Parsing Drips & Droplets


Top row, left: David Fung’s milk carton concept—the length of drip corresponds to fat content (via); on right: David Drummond’s design for olive oil packaging; 2nd row left: graphic design for Mew “cereal milk” by Thailand-based Subconscious (via); at center and on right: Casa Loreto olive oil by London-based The Partners (via: bad banana blog); 3rd row, left: another olive oil bottle with a large 3D droplet—Dom Diogo, designed by Base and Michael Young (via); on right: Nature’s Agave “agave nectar” bottles by San Francisco-based studio,  The Engine Room; 4th row, left: Turner Duckworth’s design for Bliss Vital Oils (via); on right: Shefa Young Wine label (with diecut drip-shaped windows) by Israel-based Nine99Design (via); bottom left: Method’s teardrop-shaped hand-wash bottles

Is it my imagination or has there lately been a deluge of graphic drips and droplets on packaging? The teardrop-shaped droplet has long served as a graphic shorthand for liquids. A good way way to quickly communicate liquid or viscous contents, but some of these drips —particularly the long extended drips— would seem to run contrary to the ideal objectives of a container. The prospect of a food or a beverage oozing down the sides of a package is not generally seen as a plus from the consumer point of view. (Why else do we have those “no-drip” caps on bottles of ketchup and chocolate syrup?) So what, then, is behind this mini-trend?

Can this be packaging’s muted and minimalist response to expressionist graffiti? The examples above are not very expressionistic and even with graffiti, drips were not always desirable.

Drips are generally a kind of incontinence, a mark of control betrayed by the treacheries of fluid, whether allowed to happen by house painters or by artists. The masters of subway graffiti recruited apprentices to wipe away the drips, regarded by them as inconsistent with their claim to mastery. Abstract Expressionism made wiping drips away obsolete.

Arthur C. Danto, Pollock and the Drip
The Nation, January 25, 1999

If Abstract Expressionism has taught graffiti artists not to bother wiping away the drips, the graffiti artist who most profitably absorbed this lesson was Craig Costello, aka KR. Costello created the Krink brand of magic marker with a specially formulated runny ink. Krink® is credited for having “changed the look of vandalism” in New York. But if graffiti artists are now embracing expressionist drips, it’s no incidental sign of the painting process. The drips are often the whole point. (See: Zev’s graffiti logos and Advert Expressionism)

Surprisingly, Krink’s packaging does not feature drips1:

Krink’s packaging has a crisp, minimalist look that doesn’t scream graffiti… to leave the door open to a wider audience than taggers…

And the brand does present a different image than much of what is in online stores openly selling “graffiti supplies.” (On the Run markers, for example, feature a logo of a shadowy guy running with a spray-paint can.) Plenty of young artists have told Costello they love the Krink look — but they’re not graffiti writers and don’t intend to start. So when he talks about expanding into a product line that will make sense in a Pearl Paint store, or even a Michael’s, it’s a sentiment with more pragmatic origins than avoiding demonization as a vandal supplier: the market for the street-art aesthetic and influence is far bigger than the market of actual street artists.

Rob Walker, “Tag Sale
(New York Times Magazine” Consumed column, February 24, 2008)

If art suppliers and paint companies are refraining from letting their graphics drip down the sides—(see Turner Duckworth’s “Flawless” paint can)—why is it OK for food packaging? And do David Fung’s milk cartons and Nine99Design’s wine labels really fit into anyone’s definition of a “street-art” aesthetic?

(More questions, after the fold…)

On left: photo of Johnson’s Baby Shampoo from m.o.y.a.s.h.i’s Flickr Photostream; on right: photo of Herrell’s Hot Fudge jar by Melody Chang (See: Herrells Hot Fudge Wax Packaging)

The classic “teardrop” droplet shape can be an innocuous graphic symbol of liquid contents2—no great threat to a consumer’s assumptions about tidy packaging. But even the droplet can be a negative. When a teardrop shape represent an actual “tear” it’s meant to depict what this container will supposedly NOT induce—and what could be messier than tears?

Flying in the face of drip guard caps and consumer anxiety about handling sticky jars, is the downright expressionistic Herrell’s Hot Fudge.3

Randy Ludacer
Beach Packaging Design

Footnoted Digressions:

1. Photos of Krink’s recent packaging—(see: here)—make it look as if there might be drips, but I believe these are just the reflections of the other colors of marker in the picture.

2. Also: blood. I’m diabetic and when I test my blood sugar, my meter indicates that it’s ready to receive a drop of blood with a flashing droplet symbol.

3. As Melody originally reported in her 2009 piece, the Herrell’s packaging has changed. Although still drippy, now the drips do not extend so far down the sides of the jar. (See: But—as also noted in the comments of her post, there is another hot fudge that has stepped in to fill this niche. (See: Coop’s Hot Fudge)

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