Transparent Marks by Pentagram

7 logos by Pentagram (from the top):  Orchestre Philharmonique Luxembourg, Museum für Film und Fernsehen, Alibris, Truvia, Mohawk Paper, Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership, and Bausch + Lomb


It would be all too easy to collect a current batch of brand logos—each featuring overlapping, transparent colors, but it’s telling that these marks were all done by the same design studio: Pentagram.

Not to imply that the overlappingtransparent-colors thing is their “house style.” (They do tons of work, most of which does not rely color transparency.)

What, then, is the purpose of this graphic device?

While the transparency and the blending of colors may have symbolic meaning, in a few cases…

“In the new identity, the ampersand becomes a transparent medical plus sign that conveys that Bausch + Lomb is open and committed to partnering with the medical community.

The element of transparency also suggests vision, as well as the liquid solutions that are an integral part of the company’s product lines.”

Most of the time, the transparency is more of a means to a visual end result:

“The new mark is comprised of four overlapping transluscent colour rings (cyan, green, magenta and yellow), resulting in a multi-colour blossom-like symbol that forms the shape of the letter O. The identity brings a sense of energy, diversity, fun and passion to the OPL brand.”

Why the prevalent use of overlapping transparent colors? If we can cite examples going (at least) as far back as Schwop, can we still call this a trend? Or is it just one of many currently-fashionable styles of trade dress?

Re: Deskey’s Gleem Toothpaste Packaging

Gleem toothpaste carton and tube from RoadsidePictures’s Flickr Photostream

Getting back to our series about overlapping transparent color effects in branding and package design…

Donald Deskey’s design for Gleem toothpaste made use of overlapping areas of red and blue to create a dark color ground for the Gleem logo to knock-out white.

Brand name practically leaps at you in Deskey’s much admired Gleem design. It utilizes fewest possible elements, bold color blocs in smart, distinctive combination.

-Sponsor Magazine, 1955

Similar to the 1960s Valvoline logo, the overlapping colors combine to make a dark, almost black color on the carton, where the colors were probably overprinted, one on top of the other.

On the tube, red and cyan intersect to make a brighter, dark blue which was probably printed as a third color simulating a color mixture.

In the Gleem commercial below, besides fulfilling our growing interest in the appearance of prop color packaging in early black and white advertising…

… at around 0:25, Deskey’s package gets a sparkly “bling” effect superimposed on the logo—(a prescient glimpse into the future where, today, toothpaste packaging often includes holographic foils, and the like.) Around 0:37, the package appears as a line drawing and metamorphosizes into a photograph of the package. Then at 0:58 the package reappears with a live miniature portrait of the family behind it.

Gleem toothpaste can, (via: Circa Jerk, $195)

The “Push Button Pack” —a shaving cream style aerosol can— was also on the market as an alternative to the conventional toothpaste tube. (The illustration on the right is from a 1958 Life Magazine ad.)

Another interesting application of Deskey’s Gleem package design were these promotion vehicles shown below.

I can’t quite decide whether these box-like signs represented cartons with toothpaste tubes poking out the front, or cubic toothpaste tubes from an alternate rectangular dimension.


(A couple more black & white Gleem commercials, after the fold…) [Read more…]

Rat-Nip Revisited

Two weeks ago on a Tuesday, box vox’s page views suddenly quadrupled. It wasn’t a sustained increase, but the post that was attracting all of these new visitors was a post from 2010 about “Rat Nip—a rat poison dating back to the early 1900s.

“Ratnip” is a keyword that there isn’t a lot of competition for. So little, in fact, that when anyone searches for it, box vox (Beach Packaging Design’s blog) is what comes up first in search results. Perhaps not the most relevant of keywords for our small branding and package design firm, but, okay, I’ll bite…. Why were so many people searching for more information on Rat Nip?

Was there something in the news about someone being recently poisoned? (See: Poisoning & Product Placement)

Was there something on TV about Rat Nip?

When I searched online for the first week or so, I couldn’t find anything about Rat-Nip being in the news or on television. But then a few days ago the answer finally appeared:  “Boxes of Rat Nip were found in a closed General Store on American Pickers by Frank Fritz this week” (via: What the Trend)

It turns out that Mr. Fritz’s appreciation of some old boxes of Rat Nip provided the comic relief during an episode of American Pickers that aired on January 14th, entitled, The Doctor Is In.

It was the following day that a great many viewers were inexorably led (as if by The Pied Piper) to visit box vox for more information on “rat nip” —you know, since I am the leading authority on the subject.

See also: Pageviews as Burgers and Ratnip Brand Continuity

Pentagram’s Mohawk Logo

Another recent example of transparent, overlapping colors in a brand logo, is Pentagram’s Mohawk paper logo that was announced last April.

