Lord Calvert Whisky Decanter

Lord Calvert Whisky decanter, designed by George Nelson, 1955

To add to the potential for confusing George Nelson with similarly named George P. Nelson, is the fact that George Nelson was also known to design an occasional package.

It’s hard not to be envious of those early halcyon years when designers like George Nelson, Raymond Lowey or Donald Deskey were as apt to be hired for the design of a sofa or a street light as a packaging carton. The age of  specialization (if that’s what you call what we’re in now) changed all that.

Also jealous of: the celebrity status that some designers apparently enjoyed in those days. How often do you see packages (like the carton above) that credit the designer as if it were an important product feature?

For the first time, Calvert Reserve (second best-selling whisky) and Lord Calvert will come out in special decanters this fall. Calvert, competing with some really attractive decanters, did it big, hired topflight designers Russel Wright and George Nelson to do the designing. Their decanters will take no more shelf space than the average whisky bottle. Calvert’s move means that decanters will now be a permanent fixture for the Christmas selling season. The trend, though, will be to clean design, not the rococo style of past years.

Tide (The Newsmagazine for Advertising Executives) 1955

A similar bottle was later offered with a “golden pedestal.”

(See also: Raymond Loewy’s Lucky Strike “Christmas Carton and Two Golden Packages)

Package Facts

When I first found this eBook online, I was thinking George Nelson (as in Herman Miller furniture), but George P. Nelson is someone else, entirely.

His 1922 booklet, entitled, “Package Facts” was written while he was an executive at Glass Container Association. Full of arcane information and critiques about state-of-the-art 1920s packaging. No illustrations, but headings like “Play Big With Package Men” and “Containers That Antagonize” keeps things interesting. (Also intriguing: “Generic Words Condemned” and “Chevy Chase and Mayonnaise Are Not Synonyms.”)

I tried to get more of a handle on who George P. Nelson was, but I could not find much…

While at Glass Container Association, he appears to have worked under Judge I. G. Jennings, who once gave a speech about how the streets of hell are paved in glass (and how that ’s a good thing)

Judge I. G. Jennings, the business manager of the Glass Container Association, delivered such an address as one would expect from so eloquent a man. The judge very aptly portrayed the experiences of a glass manufacturer who died and who went to the regions to which he never expected to go, namely to heaven, and tiring soon of that verdant region and the insipid angels he met there, he took the interurban line that goes to hell. In that line he found everything made of glass, even the streets were paved with glass bricks. Upon inquiring as to the reason for this strange phenomenon he was told by Voltaire, Dante and Napoleon that they, upon tiring of the climate there, harnessed hell’s fire to produce glass. They lured the devil into a big glass cage and he looked as small as a tin soldier and they looked a hundred times larger than they were to him and so he did not dare come out. After this introduction the judge talked about the limitless possibilities of the glass industry and by inference suggested a world in which everything was made of glass.

Canning Age, 1920

That’s right. It’s a fact. 99% of your business budget is best spent on package design. (As true now as it was in 1918)

(More facts about George P. Nelson, after the fold…) [Read more…]

4 Christmas Trees Made from Packaging

Four Christmas trees made from packaging…

1. The Christmas tree created by Skylab 4 crew members in  1973. (above left)

This “Christmas tree” was created by the three crewmen of the third manned Skylab mission aboard the space station in Earth orbit. Food cans were used to fashion the tree. This photograph was made from a television transmission  made from a video tape recording on December 24, 1973.


2. Christmas tree made from egg cartons. (news of its existence via: Unconsumption; photo above right via: a nossa Geografica)

3. Christmas tree made of upside-down and right-side-up milk cartons. (photo from: WPParent1’s Flickr Photostream)

4. Christmas tree made of wine bottles. (via)

(See also: Cigarette Packs as Christmas Tree Ornaments and Fabrice Peltier’s Christmas-Tree-as-Recycling-Bin project)

Eye Chart Wine Labels

The fact that I had briefly misconstrued the Lo Tengo Claro wine label from yesterday’s post as an “eye chart” was all the reason I needed to see how many of those (eye chart wine labels) I could find. Three.

1. The most recent example (on the right) is Hope Family Wines’ 2011 label for “Blind Taste” about which they say…

“The label design is inspired by an eye chart layout which gives an unique personality to its brand.”

2. Equator Design had a similarly unique label for one of their 2010 Christmas Wines (center photo). I’m now noticing that they also did a word search wine label, like we were talking about just yesterday.

