Archives for category: Design
Chic cacao: for the peeps, by the peeps.

Chic cacao: for the peeps, by the peeps.

Happy Easter, y’all! In Finland, nothing says “Hyvää Pääsiäistä!” like the Mignon, a handmade chocolate egg “nougated” out with almonds and hazelnuts and poured into a real eggshell. A Fazer classic since 1896 (outside of WWII), and the Finnish company’s second oldest product, the egg was a favorite of the Russian czar’s family. To this day, the confection (originally from a German recipe) can only be found around Easter in-country and in select export markets…the US not being one of them. For all those coveting one (or more) for your children’s baskets, you can hippity hop here and there. Your very own virtual hunt.

To see how these treats are filled, finished and packaged once the eggshells are sorted and cleaned, YouTube delights.  The original contents of the natural vessels go to commercial kitchens, with nary a yolk or white wasted. About 2.5 million “containers” are sourced from all over Finland. Only the best of a certain size adhere to the 54 gram weight restriction. About 2 million eggs are sold annually — impressive, considering the majority of sales occur at home, a nation of a little over five million. There is nominal distribution to Scandinavia, Russia, Germany and Canada. But, the “bunny” (as in burning, haha) question is why these are not more widely distributed. Why do Canadians have the closest luck?

Decorating ideas abound at Fazer.fi on how to trick out the plain shells. After all, it is a blank canvas. But why not make them in assorted colors from the get-go? I’m “dying” to know what sustains the supposed Henry Ford-esque “any color so long as it’s white” tradition. Has the family-run business forgotten that Karl Fazer, the founder, had an appreciation for design and packaging, which he picked up while on professional stints in Berlin and Paris? He was also known to be a visionary marketer, placing advertisements on Helsinki’s streetcars as early as the end of the 19th century.

Naming new products was a celebrated family affair, with Karl and his wife, Berta, letting their four children in on the creativity. It was the patriarch’s time in France that likely influenced the ovoid’s name: mignon means cute, adorable and lovely in French. Each is pretty much that…in a nutshell.

Extra, eggstra! You can read more about these solid chocolate ambassadors if you’re proficient in Finnish. There are no teasers about Mignons on the English site, I suppose, because they’re not sold here. Bock, bock, bock, bock, bock! Who needs chickens when you’ve got Fazer.

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Hot. Cool. Meh.

Hot. Cool. Meh.

The evocative name of this building at the Sochi Olympics is one of the more unique. Icebergs command attention; they are powerful and beautiful to behold. They also suggest passing grandeur, so I hope the public still has access to it post-Games, unlike Beijing’s Bird’s Nest, which sits empty, even abandoned.

“Iceberg” means well. A tip of the berg for being short, fun to say and easy to remember, but it’s suggestively off. You see, this structure is shades of blue, and more so when lit up at night. Glaciers are blue due to the lack of air in their creeping shelves. In contrast, icebergs — full of tiny air bubbles — are mostly white, as the bubbles’ surfaces reflect light. The blue-ish streaks in an iceberg represent crevasse-filling meltwater that’s refrozen. Air-tight vs. air-light. Similarly, roughly 90% of an iceberg is under water, yet the home of the latest skategate appears largely above-surface. The venue would be better verbally-grounded if more of it had been recessed into the earth.

Which brings me to…if this is an iceberg, what type is it? The terminology of some of the sizes and shapes of these frozen masses are cool. I have seen smaller ones — growlers and bergy bits — in Chile. Shape-wise, the Skating Palace looks like a hybrid: “tabular” for its crew-cut and horizontal banding and “blocky” for the steep sides.

Here’s where the Russians missed. U-shaped bergs, with the bottom of the “U” reaching almost to or at water level and cradled or book-ended by sky-reaching spires, are referred to as “dry-docked.” Considering the lack of natural precipitation at seaside Sochi, officials there could have thrown down some serious naming with “The Drydock” for the half-pipe.

At least they didn’t resort to calling the palace the “Sea-Hill.” Such was the synonym for calved glaciers in the late 17th century. I’m not sure how long that term floated around, but the partially Anglicized Dutch loanword for “ice mountain” obviously got more points for style back then and thus is still in play.

Knitmare!

Knitmare!

Most of the Olympic athletes and delegates tonight sported street-smart winter gear. A lot of it will be wearable after the games. Not so the tacky garb of Team USA. A good thing they were on the back-end of the parade of nations. It was no great feat to see how hideous those über-busy sweaters are. Hide, USA! Outside the secure area, they make for easy targets. Despite the fact that the cardigans are supposedly sold out, I can’t imagine them having any long-term aftermarket value. They won’t last, for one. The boots, on the other hand, look nice.

Is it an uncanny coincidence that this fashion faux pax is a metaphor for how fragmented this country has become? The cardy is a granny quilt of feuding red and blue states squares and poorly placed verbal messaging. Has anyone counted the stars, or are they just filler? Our uniform was a chance for us to shine for two weeks. Instead, the US Olympic Committee sacrificed our brand to another big ego.

Fair warning. Taking the gold for poor execution, and embarrassing us along the way, is the self-absorbed Mr. Lauren himself. If only certain decision-makers had done some due diligence, they would have come across an October 2000 Dale Boss story about the man and his empire. Quoting Ralph: “I’ve been a big hero in this industry, and I like being a big hero.”

