Trix are for Kids, and Photoshop and Illustrator

trix2That bunny on the right sure looks like he is maxed out on his credit cards doesn’t he? He is one revved up rabbit? Lets talk about that.

At earlier this week there was an interesting post, found here, mentioning the fact that General Mills is bringing back retro cereal boxes at some retailers. The contrast between the old and new Trix boxes struck a couple cords. One about design, one about life. 

In January of 1984, on the Monday morning after the now famous Super Bowl commercial I went to the only Apple retailer in Manhattan and bought my first Macintosh. He had two in stock. One on the sales floor, the other he sold to me. I still have that crazy machine. Imagine the operating system, software, and files all on single sided 400k floppy disks, no internal hard drive, impossible!

I still vividly remember the first time I took a mouse in my hand and drew a simple oval in MacDraw, the world shook. I think I was New York Macintosh Users Group member number 34. So nobody can claim to be a bigger fan of technology and its influence on design. But I have watched, in the intervening 25 years, the work the design community has been creating, and have been increasingly concerned. We seem to be doing stuff, using the computer as the enabler, simply because we can.  

Things have gotten extraordinarily complex. Look at that Trix logo, layers, outlines, blends, drop shadows, more blends, glows and all kinds of wacky photography manipulation for the cereal. Our friendly, care-free roller skating bunny has morphed into a maniacal character who certainly has had too many lattes with his Trix in the morning. There are beginning to be hints of a backlash. The renewed interest in design simplification, in packaging yes but also in many other venues, seems to be one manifestation of a larger trend towards simplifying one’s life.

Robert Plant won his recent Grammy not for the overpowering Led Zeppelin sound, but for a quiet bluegrass inspired album with Allison Krauss. People seem to be yearning for a simple fixed rate mortgage from a real hometown banker, not some online huckster of financial products, devising a no money down scheme packaged and sold to a foreign investor. February designer melons from Chile, shipped overnight on FedEx planes, are giving way to ownership of shares in a local vegetable farm.

The enabling tools for us as designers are Photoshop and Illustrator. The enabling tools of our lives have become the ATM, the credit card, and the second mortgage. We have created things simply because we could. Lets step back and see if we are really any better bringing this new level of complexity to our work and our lives. Don’t know about you, but I’d rather be the bunny on the left.


The image of the Trix boxes comes from


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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8 Responses to Trix are for Kids, and Photoshop and Illustrator

  1. Hello Richard,

    Your comments ring true even for production. Illustrator bells and whistles do not a beautiful design make….or a beautiful package printable. Designers focus (as they should) on what’s possible using every tool at their disposal to communicate a vision. That is their mission. But, often, they tend to ignore what’s feasible. Do designers understand production feasibility? Do they care or is it someone else’s problem? Designers should stretch the boundaries of creativity and push for improved supply chain capabilities. Sometimes, however, the greater challenge is striving for creativity within parameters.

  2. Great metaphor. maxed-out, graphically-bankrupt “Web 2.0” gimcrackery versus: “economy of line”

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    • Jeffrey, Thanks so much for your thoughts, and I agree. The Helvetica comment was not a condemnation of the international style and its influence on typography or package design. It was used to put this design approach in the context of the time frame it was initially used in the design environment.

      In fact I have really fond memories of Helvetica, certainly the first typeface that I could recognize by name. As a kid, I used to go into the Eliot Noyes office in the 1960s when my Dad was an architect at the firm, and play with the Letraset being used for the plans and drawings. And it was all either Helvetica or Microgamma.

      I guess I just wonder about design solutions that have no unique “concept” other than to present a rather bland editorial approach to label design (with apologies for over simplification to my editorial design friends). If creating a unique visual equity, that our clients can use to build a brand, is our stock in trade, then this is a lazy solution if applied to all client challenges.

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