3. Malibu Family Wines, however, has been doing the “eye chart” thing with their Saddlerock Wine labels since at least 2005. (See their 2005 Merlot, above left) According to the

“We call it The Eye chart design.”

(as quoted in the October, 2005 issue of Patterson’s Beverage Journal)


Originally there were a whole range of different Saddlerock wine “eye chart designs”— one for each variety…

… and they thought enough of the concept that in 2008 they trademarked at least one of designs…

The mark consists of the word “Chardonnay” in a stack format tiered as if an eye chart. The top line is a “C”, the second line is “HA”, the third line is “RDO”, the fourth line is “NNAY”, followed by the word “SADDLEROCK” below; all letters are capitalized.

Then (sadly) at some point, it must have dawned on someone that there was something vaguely generic about having the largest type on each of the labels spelling out a different product description, rather than the brand name. So this hierarchy was reversed and now all of their labels begin with a big “S” for Saddlerock.

More unified as a branding exercise, perhaps, but from a consumer’s point of view… maybe not as fun?

(Something stupid, after the fold…) [Read more…]

Word Search Wine Labels


When I saw Roger Badia’s design for Lo Tengo Claro’s wine label, above left, my first thought was: eye chart. Then I took a closer look and realized: no, not eye chart, word search puzzle.

There are other, earlier examples of this idea… Mendocino Wine Group’s 2007 Puzzle Time Wine label, above center (photo by Just Karen) and El Buscador wine label by Dorian, above right.

But Is Badia’s label design really a word search puzzle?

If so, his execution is more subtle than the other examples. No vertically or horizontally spelled out words are circled. No diagonal words, highlighted. Just a justified grid of letters on a white ground.

There’s nothing in the press release (or anything that I could find searching online) specifically stating that the design was in any way related to word search puzzles…

Was I reading too much into what was simply a spare, minimal wine label design?

According to the press release “the community” chose the label design. What (I think) that means is that Riba Comunicación designed a number of different labels, posted them on a Facebook page, and then let social-media/popular-opinion choose the final design.

However, the earlier version of this label that was shown among the other proposed wine label choices was a little bit different.

Some of the words in that version were highlighted by color, making it seem more likely that the original concept was related to idea of word search puzzles after all.

(Earlier version & video, after the fold…)


[Read more…]

The Cigarette Boxes of Katsu Kimura

A book designed to resemble a pack of cigarettes. Specifically: Lucky Strike.

The book is Katsu Kimura Package Direction, published in 1980. “At a young age [Katsu Kimura] was impressed by packages brought by the American Occupation forces after World War II and the box to the book is clearly inspired by Lucky Strike cigarettes.” (He founded Packaging Direction Co., Ltd. in 1962.)

Designer Katsu Kimura creates packages that hold nothing but humor— boxes that mimic the things they ought to contain. The banana box here “peels” open to reveal another box. A square “egg” box opens along a crack to reveal a little square yolk box inside. A parody cigarette pack contains little oblong boxes in the form of filter-tips. Perhaps his most playful creation is a Swiss cheese box that is full of holes and looks as if it doesn’t want to contain anything at all.

Liza Crihfield Dalby
All-Japan: the catalogue of everything Japanese, 1984

How best to describe these containers? Cigarette boxes? Cigarette shaped boxes? Box-shaped cigarettes? In 1984 NY Magazine called them “filter-tipped boxes,” as in: “…the cigarette box flips up and contains a dozen filter-tipped boxes.”

(See also: de Kooning’s Cigarette Brand and a book that resembles a box of Tide and —since we’re in December— Raymond Loewy’s Lucky Strike “Christmas Carton”)

Robots & Shopping Carts

Top left: illustration on Robot vs Grocery Store Bag; on right: “Shopping Johnny” robot sculpture from Jones Robo-Works; lower left: illustration from Swantron.com; on right “Small Robot at the Supermarket” T-shirt


Yesterday’s post about Bill Barminski’s cardboard spray paint cans led me to discover this video below by Walter Robot. (“Walter Robot is the production studio created by artist Bill Barminski and director Christopher Louie. They work in art, animation and film.”)

What’s the idea behind robots pushing shopping carts? A naive, Jetsonsesque view of the future in which robots are anthropomorphic and do all the work we used to do?

The reality is turning out to be different. Walter Robot, above, is alienated and hates shopping. Doesn’t even bother with a shopping cart.

In the video below, although the robot “Robovie” carries a shopping basket and follows a woman around the produce section, it is the woman who appears to be doing most of the work. (and Robovie is something of a chatterbox…)

Maybe the robots we get are the robots we deserve, but any retail automation you are apt to be experiencing is neither anthropomorphic nor labor-saving. At least not from the consumer’s point of view.

