the first two albums, Nas’s Illmatic and the late Biggie Small’s (The Notorious BIG) Ready To Die, are among the greatest hip-hop albums ever made. The third album, Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter III, however, might have more fans in the 16-and-under set. Who knows? Maybe it will one day be considered one of hip-hop’s greatest albums. I haven’t listened to much of it, so I couldn’t tell you. Besides, this blog is about design (and stuff) so I’d like to uncover a not so widely known secret about these three album covers. If it is widely known, I didn’t know, so pretend you didn’t know either.

Lets begin with the first album, Illmatic. Released in April of 1994, it was Nas’s debut, and some say his best album. The album cover is a shot of young Nasir Jones, superimposed on a backdrop of what I assume is Queensbridge, the rapper’s stomping grounds and the subject of many of his songs. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but then again, what hip-hop album covers are? It works though. Gets the point across fairly well.

Ready To Die was released in September of 1994. It was Biggie Small’s debut album, and is widely considered the greatest hip-hop album of all time. This album is near and dear to my heart as it is one of the first hip-hop albums I can associate with a specific time and place in my life. Not only that, but it is hands down the best monday morning album ever. Back when I used to take the subway to work, I used to bump this HARD in the AM, looking at other commuters like I was all tough. Anyway, I’m getting sidetracked. The album cover is probably my favorite hip-hop album cover. It’s a shot of a baby, whom I always thought was meant to portray not only a small BIG but also reference the Bad Boy Entertainment logo. As a kid, I thought it was brilliant. Actually, I probably just thought it was “dope.” The image has always stuck with me though, which says a lot about its effectiveness.

Bad Boy Entertainment Logo

This is where things get fun. There’s a bit of controversy surrounding the first two album covers. Apparently, it has been suggested that the concept for Ready To Die’s cover art was taken from Nas’s Illmatic. Interesting. I don’t see it. Sure, both have portrayals of the artists as children, but beyond that, there’s nothing there. Okay, maybe the colors, but beyond that, I’d say they’re pretty different.

Nasir, himself, addresses the drama in his song “Last Real Nigga Alive” (thanks Grover)

Fast-forward to June 2008. Lil Wayne releases Tha Carter III, his sixth album, and the third player in this little study. Clearly the cover art is referencing Illmatic as well as Ready To Die. Actually, the album art could even be called the offspring of the first two albums. Not only do you have Lil Wayne as a baby, which is undoubtedly inspired by Ready To Die, but it’s a close up and it has a similar layout to that of Illmatic. Lil Wayne takes it a step further though, by giving Little Lil Wayne his signature tattoos. Unlike the alleged “jacking” of the Illmatic concept by Ready To Die, this is obviously paying homage. And while the photoshopping looks a little suspect, I quite enjoy looking at that Little Lil Wayne. I’d be proud to call him my son, though I’d give him a timeout for writing all over himself with a tattoo needle. Daddy’s things are not toys, thank you.

So there you have it, one of hip-hop’s great conundrums covered right here. I heard there’s a Notorious movie coming out soon. Maybe it’ll shed some more light on the album art question. For one thing, no amount of google-fu could unearth the identity of the Ready To Die baby. Lets just hope he isn’t out there chasing dollars by trying to become a designer like some other album cover babies from the early 90s.

The thread that binds Pentagram, Bill Golden, and Jay-Z

January 2, 2009

The best place to fill your head with other folks’ baggage is on blogs. To be more specific, in the comments section on blogs. For this reason alone, I make a point of limiting how often I leave comments, as well as how often I read comments. However, the comments section of a blog can occasionally be a great place for discourse. Sometimes people actually have positive things to say, or better yet, there’s an actual exchange of truly valid ideas, and out of the exchange comes tiny unpopped kernels of enlightenment. At the very least, you get a quote you hadn’t heard before.

So today, I offer you this quote, originally posted on Brand New by Pentagram partner Michael Beirut, in response to the melee that has transpired in the comments section of a post about Paula Schere’s design for the packaging of new tea sweeten-o-fier Truvia.

“I happen to believe that the visual environment … improves each time a designer produces a good design and in no other way. We tend to overstate our case in the most complicated manner, and to confuse the simple purpose of our perfectly honest, useful little craft with the language of the sociologist, the psychiatrist, the scientist, the art critic and sometimes even the mystic. The obvious function of the designer is to design.”

It’s from Bill Golden, aka the dude who designed the logo that inspired such rap lyrics as Jay-Z’s “I keep one eye open like CBS.” It is also Beirut’s favorite design quote, which according to him, he pulls out once a year, and while it’s a little early in the year, I’m glad he didn’t hold back. As some of you know, I like to champion the idealists and sometimes go on and on about design changing the world but this quote by Bill Golden is like a smack in the back of the head from a wise old uncle who’s gone through enough to know a thing or two about a thing or two.

Reasonable Doubt. Arguably the greatest hip-hop album of all time.

If this hasn’t abated your appetite for comment banter even Paula Schere joins the fray, leaving a lengthy explanation about the decisions she made while designing the package.

Tropicana: Side by Side (old news with a new “twist”)

December 20, 2008

Back in October, PepsiCo shook up the (design) world with its immense overhaul of the Pepsi brand. The blogs had a lot to say, and as you can imagine, much of it was not positive. Firstly, I must note that I do not drink Pepsi. Not because I have some aversion to soda, but because my blog is actually sponsored by the color red, which any self-respecting designer should know was invented and owned exclusively by the Coca-Cola company. Thus, my ties to PepsiCo’s competition are sweet, dark brown, and deep. Naturally, I paid very little attention to the new Pepsi logo and packaging redesign, citing it as yet another reason to not drink Pepsi. I had no relationship with the brand, so I didn’t really care.

Well, like any huge corporation PepsiCo owns quite a few other brands, and the corporate nip/tuck was rippling its way through PepsiCo’s other brands and onto my breakfast table. Tropicana, Pepsi’s squarer more nutritious cousin and my go-to brand for ‘Pure Premium’ OJ, had also been given a 2.0ver. You can read all about it here. This was news I cared about! I can’t say I loved the old Tropicana carton but over the years it and I had bonded over many western omelets. I had come to know, love, and trust the little straw sticking out of the orange. It signaled the dawn and its infinite possibilities. I was sad to see it go.

At the same time, I embraced the new Tropicana cartons. Not because they feature a near erotic close up of a just poured glass of orange juice, or because they unabashedly lower case and sans serif the ‘orange’ in my OJ, but simply because they’re new, and with every new brand overhaul comes the awkward rollout phase, when the old packaging gets to share shelf space with the new packaging. This period offers a unique opportunity to do the most rudimentary of experiments: the shelf-off. Pictured above is a shelf-off in progress. While the cartons on the right aren’t, in fact, orange juice, they still have the old design and if you look closely you can even see the little straw sticking out of the orange (how my heart longs for it). Looking at the two side by side, I’d have to say I’m drawn more to the new cartons. If I were to pin it down to any one thing, it would be the fact that the photo made me want orange juice more than the strawrange. At the same time, the design of the older cartons makes me think this orange juice is probably going to taste better. I can’t really pinpoint why that is, but I’d venture to say it has something to do with the sans serifs and the kinds of brands I relate them to.

At any rate, I can’t decide if there’s a clear winner here, or if it even matters. What I do find lamentable, however, is the omission of ‘Pure Premium’ on the new cartons. It deeply saddens me that my orange juice is now only ‘pure and natural.’ I guess I’ll have to start looking elsewhere for the premium stuff.