Comprehending Foreign Design

A central tenet of marketing is to give your customer what he/she wants. If you were Steve Jobs, then oftentimes you gave them something they didn’t yet know they wanted, but I digress.

In Canada, where both English and French have been officially recognized as state languages since 1969, that means marketers need to service both English and French in their marketing materials.

When it comes to point-of-sale and product packaging, this means brand managers can choose to produce two completely different sets of materials–one for each of the geographies known to typically harbor English or French speakers.

But this can be expensive since it would mean production runs of lesser quantities per version. It also runs the risk of upsetting those transient speakers of the “other” [official] language who find themselves outside of their usual territory.

So brand managers have to account for both languages on singular pieces, particularly when it comes to product packaging.


Look at what this means for the tasty box of shredded wheat cereal we bought in Vancouver in an attempt to placate our kids with healthy snack bags.

The bilingual speaker–or monolingual, as the case may be–is able to read the important messaging the brand manager wanted to deliver. But what a lost opportunity for designers, and brands for that matter, who might have wanted to have a little fun with their packaging real estate.

The bilingual requirements aren’t always a matter of jam-packing or removing any and all creative opportunity. These milk cartons looked so delicious we bought two! 🙂


Nor is the excessive copy always of the sort some might consider frivolous brand-speak. Some shoppers might really need to know about the sugar content of their orange juice.


Still, I wonder if designers would find Canada’s attempt to overcome language barriers a form of creative barrier in and of itself. And is language comprehension more or less important than the hopefully-sales-driving inspiration presumably associated with the creative approach to that barrier?

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