I was having lunch with a friend a week or so ago. We were enjoying the mediocre-est of tuna-salad sandwiches at an AnyDeli near the studio. My friend, who is somewhat in the design industry (he’s a printer) made a comment about the toothpick that held his bread to his glob of tuna-salad.

“I wonder why they have these little ruffle things…” he mused as he held the little cellophane tipped end of the toothpick close to his eyes for further inspection.

“That was someone’s idea… everything is designed by someone.” I quipped as I grabbed a sugar packet from the safety of it’s ceramic fortress.

The Printer gave me an interesting look, as if I had just revealed some ancient secret to him. Yes, Mr. Printer, EVERYTHING is designed. “Everything, from the color of the type, to the awful logo, to the sweet pinstripes (who knew sugar hauled ass?) was thought of, placed and approved by someone.” I quipped as I held it and marveled at it’s lack of give-a-shit.

“It’s sad that this Someone didn’t give a shit about the design.” I continued.

“It’s just a sugar packet.” the Printer informed me.

He’s 100% right, but 100% wrong at the same time. Why it does not matter is because it is just a sugar packet. Why it does is because of the process one must go through to get to the end result. Shitty design or no shitty design, the designer tasked must still go through a basic set of steps to get to that awful result.

So why not give a shit? It’s akin to brushing your teeth for two minutes or just standing there, toothbrush in your mouth, not brushing for two minutes. You are taking the time to do something, so for gods sake, put effort into it.

Someone has to think “Shit, ok, we need a name, maybe a logo, some ingredients and a color scheme on this bad Larry…” These things don’t just think themselves up.

Someone’s got to actually concoct a layout–it could be a quick sketch on a napkin or a full blown color illustration created with PMS value Prismacolor markers. Again, this just doesn’t happen by divine sugar-god intervention.

Then comes the layout in the digital sense. Crack Illustrator, get the swatches selected, grab the type and pen tools and get designing. This isn’t rocket surgery, but hell, you still have to do it to get to the next step.

Our Someone then prints it, double checks the size is correct, runs it up the chain of command. (Interesting, I wonder exactly what the chain of command is at a sugar manufacturing plant’s design department…?)

Next comes collecting the file for the printer. Not Our Printer mind you. He’d give his left you-know-what to have a sugar packet printing job. Alas, we are still educating him to the fact that shit doesn’t design itself. Someone collects the files, double checks that all the support is there. Colorspace correct? Could you imagine if those pinstripes went to print in RGB? Oh the horror! Then our Someone zips it up and sends the files off on their marry way to the printer.

That’s at least five steps one MUST go through just to get a design printed on the packet itself. Of course the magic to make that oh so ignorable sugar packet jump out at you from it’s ceramic gondola happens between those five steps. Drawing, redrawing. Designing, redesigning… getting it just right. Then getting it just righter.

Just because it’s only a sugar packet does not mean Someone shouldn’t give a damn about putting something thoughtful and dare I say visually appealing on the tables of every damn AnyDeli across the US of A!

Take the Someone who designed the Equal packet. Sonfonfabitch, now they we’re thinking. “F sugar and it’s plain white wrapper.” They proclaimed. We’re making ours blue! A blue packet. A BLUE PACKET. Tell me that doesn’t just scream “Dump my in your coffee you calorie counting go-getter!” from the middle of the table. Not to be outdone, Splenda ups the ante with a yellow packet. And let us not forget the king of all sugar substitutes, Sweet-N-low, with it’s pink “I’m healthier than sugar and damn cute too!” packet and logo that all but up and sings Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah.

Sure, it’s mundane, lowly design, but those substitute sugar designers were doing something–they we’re giving that little packet a voice. Differentiating it from the others… even adding a bit of personality to the all but forgotten world of sugar packaging design.

So again, I pose the question–if you have to design something, shouldn’t you do your best to give it a voice? Should you not try to inject some personality? And dammit if I have to look at something countless times in one day, let alone my lifetime, could you at least do me the favor of making it interesting to look at?

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