When art and the practice of typography joined forces with the invention of movable type and the printing press in the 15th centry, who could then foresee such a fantastic development, which was going to be amplified with the arrival of the digitalisation? Calligraphy, also used in pack design, is of course even older and if we go further back in time, we find the Chinese proverb “a picture is worth a thousand words”. And this is exactly what this article is about! Can typography ‘paint’ a picture on the front of the pack to tell a great story? Yes, in the manner of the “LOVE” art by Robert Indiana, first as a Christmas card in 1964 and then as a sculpture in 1970.
In my collection of interesting packages collected over some 50 years, I’ve selected a few samples which I appreciate for various reasons, be it readability, creativity, surprise, beauty, structure or elegance. My samples come mainly from the Latin alphabet, although similar designs may be found in other writing systems such as Arabic, Cyrillic, Hebrew, Indic script or East Asian signs.
Let it be said loud and clear: the words put together must have both a verbal and a visual story to tell in order to achieve impact!
Maggi Liquid Seasoning (1909)
This masterpiece should never have been tampered with and should have kept its original design following the example of S. Pellegrino, an icon within the world of label design. With each redesign, the Maggi label has become worse and worse and is today a bland copy of the original one. Here I would use the excellent German expression “Verschlimmbesserung”!
I profit to say that by using the three colours red, yellow and black, as well as different type faces, you can easily get the following information:
- is unique
- for every kitchen
- is unbeatable
- Nobile quia optimum (= known because the best), in Latin to underline the uniqueness
- ingredients, etc.
(The illustration is a modernised special edition of the original label).
Savon de Marseille
Here is another iconic design which I hope will never be modernised! The soap is in a typical cubic shaped pack on which one can read the whole story of its production. Unique is the word I would use for this typographic design!
Let us make a huge step forward in time and admire Turner Duckworth’s highly contemporary design which was foreseen as a special edition, but was so appreciated by the consumers that it became the new standard for Diet Coke in the U.S. The rest of the world is today leaning towards the black Coca-Cola Zero. Can typography be more dynamic, unique and contemporary? I doubt!
Michel & Augustin biscuit packs
In 2004, inspired by the innocent fruit drinks, Michel & Augustin, les trublions du goût (taste troublemakers) started a whole new style of communication by using neither typography, nor calligraphy, but simple clear handwriting on their packages. Call it what you want, but for me this is an excellent example of
- breaking away and being different;
- using a language which the young consumer target appreciates as it is non-industrial.
Right now, the Michel & Augustin products can be found from Russia to Singapore, including even yoghurts (Vache à boire, i.e. Cow to drink), desserts, etc. In 2010, Michel & Augustin obtained the Prix Phénix for good communication, ahead of both McDonald’s and Evian!
Let us stop here for a moment, as www.packagingsense.com is about packaging communication, more than package design. What conclusions can we draw before we continue? Well, there is a great future for those package designers who include copywriting and typography in their toolbox to design great packages. One day, they might even improve the back, i.e. service panels which are still disastrous when it comes to layout, amount of text, typography and comprehension! I’ll continue with 10 more interesting examples from my own toolbox:
The Hottest Fuckin’ Sauce (Figueroa Brothers)
Surprise! Surprise! … which makes the consumer read the whole text on the front that ends with the sentence “there is no better verbal therapy”. You may find the complete text if you go to their website, or buy the product!
Braised Pork (Russia)
I often go to Moscow to teach, as Russia seems to still be lagging behind the West when it comes to
- the quality of the design;
- the communication
I do not speak Russian and cannot read the text, but I have learned some of the cyrillic letters and am therefore of the opinion that to have all letters of equal height makes it less legible than the Latin alphabet with its ascending and descending letters. I may be wrong. Here is a label that says something like “great product”, “braised pork”, “extra”, “superior quality”… Unfortunately, the quality of this typography does not live up to these words.
It is in fact quite easy to communicate tradition. First you just have to choose the right material(s) and then a typography that is hot stamped, i.e. burnt, together with a quality seal. Great simple design!
Petits-Beurre de Lorient
Yes, tradition is easy to represent as there are so many symbols to use in order to express a time passed. And isn’t food often something very traditional? I think this design has the right typefaces and decorative elements.
Domino’s Handmade PAN PIZZA
Certainly more than 50 years separate Albert Ménès’ Petits-Beurre and Domino’s Pizza pack, but what a difference in communication! Domino has always been creative with their packages. This one beats most of what I’ve seen until now! Full of fun facts and emphasis on the RTB as for instance “never-frozen dough”. Go to their website and learn more!
Compagnia dell’Arabica coffee
As a stamp collector, this design easily falls into my toolbox as the typography is so well chosen both on the stamp and on the pack. It is elegant design that expresses quality and it is timeless!
John & John No 1
Good choice of typogaphy (in a series of numbers). You may feel the pleasure the designer had when he carefully ‘filled the surface’ with the typography he liked. Congratulations!
McVitie’s Jaffa Cakes
An article such as this one would not be complete if I didn’t mention the revolutionary design, some years ago, by Williams Murray Hamm which, I believe, has been redesigned since. Can typography be used more effectively? I say “NO”!
MIGROS Budget Range
Typography can be used to express many things, from quality to tradition. These designs caught my attention as they cleverly combine the oblique quality pattern with a simple product denomination in a sans-serif typeface. Budget is furthermore designed in a cheap manner. Great communication!
Adams’ Infinity Chiclets chewing-gum
This is great design to express an ‘endless – eternal – perpetual TASTE’! When I write about typography, i.e. letters, I obviously include figures as well as signs. These small packs are real masterpieces! It is surprising to analyse this product category and see how creative the design agencies are, because the space is limited…
Last, but not least, here is another of my favourits from which we have a lot to learn. Not only the concentration on one letter as done by McDonald’s or Kellogg’s (Special K), it is the way the letter has been designed to express something – and this is what this article is all about! The flames, together with the word “Forza!” and the Swedish words “eldig och kraftfull, extra mörkrost” (fiery and powerful, extra dark roasted) are telling a great story. Congratulations to Nestlé Sweden who did not ‘spoil’ this front with unnecessary information such as net weight, GDA, etc. which belong to the back panel!
I hope you’ve had some pleasure and learning from these examples chosen at random. I’m sure there are many more packs out there on the supermarket shelves. Just go and have a look!