Our graphic designer Tim McSweeney is the unsung hero of the Food52 look—he's behind the composition of our web pages, including colors, styling, fonts, and the icons. Every email we send you is designed by Tim (even those cute illustrations that crop up on certain images), every banner, every Food52 ad you see in a magazine, every infographic we produce, and every single sign at an event. Tim is our one man design shop.
As you might expect, at any given moment Tim is fielding multiple requests from every single one of our teams. But he found the time, because he always seems to, to round up some of his favorite product designs of the year and share a little bit more about them.
Here's what our graphic designer loved in product design this year, and why:
For the clean, subtle look of this soap packaging, the designers "utilized hand-drawn elements as well as really modern design to make something very dynamic," Tim explains. He appreciates the use of empty space—and therefore the color of the soap itself and the opacity of the bottle material—as a design element, and the band across the bottom, which is something you'd expect on a glass bottle of whiskey but less so on a squeeze bottle of soap. The added natural element of a raw wood cap still feels modern.
For the record, Tim is not a huge fan of the design of the bottle itself ("it looks like an adolescent boy in the middle of a growth spurt"), but he loves the label and the way it contrasts with the amber plastic. The use of a metallic font, which can be tricky to work with in bold doses, is successful here "because everything else in the design is so subtle and simple." How does a designer strike that balance? "You just start trying," he says, "sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t."
"The overall design is a balance between whimsical touches, which include the circus-style logo and the hand touches of watercolor, juxtaposed with the really modern sans serif fonts," Tim says, making the case that a font can't always carry a design alone.
Still, if you look at the word "PARIS," it's charming and yet so bare bones—how does a designer find a font like that? "In a word, character," Tim says, pointing out how some of his favorite fonts have a quirky touch to them—a cockeyed "e" or a slanted cross to the "t".
The Old Dr. Bronner's
This year, Dr. Bronner's hired someone to finely tune their iconic packaging, calling the new look "Old & Improved." The changes include the swapping in of a few sans-serif fonts, spacing adjustments, and a slightly more saturated blue background. Tim likes the new design, but wonders how impactful or necessary it will really be. "If you have something that timeless, it's pretty classic," he says. "It might not need to become high design."
What's successful in all of them is the use of so much small copy in a single font, which turns the words into a field of design that's become synonymous with the product.
Raw Coffee Company
Characterized by a subtler design than most of the others, this coffee packaging is atypical in a world of designs that scream from their place on a shelf. Tim appreciates the "really subtle hierarchy" of the design, "and that there's a hand-done illustration of the country of origin on each one." He also notes that the color of each bag (indicating origin) isn't used as a design crutch: "If you made it black and white, this design would still be strong."
Combining an illustration and modern fonts on a subtly speckled paper, this beer label is playful and unexpected. "It's a clean, simple, solid graphic design," he explains, with fonts that are bold "not in the sense of having a heavy weight, but because they're clear and impression-making." But the real reason he loves this design isn't superficial; it's because the look—whimsical, modern—is so unlike other beer labels: "To me, the most intriguing packaging designs buck a trend."
Aside from the more obvious design successes of this honey packaging—that it plays off the hexagonal shape of a honeycomb, that the bottles fit together for an impression-making display, that "made by bees" is the most prominent copy—what Tim likes most about this packaging is that function lead form: "With any honey that's not the bear squeeze bottle honey, getting the honey out is such a messy ordeal—but they've got the spoon in there and it works as part of the design."
"People have to be confident in their products to not put some garish design on it," Tim says when considering this rum bottle design, which parlays the simplicity and excellence of its product into a subtle look, rather than a loud one. "It basically uses one light weight, the same weight as the font," he explains, "and what's probably some sort of textured laser-etching technique."
Have any favorite package design this year? Share it with us in the comments!