xkcd on brand identity

Joshbuckler's picture


I have a question for typophiles: when you see this cartoon, do you place yourself in the cartoon world? Does your brain translate the hand-drawn words with a modern typeface? If so, I'd say your brain is justified, because the context of the whole piece seems to translate a wide range of typefaces into cartoon script.

But I'm wondering if there are brains out there that work a little differently, and instead interpret the new branding as "from now on, every product will be branded with hand-written letters that look like a child drew them."

Joshua Langman's picture

I think it's pretty clear to anyone that the labels are meant to be typeset. Especially for anyone who's familiar with xkcd, where Randall habitually hand-letters recognizable pieces of typography like Wikipedia templates.

Nick Shinn's picture

I don’t understand that “cartoon”, which just looks like an illustration to me.
If there’s some irony there, it’s beyond me, or else it’s just a poor cartoon.

My thoughts on handwritten scripts in grocery packaging:

Joshbuckler's picture

The ironic narrative, I think:

All the designers are working so hard to out-design each other that they blow past the basic, minimalist approach. Their attempt to stand out has resulted in a confusing mess in which no one stands out.

Understandable from a cartoonist who draws mostly stick figures.

He's not the first to have this idea, but that's neither here nor there.

Nick Shinn's picture

OK, I get it now.
I’m familiar with No Name products, having been in Ontario since Don Watt introduced the concept in the ’70s, which may explain why I thought the B&W packages in the xkcd cartoon were just another brand.

Chris Dean's picture

Posted elsewhere, I can’t remember where:

and the ingredients: (alphabet shaped pasta)

That would have been a fun day at work.

Joshua Langman's picture

I've often had this thought myself. It would be fantastic to do a line of products with just the basic name of the product printed in black in Times Roman on a white paper bag or box or can. They would look very suspicious, but certainly eye-catching. Imagine one in the kids' cereal aisle, amidst all the cartoony packages. This is, in fact, an extreme example of the approach taken by healthfood/organic cereals to differentiate themselves from the typical junky cereals.

JamesM's picture

> It would be fantastic ... just the basic name of the product printed
> in black in Times Roman on a white paper bag or box or can

There's an Amish grocery store I occasionally visit and their store-brand packaging is like that. The photo below (gelatin powder in clear bags) is out of focus but you get the general idea.

brianskywalker's picture

I sometimes go to a store called Hudson's, which has a section of spices and mainly natural things, labeled exactly the same way. I believe it's packaged by a place called Homey Hearth. It's all just set in an OCR font with the barcode, as above. I like to snack on some of the stuff they have, like dried salted peas & cinnamon sticks (the sweeter Vietnamese kind).

flooce's picture

Thanks Sii Daniels, I forgot the name of the movie already.

This choice however would give a customer no additional information about a product, if it would be premium or cheap, it does not translate an emotion. Interesting question weather or not one can do that solely with typography in this restricted setting.

kentlew's picture

OK, I get it now.
I’m familiar with No Name products,

Nick — I’m with you. I guess the young’uns weren’t around for the early years of black-on-white plain generics.

Birdseeding's picture

One Swedish store chain's own brand (way before store brands became big business here) used to be pretty much like this.

agisaak's picture

I was a bit disappointed that the alphabet shaped pasta contained romano and cheddar rather than romano and italico cheeses.

The movie, btw, was called 'Repo Man' (so bad that it's good).


JamesM's picture

> would give a customer no additional information about
> a product, if it would be premium or cheap

Yep, I think most folks would assume that bare-bones, generic packaging indicates a product whose main selling point is low price.

Their assumption might be right or wrong, but I think that's what most folks would think unless they had a reason to believe otherwise.

dezcom's picture

Generic packaging had a mid-life crisis several years ago. It also looked too much like military packaging or Govt. issue food products pre-food Stamp era. Like anything else that gets overused and neutered, it fails with time.

Nick Shinn's picture

The President’s Choice brand (that name wouldn’t fly in the US!) is a Loblaw’s (Canada) house brand.
With close cropped product shots on a white package, and plain all-cap sans type, it has a minimalist look, but not generic or cheap. The discreet logo, the small size of the type and the nice art direction (photographed on white with vignetted shadow) give it sophistication.

Loblaws still carries the no name brand, so the contrast between all lower case and all caps serves to differentiate the brands, as does the choice of colour, which comes into play much more in this kind of pared-down layout.

There is also the Blue Menu house brand:

Would be even simpler without bilingualism.

(Note that there is no typographic styling to help shoppers tell the languages apart :-)

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