Extant Design

Croyden House Instant Mashed PotatoesMost people probably don’t pay much attention to the graphic design of products they pick up in their local grocery store. I don’t. In fact, the only time I notice the graphic design of such a thing is when it stands out for looking particularly old and outdated. I started noticing some products, like Marshmallow Fluff and Jiffy mix and that got me paying attention to some more subtle designs that had gone unchanged for years. I decided to start cataloging some of these, and I call the remnants of decades-old design Extant Design. Some extant design screams “I was created in 1960 and have barely been changed since!”, while other design is much more subtle. Some elements commonly found in Extant Design:

  • Simple, spartan graphic design.
  • Product photography, which quite often makes the product look quite unappealing.
  • Price spots. Prices were once stamped on to products directly, and later applied with sticky labels. Some products (like those from Croyden House) still have areas to allow price stamping, some even with a ยข symbol.
  • Now-rare design elements once common, like typefaces (the Jiffy font), graphics (daisies like those on Nucoa), and color schemes (like on Mother’s Margarine).
  • Adaptations and other oddities regarding changes in labelling laws. In particular, products with Extant Design have their ingredients listings in lots of places other than the standard side panel. Marshmallow Fluff lists its ingredients on the front of the label. Lund’s Swedish Pancake Mix lists its ingredients on the bottom of the box, with a handy pointer from the front. Additionally, content labelling is often haphazardly changed, as now US and metric weight/volume listings are required on the front of the packaging (as opposed to being allowed on the side or back).

Adaptations are what make products with extant design look different from the same product of forty yeras ago. There are often other adaptations over time, resulting in a hodgepodge of typefaces and design elements.

Design need not be from the 1950s or 1960s to be extant design. Some products designed as recently as the 1980s appear on shelves and yet their design sticks out. While I don’t find these as interesting as those products with obviously older design, I do find them worth noting and often note them here.

Start browsing my Extant Design collection on flickr.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>