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.