Customers can also absorb some of a company’s costs by performing tasks that the company formerly provided. An early example of this was the self-service gas station, followed more recently by self checkout kiosks in grocery stores. This can have less of a negative customer satisfaction impact because some customers actually prefer to help themselves.

Wikipedia’s entry on B2C (business to customer) Cost Externalizing

While “helping yourself” may sound like a good thing when you’re being offered a dish of your grandmother’s cookies, in a retail environment the benefits are more debatable. “Service” is work. “Self-service” simply means you do the work.

As with packaging and with self-service shopping, in general —(starting with Clarence Saunders’ Piggly Wiggly and Keedoozle)— the retail robots are not really there to serve you, but to save the company money. Moreover, they are not intended to alleviate your work, but to force you to do even more work. Unpaid work. See also: Shadow Work

(A homeless robot and more, after the fold…) [Read more…]

Cardboard Spray Cans

Bill Barminski’s recent sculptures are like cardboard boxes impersonating vintage spray paint cans. (See also: Trans Cans) They even include something inside so that they rattle when you shake them.

I like the rough way they’re folded to approximate a cylinder. (See also: cylindrical football)

He’s made quite a few…

While some of these brands are clearly authentic (e.g.: Krylon), others are apparently fictional products. (I don’t think Sprite® ever made spray paint, for example.)

Color Blind Branding

At top: genetically-modified squirrel monkey can now perceive red & green (via: Alex Dodge); 2nd row: a tetrachromat test (number or letters are visible, but only to humans with unusual tetrachromatic abilities); 3rd row, left: logo for Colorblind Chameleon; on right: an origami beetle pin made from an Ishihara Color Test —ishihara 8 by Cat@mation (via: Tractor Girl); 4th row, left: Orbit Mist gum pack (Mint Waterfall flavor) has a background of Ishihara pattern bubles; on right: Adam Dixon’s proposed cover design for The Giver; 5th row: Dandy Maulana’s proposed branding for Prime Ink toner cartridges;  bottom row: Section Seven’s design for Microsoft CD sleeves — (pebbles arranged in Ishihara patterns)


Looking at package design through the filter of pointillism, (as we did yesterday) I’m reminded of another pointillist pattern of circular dots: the Ishihara Color Test.

…a color perception test for red-green color deficiencies. It was named after its designer, Dr. Shinobu Ishihara, a professor at the University of Tokyo, who first published his tests in 1917.

-from Wikipedia’s entry on Color Perception Test

… a circular array of closely spaced, non-overlapping, variable-size colored circles, with a numeral or other identifiable graphic, distinguishable only by difference in hue.

If you think that such perceptual hidden pictures would be counter-intuitive for branding purposes, you’d mostly be right. There aren’t a whole lot of brands that want to hide their message from 8% of the market. There are even articles written about avoiding such pitfalls. (See: Color Theories in Package Design — Color Blindness Should Be Considered)

Still, it’s an interesting pattern that invites a certain consumer interaction. The Print Ad above titled, Color Blindness Test was done by Tbwa\advertising agency for Perwol laundry detergent in Poland.

The Ishihara color test pattern also figures prominently in Yoav Brill’s 2010 animation, Ishihara.

(Black & white and skin tone, after the fold…) [Read more…]

Package and Pointillism

A bit more about round dots…

Like the color halftone screens and Ben-Day dots that we touched on last Friday, there’s been a growing tendency (in package design and elsewhere) to visually point out the mechanisms of color reproduction. Not entirely clear why this should be so.

With pointillist painting during the Impressionist period, (my impression is that) the viewer would first see a painting from a distance where the subject would be easily recognized. The fact that the image was actually formed by the additive color mixture of pointillist dots would only become apparent upon closer inspection.

Nowadays, this is mostly done the other way round. Now we start out up close and personal with an abstract pattern of dots or pixels and it’s like an intimate puzzle. A pointillist test of pattern recognition where sometimes you have to squint and stand back to make out what it is.

How come? Maybe it’s because we grew up interpreting primitive pixel mosaics on 8-bit screens or because we have a greater cultural acceptance of abstraction. I dunno.

1. The Abstract Packs of Jones Knowles Ritchie (and Gary Andrew Clarke)

“I was struck by this interpretation of the Mona Lisa by Gary Andrew Clarke – while remixed down to 140 exact circular dots it still has a familiarity, despite being very abstracted.

