Typing Out Loud

Posted May 20, 2015, under Gee Whillickers!

The goal of good typography is usually to not be noticed — except where headlines are concerned. On packaging, headlines are almost the only text shoppers notice, so it’s got to be good. Not just about bright colors or fancy materials, packaging typography can and often does push boundaries of what you think type can do.

Traditional Typography

Let’s first look at what the big dogs are doing.

Coca-Cola is arguably the best-recognized branding on the planet. They’ve got their distinctive brand colors, their unique, patented bottle shape and, of course, the typographic logo — all of which they have been as diligent protecting as they have promulgating.

Apart from legally required nutrition information, Coke literally doesn’t have to put anything but their logo on their product. That allows them latitude for campaigns like their current “Share a Coke” campaign, or last year’s Israeli “unique bottles” campaign. Most companies wouldn’t dare mess with their brand that way.

Here’s something a little different. Because Gillette has a lot of products, they can’t just plaster their brand name everywhere and call it a day. Their brand logo becomes secondary to the product logo. But look at that thing. You get the feeling that if Gillette could engineer a box with a hand that physically reached out and grabed passers-by, they would.

General Mills’ Betty Crocker is another brand that has a massive product line. Apart from the cake mixes (pictured), they handle their brand identity almost exclusively through their logo – everything else, from images to type treatments, is tailored to individual products.

“Hipster” Labels

What do all of these have in common? They’re corporate as hell, that’s what. Even fun logos, like Oreo, are polished and focus-grouped half to death. And hey, sometimes that’s the way you’ve got to go. If you’re a quasi-monopolistic mega-corporation, you’ve got to look the part.

This sort of design connotes a direct cultural opposition to Corporate America, a sentiment that appeals to rather a lot of folks. It often has a rustic or vintage patina: simple materials; limited color palette; labels that could’ve been stamped or painted on by hand (and might literally have been). It’s often dismissed as “hipster” design — and yeah, okay, fair — but that’s a legitimate demographic.

This design style is partly philosophical (anti-corporate), and partly practical: it’s cheap, because that’s all a young company can afford. As such, there aren’t that many prominent brands that use it, despite the fervent dreams of hundreds of design firms.

But there are a few places where the aesthetic gained enough prominence to be easy to find online.

Wait, that looks pretty polished! Except look at that font. It’s a little wobbly and uneven. A little more human. That’s a hallmark of this design style.

Urban Outfitters gives us a logo that straddles the line between corporate and hipster, much like the chain itself does.

The Fault in Our Stars – both the movie and the book it was based on — blazed across the public consciousness last year. It’s not strictly a brand item, but it’s definitely a prominent example of the “hipster” design camp, with the handwritten text and design elements.

Staying in the movie vein for a moment, there’s a case to be made that this aesthetic gained prominence thanks to the baffling success of 2004’s Napoleon Dynamite.

It might even be true. It’s certainly an early example of someone bringing the contents of their Trapper-Keeper to mass market.

How one uses typography greatly informs viewers of the kind of product they’re getting, as well as the culture behind it. We’re not saying any particular way is superior — it’s all about who you want to market to and what you want to tell them.

Rigney Graphics is a Pasadena graphic arts company that can help you create an impact with design and marketing solutions for print and web.