O.J., can you see?

Published 9:59 pm Friday, July 10, 2009

As I’ve perused the grocery aisles lately, I’ve seen something that graphic designers like myself tend to notice. The Tropicana orange juice carton design has changed. I think the new look is sleek, futuristic and just screams healthy. Design-wise, what is emphasized on the package — the giant glass of juice — versus what is de-emphasized — the subtle new Tropicana logo — strikes the perfect balance to make a consumer very thirsty for orange juice. (Don’t worry, I’m getting to the part that interests those not bitten by the graphic design bug.)

Sadly though, in researching the effect of the new design on the general public, I discovered something a little disconcerting. According to sales reports, Tropicana orange juice sales dropped about 20 percent after the redesign of the package. When asked why people turned away from the popular juice, many claimed the redesign made the product look cheap and generic. And they just didn’t want people to think they were buying cheap juice.

And I guess my comments are two-fold when I hear things like this. One, there is something to be said about the power of design for those businesspeople out there who think design isn’t essential to the success of their business. The slightest misstep in the process of establishing your professional look could be disastrous. But I’ve always said as long as it gets a response, it’s a good thing. So, my applause goes out to the designer in a weird way. But it is important to remember, especially in today’s economy, that the goal is to make money for your clients not lose it. So I am glad to be reminded of the kind of difference design can make in our world but irked that it took a negative response to something to do so.

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And two, have we become that obsessed with appearance that we don’t even want complete strangers in a grocery store to think we’re buying generic items, even though so many us clearly do and need to? Is a carton of orange juice that much of a status symbol that you’d deny the orangey goodness you know is inside? Sometimes I think we can be a little too obsessed with appearance.

So whether you go in for all that vanity and superficiality or not, I challenge you to develop a designer’s eye the next time you’re out looking at the products on the shelves. Then ask yourself, does the way the product looks influence whether you buy it or not? As a designer, I must know.

As for my fellow designers out there fighting the good fight to rescue our world from entropy, I warn you as a 10-year veteran in the fight, watch your step. People never know what they like. But they sure as heck know what they don’t like. Good design sometimes goes unnoticed but bad design invariably goes out-of-business.