Product design is one of those glamorous jobs that absolutely everybody in design wants to get into. They dream of making a drink bottle that fits perfectly in your hand or an electric jug that boils water and looks so awesome you’d bring people home just to show them your kitchen appliances.
I even was involved in one package design project myself – not that I am a designer in any way – and I’ve got to admit it really was fun. Our client was a fast food retailer and they gave us free rein on the packaging style, colours and even allowed us input on what food items should go inside. Believe me, that doesn’t happen often! Anyway, we did a good job of the packaging and advertising and the product became such a hit; our client took more market share. Success all round!
Shortly after the product’s launch, I went to a rugby match in a rural location and the ground was an absolute sea of the empty packaging after the game. Wow, what a sight! Talk about pillar-to-post advertising. Of course, our fast food retailer client DID NOT say make the packaging stand out as litter – but it sure did.
The Power of Amazing Clients
One client who DID actually ask designers to make their packaging stand out as litter was a small company by the name of; Coca Cola. You may have heard of them.
Back in 1915, Coca Cola’s market share was under threat from a bunch of copycat competitors who were putting out fizzy cola-flavoured soft drinks under names like; Koka-Nola, Toka-Cola and Koke. Seriously.
Incensed and more than a little frustrated by this, the Coca Cola brand guardians of the time realised they needed to do something to make their product stand out from the rest. But how? They didn’t know, so they decided to run a competition for product designers. The wording on the competition form went something like this: “Make a bottle so distinct that you would recognise it by feeling in the dark or lying broken on the ground.”
Let’s just pause and let those words sink in for a moment…
When was the last time you had a brief as open-minded, left-field and just darn COOL as that?!
Admittedly, those words were typed 105 years ago – back when the simplistic cave people of the time had no understanding that creativity can ONLY be developed via algorithms calculated from online metrics and social media analytical results.
But a group of guys from the Root Glass Company in Indiana figured they’d box on regardless. So one of them, mould shop supervisor Earl R. Dean, went to the library for ideas (no internet in those days.) While thumbing through an encyclopedia (no Wikipedia either) to see what the hell a “coca” was, he stumbled across a pencil illustration of a “cocoa” pod. Now, cocoa is not involved in the manufacture of Coca Cola in any way – but the pod had these cool ridges and bulbous shape!
Earl’s buddies at the Root Glass Company agreed so they entered their cocoa pod-inspired design into Coke’s competition – and won the whole thing! Coca Cola thought the Root Glass Company’s design had answered their brief perfectly; it was a bottle so distinct you could recognise it by feel in the dark or with a casual glance if it was lying broken on the ground.
Final Bottle Design by Earl R. Dean
Considering that that very same design is still around today, 105 years later and quite possibly 90% of the Earth’s inhabitants could instantly name what it is – even if blindfolded! – then you would have to say it was a great design. Perhaps even The Greatest Design Ever.
Yet the cocoa pod has absolutely nothing to do with Coke and there was absolutely no social media data crunched to come up with it either. Funny that.
Top image: Wilerson S Andrade