The logo is of course a monogram for the name Mohawk. It’s based on the letter M, but it’s also constructed to evoke the papermaking process and the printing process, both of which involve paper going around cylinders. In an abstract way, it suggests how big rolls of paper look when they’re stacked up in a warehouse or when they’re being shipped. You know, those cylinders when they’re stood on end have round bottoms and straight sides. So, the M can also be four rolls of paper interlocking with each other.

Michael Bierut on rebranding Mohawk, Felt & Wire, April 2012

The M-shaped logo works well as a metaphor for paper going around rollers, but I’m surprised that they never quite stipulated to their use of overlapping transparent color, which certainly also works as a symbol for color printing. (Although the implied color mixtures here are really more reminiscent of beams of light than printing inks, since the intersecting areas are generally the brighter hues, suggesting additive rather than subtractive color mixtures.)

As with the Cooper Union trademark, there was a animated logo…

…with a “sound mnemonic” like the early NBC “xylophone” logo.

And, similar to the Cooper Union trademark, logo patterns were designed which further highlighted the overlapping transparent colors of the logomark.

There are also black and white versions—one of which suggests transparency, one of which does not.

Transparent Branding

I can’t find it now, but for a long time I’ve had a plastic “photo cube” like the one on the right*. Instead of photos, I had inserted six square color gels into it, so that two sides were red, two sides were green and two sides were blue. When you rotated it in the light, you’d see magenta, yellow or cyan where adjacent sides overlapped, as per additive color mixture.

Steven Doyle’s 2009 logo design for Cooper Union reminds me a lot of that object. The animation shows a rectangular C and U, which rotate and slide into one another, forming a cube with transparent colored sides. The letters start out with three colors, but when the transparent sides overlap, they form an additional 3 colors.

“The logo is rooted in logic. If you draw a C or a U as a square form, you would arrive at our basic module: three planes that intersect at right angles. If you twist the U one rotation, its three planes would complement the three planes of the C, creating a perfect square, an ideal geometric form… We have allowed our planes to intersect just at their points, and we have encouraged them to be transparent… The three primary colors are the genesis of all colors, and this little baby looks really cool when it spins.”

Steven Doyle on The Cooper Union Logo

Always interested in the color/black & white dichotomy, I was interest to see that Doyle also made a black and white version of his logo. Not with shades of gray, but with intersecting lines.

As for implementation of the logo, there’s The Cooper Union web site, some very beautiful stationery, and a number of trademarked products available. There’s even a box-shaped Cooper Union compressed T-shirt, letting the logo dictate packaging shape. (See also: Package-Shaped Compressed T-Shirts)

There was also a logo repeat pattern proposed. I don’t find a lot of evidence that this pattern was ever implemented much, although these flip flops below appear on Doyle Partners’ site…

… and I found evidence online that at least one pair might actually exist.

*Footnoted Digression: the Photo Block photo cube above appears to be a product which contains its packaging, rather than the other way round.

(Another animation of The Cooper Union logo, after the fold…) [Read more…]

Schwop: Schweppes Pop

I was thinking of doing a roundup of old and new package designs that rely on overlapping transparent colors, but I found way too many examples.

Overwhelmed by overlapping shapes and colors, I decided that “one at a time” might be a better way to cover the overlapping transparent colors story.

Shweppes used to sell a premium soda pop they named “Schwop.” Its label with the overlapping oval shapes was designed by Lewitt-Him (Jan Lewitt and George Him). Wish I could say what colors these overlapping oval shapes were, but I only have black & white pictures. Maybe the colors varied according to flavor. Maybe not.

SCHWEPPES LTD., the largest advertisers in the soft drink field, have introduced an entirely new line known as Schwop — Schweppes Pop. Mather & Crowther Ltd. have been specially appointed to handle advertising for the new product. At present Schwop is being test-marketed in a number of towns; national advertising on a large scale will start in 1952. Schwop, which is being sold at the South Bank Exhibition and in the Festival Pleasure Gardens, Battersea, sells at Id. or 2d. more than ordinary “pop.” Schweppes say they believe children and adolescents are sufficiently discriminating to be willing to spend an extra 2d. to drink something “really good.” At present Schwop is marketed in four flavours — Raspberry, Lemon, Lime and Cream Soda.

World’s Press News and Advertisers’ Review,  1951

Schwop was also among the bottles that Lewitt-Him anthropomorphized with their bottles-on-horseback displays. (Both photos are from Milner Gray’s 1955 Package Design.)

