is a blog about design, technology and culture written by Khoi Vinh, and has been more or less continuously published since December 2000 in New York City. Khoi is currently Principal Designer at Adobe, Design Chair at Wildcard and co-founder of Kidpost. Previously, Khoi was co-founder and CEO of Mixel (acquired by Etsy, Inc.), Design Director of The New York Times Online, and co-founder of the design studio Behavior, LLC. He is the author of “Ordering Disorder: Grid Principles for Web Design,” and was named one of Fast Company’s “fifty most influential designers in America.” Khoi lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn with his wife and three children. Refer to the advertising and sponsorship page for inquiries.+
Just Say No?
It would be poor form for me to guess at Arnell’s motives one way or another, but I’m pretty certain that most branding agencies — and designers — would not have done the smart thing and passed on the opportunity. Every designer wants the chance to remake a major brand in a major way. Not only is it exciting work, it’s lucrative, too. In a sense, the whole design industry is geared up only to say yes to these kinds of offers. When you’re a hammer, every nail that’s put down in front of you is begging to be struck.
In the case of Arnell’s work, here’s one particularly notable example of that mentality in action. For a Brandweek article on the redesign, the agency is quoted as saying, “No one would ever write an article about Tropicana. Then you get rid of the orange and the straw [the iconic brand illustration featured on the old packaging] and the whole world pays attention.” Again, without wishing to impugn Anrell’s motivations, I can’t help but take away from that quote less of a desire to do right by the brand than a justification of change for its own sake.
Usability Is a Brand Attribute, Too
Whether the ideas and motivations behind this rebranding were pure or not, I’m still pretty shocked by how poorly it was executed. There was a little too much ‘brand strategy’ at work here and not enough simple usability. Whatever the perceived drawbacks of the old cartons, shown below, they were successful in at least one critical respect: they handily solve the problem of creating clear visual differentiations among over a dozen very similar products.
Think about that. Somewhere along the line, Tropicana decided it would be a good idea to sell twelve different variations on orange juice: orange juice with no pulp, orange juice with some pulp, orange juice with pulp and calcium, orange juice with pulp squeezed from oranges grown in South America purely for their fine pulp, etc. And yet, using strong blocks of visually distinct colors at the top of the boxes, they were able to clearly label and differentiate each product so that if you were a dedicated consumer of one particular flavor, you’d be able to identify it from halfway down a supermarket aisle.
On the other hand, the now-rejected redesign plays down that color scheme to a completely dismissible level. The cartons look virtually identical, with any noticeable difference looking more like the result of having had its colors faded by sunlight than the result of a designer’s intention.
Usability, folks. It’s not just for breakfast anymore.+