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?

Old Car, New Label: Design, Mobile, EPA and the DOT

What with the two kids, the dog and all the stuff–theirs and ours–that typically accompanies us when we head out on the road, our 2005 Toyota Matrix sure has shrunk quite a bit since we bought it as “the biggest family car we could ever possibly want/need.”

So at times Catherine and I have played the “What’s our next family car?” game. Honda Element? Toyota CRV? Flat out, bona-fide minivan? See the trend? My erstwhile dreams about that Vespa or a sprightly little Mini Cooper are simply out of the question.

We’re not actually looking for a new car. But if we were, the new fuel economy labels the US Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency launched this summer are supposed to have made our purchasing decisions more informed.

EPA-DOT-car-labelGone are the mpg-only labels. Now from the car lot we’ll also be able to look at pollutant output and better gauge fuel savings. Most intriguing, as described further in this article from USA Today, is a QR Code.

The code in the sample above takes you to the mobile site where the US government provides detailed information about fuel economy. Specifically, it links over to a detailed summary of the new car fuel economy labels and what the different sections mean. But were we to have scanned the code from the car lot, off of an actual car, we would have been taken to a calculator that would have let us calculate exact mileage costs for the specific car model in question based on personalized commute information we would have been able to input with our phones.

Nice use of design to update the labels. Nice use of QR codes that actually offer a functional benefit.

Nice way to get me dreaming again about that Element. Or maybe a Nissan Cube?

Hip To Be Square

As far as I’m concerned there are only two nice things about the window seats on airplanes:
1) The curved wall of fuselage gives you something of a head rest if you want to [try and] nap.
2) You control the window.

I didn’t partake in any Z-time during my flight to California yesterday, but DID enjoy the view from time to time. First time I ever saw the Grand Canyon!

It was also the first time farming irrigation systems made me wonder about something. As you can see in the photo, we passed over a few such systems within what looked to be arid climate. The irrigated field/crop was round.

crop irrigation

But this article talks about how another industry can become more efficient by switching from round [bottles] to square. Seems like the same could hold true for irrigation. So I have to ask whether square irrigation systems are simply not possible. Do they end up wasting other precious resources (e.g., tractor fuel) to make circular systems ultimately better?

Bad Design Can Floor You

Design is a big deal.

It’s what makes those clothing and fabrics mavens so cherished once their creations are showcased on catwalks.

It’s what leads a chef to place that little extra spritz of chocolate sauce along the rim of your dessert plate.

And it’s inarguably what helped Apple last week dethrone Microsoft as the number one tech stock (thanks to iAnything).

But design does not just describe how something looks. It also can dictate how something (or someone) behaves. It can direct you to drive a certain way, hold a bottle differently, and flat out do something a certain way.

Sometimes, done wrong, design can make you shake your head in disappointment.

My hotel offered me such an occasion tonight: