Parents aren’t babies, and “cute” isn’t a design strategy

JohnsonandBabyThis recent post on thedieline.com, containing ideas for the Johnson’s baby packaging from a Peruvian designer, is really disturbing. Let me count the ways.

First let’s start with full disclosure. We will be forever thankful that Johnson & Johnson was one of our founding clients at The Shear Partnership 20 years ago when we opened the doors in 1993. And we know a bit about this brand. In fact we designed the current global Johnson & Johnson baby packaging system (shown on the right in the image above). So lets talk about why this post is so wrong.

1. First and most importantly, this is an iconic global brand. It has a strong visual equity that is composed of just a few simple, but strategically optimized, visual elements. You don’t mess with this equity with silly illustrations, or amateurish logo typography. This is a brand with billions of dollars in annual sales.

2. Decoration, purely for its own sake, is not a brand strategy.

3. Parents buy baby stuff, not babies. It has been proven that they don’t necessarily, or instinctively, respond to visuals that are intended to be ”babyish”.

4. This brand should not be trivialized by “cute”. Making an investment in an illustration style on an iconic brand like this is a significant risk. It becomes a reflection of the brand. The symbiotic relationship between brand and support visuals is key and must be weighed very carefully.

5. And what’s with that horrendous piece of logo typography?

Lastly, featuring this kind of project on thedieline.com trivializes their brand, cheapens the work of the marketers at Johnson & Johnson, weakens the importance of real strategic design thinking on iconic consumer brands, and just feels dirty.

The list is long, I could go on, but won’t.

Sorry Andrew, I post this only because thedieline.com has become a respected and indispensable package design resource. Am I overreacting? If I am just let me know.

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About Richard Shear

designer, husband, teacher, blogger, father, athlete, author, historian Richard has over 25 years of brand identity and package design experience, with a wide range of clients such as Ahold, Coca-Cola, Hasbro, IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Pernod Ricard and Procter & Gamble. He began his career working with the legendary advertising art director, and AIGA Medalist, George Lois and the British design manager Clive Chajet. In his next design management position at Lippincott & Margulies, he worked with Walter Margulies learning the complex skills of global corporate identity. He then became Creative Director and Partner at Peterson & Blyth, one of the premier brand identity and package design firms of the time. He is a founding faculty member of the Masters in Branding Program at New York’s School of Visual Arts. He publishes the blog The Package Unseen, and has been a guest lecturer at colleges including FIT, Trinity College and Tyler School of Art. He is a graduate of the Tyler School of Art at Temple University. Richard is a Board member of the AIGA MetroNorth Chapter, past President of AIGA‘s Brand Design Association, President of the Package Design Council and a member of its Board of Directors. He is a member of USA Cycling and US Rowing, a nationally ranked masters bicycle racer, and a member of The Saugatuck Rowing Club, the 2010 Masters Club National Champion.
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5 Responses to Parents aren’t babies, and “cute” isn’t a design strategy

  1. Richard, you’re spot on!

  2. lalu p says:

    couldn’t agree more!!!

  3. Nate says:

    That typography is pretty poor. I think it’d be good enough if they just used the standard J&J font for that.

  4. MoBeta says:

    Dieline is a great inspirational resource. It just seems like these designers never have a budget.
    Obviously student concepts don’t.

    Also, do some research on the ingredients of that product. Ick.

  5. Randy Swann says:

    Well said, Richard.

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