See also: Schweppes Anthro-Pack Christmas

The Critic Laughs

I’ve long admired Richard Hamilton’s 1968 artwork entitled The Critic Laughs —(see: Art & Dental Hygiene)— but I never knew about the television commercial he made promoting it as a luxury product…

from “The Shock of the New” (Via: Rob Walker, apropos of As Real As It Gets)

It was filmed as part of the 7th episode of Robert Hughes’s 1980 documentary television series, The Shock of the New because Hamilton didn’t want to be interviewed. (Although he wound up being interviewed at length, nonetheless…)

Hamilton introduced his expensive, witty multiple The Critic Laughs (1971-72) and then showed the bizarre, amusing film intended to publicise it. This film simulated the style of a TV commercial; the female star of the “advert” was Loraine Chase. (It seems Hamilton had not wanted to be interviewed and so, as an alternative, he had suggested the idea of a spoof advert. This was how the film came to be specially made by the BBC for Shock of the New.)

John Albert Walker
Arts TV: A History of Arts Television in Britain


Since the interview form held no appeal for Hamilton he proposed to the producer that he should make a ‘TV commercial’ advertising ‘The critic laughs’ and he wrote a script for his product. The story-board calls for a beautiful young woman to enter a luxurious bathroom bearing a gift for her partner who, bemused at the sight of the assembled teeth and electric brush, realises that the vibrating object is more for Her than for Him. Meanwhile the voice-over says the following:

‘For connoisseurs who have everything … At last, a work of art to match the style of modern living … “The critic laughs” A perfect marriage of form and function… created for you and yours by Europe’s caring craftsmen in an exclusive edition of only sixty examples. “The critic laughs” … Feel the thrill of owning… “The critic laughs.” ’

Richard Hamilton, Tate Gallery Catalogue, 1992


Product, package and promotion material is the cycle of the consumer goods industries. Nothing in my experience and practice suggests that this same cycle does not apply to that category of human activity we label “art”.

–Richard Hamilton (1922–2011)

“Europe’s caring craftsmen” is a wonderfully constructed bit of adspeakmaybe a good name for a band? (In the commercial, the voice-over actually says “Europe’s most caring craftsmen”—making the phrase more hyperbolic and competitive.)

(See also: Dentures & Peppermint Packaging, Package Design & Chattering Teeth and Respirer)


Candy Stripe Consumer Confusion?

Back in April we did a round-up of candy packaging in which colored stripes were used to communicate: assorted fruit flavors.

In October, the National Archives’ blog, NARAtions, featured documents surrounding a 1947 trademark dispute about the same type of striped candy packaging.

I wasn’t aware of Curtiss Candy’s assorted fruit drops, but Life Savers apparently regarded their use of colored stripes as an infringement on their trademarked wrapper design.

(Note: Just as early black and white television commercials had to rely on shades of grey to represent the colors of multicolor packages, early trademark/patent drawings, like the one above, used patterns to show differences in color.)

Similar to Heinz polling housewives in 1965 to prove that the “keystone design” functioned as a trademark, Life Savers attempted to prove that, in the minds of consumers, multicolor stripes represented the Life Savers brand.

In 1947, Life Savers parent company filed suit claiming Curtiss violated Trade-Mark Reg. 355,158, which is a Life Savers candy wrapper design…

The “Memorandum Opinion” states the main issue with the case.  The style and colors of the packaging were so similar that Life Savers claimed there would be “actual confusion of goods between the products of the plaintiff and defendant.”  Curtiss, however, said its own label was “distinctive and totally different,” and “great pains and much care have been taken to avoid any possible confusion.”

There was an analysis of the wrappers, including the positioning of two blue squares with “Curtiss Assorted Fruit Drops” and three “Life Savers Five Flavors” printed across the entire roll “as to be visible and prominent in whatever position that package may lie….”  However, the court was inundated with witness testimony acknowledging “there has been some actual confusion of goods.”

Depositions of witnesses were taken in different cities to show that consumers were so used to simply reaching for the multi-colored packaging of Life Savers that Curtiss would be able to take advantage of this with its own colored label.  One witness, Lillian Poshkus of St. Louis, when asked about her candy purchase, answered, “I just go right up to the counter and I see the different colored package and I pick that up, put it on the counter and pay for it.”  Several others answered similarly.

… one of Curtiss’s claims, [was] saying the “Defendant has not adopted the registered trademark of Plaintiff nor any ‘colorable imitation’ of any registered mark.”  Further the position of the defendant said the “striped effect produced by the picture or representation of the contents of a package is a functional device equally available…and widely used by manufacturers of candy of this type.

Even in 1948, when the defendant filed its brief, an issue came up that continues to affect the contemporary marketplace.  Curtiss used examples from testimony where some witnesses refer to generic small candy drops as Life Savers.  “Typical of marks of this kind are the marks Frigidaire for the household mechanical refrigerator, Vaseline for petroleum jelly, Kodak for small cameras, Aspirin for the familiar headache remedy, etc.  The term Life Savers itself may have suffered this deterioration because of a developing usage of this word by consumers to mean any small round candies, regardless of the brand.