I wondered how many ‘iconic’ pack designs would fare if treated in the same way, so I asked the artist to road test a few. He kindly obliged and below are the results…. enjoy them as ‘art’ first perhaps, then try and pick out the brands.”

–Jones Knowles Ritchie (via: Packaging of the World)

2. The Krylon cans mosaic by DJ Neff

Top: Furious Five by DJ Neff at CanLove; bottom: photo of vintage Krylon spraypaint cans from UltraFlatWhitey’s Flickr Photostream

This recent work is my way of giving back to the classics. Krylon’s unique brand has been a staple for graffiti and before the cans were coming from everyone and their mother, they held it down. Jungle Green, Icy Grape, Aqua and Chrome Yellow all graced the yards and walls that build graffiti art from the beginning. Thank you Krylon, for those good years. I give you the Furious Five, created from 759 spray paint cans. (Not all Krylon though… of course )

–DJ Neff

(One more photo of DJ Neff’s Krylon can mosaic, after the fold…) [Read more…]

Pigskin Packaging: Bottles & Cans

On left: a drawing from John F Stark & Ronald W. Morrison’s 1983 design patent for a beverage can; on right a Dr. Pepper football bottle

Over the years, we’ve looked at a number of soccer-related packages, but until now we’ve neglected football, in the American & Canadian sense of the word.

Where packaging, designed to attract soccer fans, tends to emulate the polyhedral construction of a soccer ball, football packs are all about stitches and pigskin texture.

Coors Beer has invested heavily in the pigskin packaging.

Coinciding with the start of the National Football League season last month, Golden, CO-based Coors Brewing issued a limited-edition “Pigskin” bottle debossed with leather-like grain, dimples and stitching found on real footballs.

Pigskin graphics also adorn 12- 16- and 24-oz cans but it’s the 12-oz NR amber glass bottle that’s especially striking.

Coors kicks off season with football bottle
Packworld, September 30, 1998

I’m no sports guy, but to me, the football cans are more striking since they’re more of a stretch. (I like to see cylinders trying to pass themselves off as prolate spheroids.)

Top: a Coors football can, bottom: drawing from two separate 1998 design patents (both assigned to Coors)

More recently, Miller brewing has been making football CaBottles.

The orange version above looks closer to a standard leather football, but there are also Miller cabottles available in a number of non-regulation colors.

Dr. Pepper, whose football bottle appears at the top of this page, also got industry press:

In time for football season, Dr Pepper’s launch this fall of a football-shaped, 21-oz single-serve bottle is scoring a touchdown with sports enthusiasts and Dr Pepper fans alike. With its pebbled surface, representation of “stitches” and “pigskin”-colored Dr Pepper full-body sleeve label…

Dr Pepper’s new limited edition football shaped bottle
Packaging Digest, December 1, 2008

 While Dr. Pepper holds the 2010 design patent for their bottle, a very similar looking football-shaped-bottle was designed for PlastiPak in 1999. (This makes sense since PlastiPak also manufactured the Dr. Pepper football bottles.)

On left: 1999 Plastipak football bottle: on right: 2010 Dr. Pepper football bottle

(More Coors football bottles and my favorite football bottle, after the fold…) [Read more…]

People are Brands: It’s All Good

This is sort of a follow up to an earlier 2008 post featuring people wrapped in plastic.

At the time that these 1950’s ads for DuPont Cellophane came out, they were just meant to be cute. I think what they were going for here —apart from the one small, apparently overlooked risk of suffocation— was a way of humanizing cellophane by bringing it into the family.

In retrospect, ads likes this also seem to have foreshadowed the concept of “personal branding.”

As a designer of packaging, I know I’m supposed to be all about the branding. And to a large extent, I suppose I am. But about becoming a brand, personally, I cannot capitulate quite as enthusiastically as some people do.

Anyone who is still cheerfully exclaiming that now “people are brands, themselves” (and denies noticing that there might be anything wrong in this), well, I personally wouldn’t trust them. Any more than I would trust the plutocrat who declares “Corporations are people too, my friend.” Both of these ideas are really two sides of the same coin.

As with Gordon Gekko’s “greed is good” speech in Wall Street, the assertion that people are (or ought to be) more like “brands” may have once seemed like a harsh but bracing astringent. Hearing it now, it sounds more like a dull, self-fulfilling cliché.

Three out of four vintage ads above are via: The Ethical Adman

See also: Olin Cellophane, I Love you, Women’s Designer Packs! and Packaging Goodness