Amy was strolling through the snack aisle at Safeway the other day before the Super Bowl and was so excited by the packaging of Safeway’s new “Snack Artist” line that she had to take a picture and share it with us on Monday.
We all really liked the new look of the bags and agreed that we’d probably buy some the next time we need chips. And this got me thinking, because we’re not really a “snack-y” group and yet we all immediately latched onto this product solely based on look of the bag. So what is it about the look of these bags that struck a chord with us?
For one thing, they look like a premium brand even though they’re just a store brand. Instead of the bright colors and glossy finish of your average bag of Ruffles® or Doritos® these bags have a matte, butcher-paper look that you usually associate with higher quality organic brands. Combine that with the limited color palette and distressed type, and you’d swear these chips were artisanal!
Those choices definitely make the brand look more attractive to discerning customers, and though it caught our eye it’s not what hooked us in. Any brand can make those cosmetic changes (and many should), but what made an impression on us was that these new bags are just plain fun. Maybe not blow-your-mind, reinvent-the-wheel design, but fun. The combination of clever illustrations and snack-specific play on words instantly endeared them to us, and that begs the question of why we don’t see more of this type of work on supermarket shelves. Illustrated characters and creative copy can be such an effective way of letting design connect a person to a product, and yet outside of products specifically targeted towards children this type of “fun” in design is rarely seen. This wasn’t always the case, however. In the 1950’s, animated characters not unlike those on the Safeway bags were used to sell all sorts of products.
1950’s Animated Advertising
Unfortunately (at least in my view) this trend died out in the early 1960’s and ever since character illustration and animation has been largely relegated to children’s toys and sugary cereals. But if you want to learn more about this period seek out the book Cartoon Modern by Amid Amidi, it’s a great look into this short-lived but very exciting time in American design and advertising.
Unlike the US, Japan has a long and vibrant tradition of incorporating character illustration into designs of all kinds. A former teacher of mine from Japan tried to explain to us how in Japan cartoons aren’t segregated as a children’s medium the way they are in the west, and that in Japanese design incorporating faces and illustrated characters is a common way of making products more approachable and fun. Of course this is a gross generalization of Japanese design, but take a look at some of these package designs that a quick Internet search turned up:
Super-fun, right? The playfulness and personality in these designs instantly make them more engaging than your average wrapper or juice bottle. I know that if I had to choose between two different brands of pear udon noodles I’d choose the one with the pensive-looking pear on the wrapper every time. Because as much as I love austere modern design (and I really do!), I’m a total sucker for good design that has a sense of fun. We all are. People like to look at people, even if they’re really looking at juice bottles and bags of chips. So why relegate it to the kids’ table? If it has a clever concept, is well-executed, and serves its purpose, why can’t it be fun too?