Curtiss concluded that Life Savers was attempting “to prevent anybody from putting out assorted fruit drops in a multi-colored label.  If successful, Plaintiff will thus insure that all people who want assorted fruit drops will of necessity be compelled to purchase those of the Plaintiff,” and endowing it “with a monopoly of assorted fruit drops.”

U.S. District Court Judge Elwyn Shaw dismissed the complaint, concluding, “I believe that the defendant has taken every reasonable means to prevent confusion of goods, and unless Life Savers Corporation is to be given a patent on all colored and candy mints it must be held that the trade-mark is not infringed.

Excerpts from “Rolling into Court” Katie Dishman, NARAtions, October 2012


See also: Brandnomer and Homophonic Consumer Confusion



Antiprism as Packaging Structure

Top: Studio Dunbar’s package design system for Randstad International, 2nd row, left: antiprism shaped carton for Crystal Skull Vodka; on right: antiprism shaped fast food cartons from 4Food; bottom row: Patrick McKeever’s award-winning design for proposed redesign of Kashi Lean Cereal

Here’s a polyhedral shape we haven’t mentioned much: the antiprism.

Unlike certain regular prisms (rectangular, triangular & hexagonal), anti-prisms will not “close pack.”

They do, however, make for a sturdy, economical packaging structure with interesting triangular side panels.

Azumi Mistuboshi’s Thread Lid box included a antiprism shaped variant…

There’s also an antiprism shaped building being erected in lower Manhattan, as we speak.

(Photo of the “Freedom Tower,” after the fold…) [Read more…]

Two kids cartons with die cut mouths

In the past we’ve looked at food packaging with mouth-shaped windows, through which consumers can see a container’s edible product contents.

Here are two more (prize winning) examples:

1. Nikolo Kerimov’s Polly Pack is a slide pack carton for candy. Its facial features include an illustrated mouth, perforated to become a mouth-shaped punch out, through which candy is dispensed. There are also die cut eye sockets creating an animated eyes-looking-up-&-down effect: up towards the candy-illustrated logo when closed; down towards the candy-dispensing mouth when open. Winner of the Packaging Arena Awards in 2010.

2. Quadrante Design’s line of sandwich packages for SM Kids uses die cut monster mouths as windows. Viewing the product through the open mouths of monsters, the designers believe, has a salubrious effect on the appetites of young consumers, awakening a desire to emulate the devouring behavior depicted. Winner of a Worldstar 2013 Award. (like yesterday’s Chockoshots)


(See also: Mouth-as-window: Package Eats Product and: More Open Mouth Windows)

Chockoshots: dual packages form polyhedral ball

Art of Packaging 2011 (Photo via: Simpli)

We’ve covered other soccer-ball shaped package designs, but this one is notable both for it’s complexity and (relative) practicality. Winner of a WorldStar 2013 award (and a  2012 Packstar award), “ChockoShots — EuroTrophy For You” was designed by Adam Marczuk of Werner Kenkel Poland.

Two modular packages for candy, which (when collected in sufficient quantities by candy-consuming soccer fans) may be assemble into a soccer ball shape. (i.e.: a truncated icosahedron)

Photo of Adam Marczuk with his structural package design (via: Urzędu Gminy Włoszakowice)

In the photo above you can see one of the opened hexagonal packs. According to my count the consumer would need to purchase 20 of those packs, plus 12 of the pentagonal packs in order to assemble one complete ball. (A nice sales incentive: “collect all 32!”)

In addition to being a brilliant polyhedral collector pack, the product, as it is envisioned here, is also a fractal pack, since the modular packages, themselves, contain little soccer-ball wrapped candies.

I appreciate how, in an interview, Marczuk says that, while he personally is not a “footballer” he is “aware of the popularity of this sport.”

That’s pretty much sums up how I feel, too.  (Don’t care so much about the sport, but love the polyhedral geometry of the ball.)

What sets this package apart from the fact that it has the shape of a ball?

AM: They are distinguished by the fact that it arises only after the dozens of smaller packages. The ball is made of two types of individual packages of pentagonal and hexagonal structures. Furthermore, the packaging has been so designed that the individual element y can function independently. So, for example, a customer purchasing or receiving in promoting small box of pralines, chocolates in the shape of cupcakes, learns from the inside of the package, that after making the ball, will be able to make or create some other form, other configurations, more or less futuristic.

It’s like playing with building blocks.

AM: Yes, and it was generally the idea that the manufacturer using social networking sites can offer your customers a fun product with the packaging. This is the so-called second life package, and therefore not necessarily paper recycling by throwing it into a shredder or  recyclable.

Two Lives Package, Interview with Adam Marczuk
Wieslaw Strzymińska, Urzędu Gminy Włoszakowice, September 2012

(More photos, after the fold…) [Read more…]