Made in the United States. The USOC should have selected a new designer to outfit this Olympiad’s competitors. Ralph Lauren had his chance — two, in fact — in Vancouver’s 2010 Winter Games and in Beijing’s 2008 Summer Olympics, He and his company blew both, showing everyone his lack of patriotism by choosing earnings over authenticity. Commerce over craft. Profit over pride of country. There was quite the public outcry when it was revealed that some (perhaps all?) of the official 2010 clothing was, in fact, manufactured in China.

New blood needed. As this global event so often launches athletes into stardom, the USOC could have gotten into the spirit and had the same effect by jumpstarting an aspiring artist’s career. The US has many young, yet sufficiently established designers who could have seamlessly delivered. Style, that is. Context-current, up-and-coming craftspeople who would not have taken the honor for granted. Alternatively, the The North Faces, Nikes and Patagonias could have produced something tasteful and desirable. If the USOC really wanted to get people excited about sports and attract new generations of participants and viewers, they would have signed on a Bruno Mars. Instead, what can only be aging members went with the obvious. It showed, and we deserve better.

Polo, formerly called America. As if the choice of designer weren’t bad enough, the design itself chokes. It looks committee-driven; no consensus could be reached, so a mash-up it is. The Polo word mark on the lapel is over and above the USA. In close-up shots of the athletes, that’s all you see, with part of “USA” tucked in the armpit. This placement says it all about what Mr. Lauren thinks of himself. On no other team’s outerwear did a clothing brand compete with the country name. If I didn’t know any better, I would have thought that Polo was a country. In 2010, things were better in that the Polo brand mark, the polo player, was blazer front and off-center (too far off). That alone should have been a red flag.

Off-fabric. Please…, cotton turtlenecks? I bet the bulky sweaters are also cotton. There are so many technical and new wool fabrics out there to keep you warm and looking good. Thin layering devices that perform!

Nice departures. Of note: some countries (France, Germany, Iran, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania and New Zealand) whose jackets and pants had nothing to do with their flag color. The Japanese carried small Russian and Japanese flags. And looks like the Russian women got to pick between red, white and blue parkas! Tonga’s coats-as-canvas combined the vertically placed flag along with an ocean and palm background. Well done!

Go USA!

This tagline's got legs!

This tagline’s got legs!

Emma Hope shoes are understated elegance. Investment pieces, not gaudy statement ones like those we’ve seen more and more over the last decade. Gorgeousness you can actually walk in and wear for hours. I love this tagline; it complements the fine workmanship, attention to detail and tactile heaven of handcrafted functionality. “Regalia for feet” even feels comfortable! I miss pretty shoes.

It is puzzling why high-end labels and cordwainers continue to ignore common sense at the expense of looking out-of-touch. Their own faddish egos are damaging their brand. A six-inch plus heel is not unique, stylish or innovative. It is fast fashion, stalled. Such lack of creativity catapults a domino effect: season after season, hyper-competitive, self-obsessed designers churn out more pairs that are increasingly sold at a discount and at steeper price cuts. This is neither good business nor brand strategy. The over-priced, ankle-twisting excess I’m referring to is nothing short of slutty, tasteless, quickly dated footwear. (Honey, call the podiatrist!)

I dare designers to come down off their stilettos! Make something to be proud of twenty years from now. Do it for us and for the archives. And ladies, while you wait, get a pair by Emma and you’ll agree: simple is usually the answer.

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Hands-on clean.

Last summer I flew Canadian North, which is 100% Aboriginally-owned, from Inuvik to Norman Wells, then to Yellowknife and on to Edmonton. Really enjoyable. The aircraft interiors looked a bit worse for wear, but each boarding, deplaning and in-flight experience was what flying used to and probably never will be again most anywhere else. Genuine, courteous and attentive attendants, decent and more than enough food, on-time departures and arrivals, fee-less checked luggage that arrived when I did and respectful fellow passengers. From the counter folks to the ramp and baggage people (sometimes one in the same person), they were efficient, approachable and looked like they enjoyed their jobs. Humans. Not rude, insensitive, barking corporate bots with attitude. We’re talkin’ serious customer service.

Which brings me to the airline’s tagline: “Seriously northern.” Some 50% redundant, given their name, but the first half is a winner and with so much potential. The polar bear and midnight sun logo were spot-on geographically but seemed inconsistently illustrated (even dated) alongside the more simply drawn yet delightful in-flight branding. What I most liked, design-wise, were the hand towel packaging and the coffee cup (for another post). On the wipe: “Seriously clean.” — the native drummer dressed in traditional skins and snowy owl (ookpik) culturally reflecting the Northwest Territories’ First Nations who live near the Arctic Circle. A great start, if not messaging teasers. I’d love to see the brand really come alive through many more elements on board, at the gate, in uniform and online.

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Refined taste.

“Contemporary” was an unexpected word-find in conjunction with a natural sweetener. Then, I learned that Taikoo® is an iconic Hong Kong brand that’s been around since 1881. In fact, it’s the oldest brand from Swire Pacific, whose parent company is U.K.-headquartered and hugely-diversified John Swire & Sons, Ltd. These days the sweet white or golden (raw) crystals are imported, but a refinery operated under the same name for some eight decades.

Picked up at a local coffee chain in Shanghai, these “sachets” sport, cups-down, one of the most sophisticated designs I’ve ever seen on a sugar packet. The Chinese characters and rust+white/grey+white color combos give it the visual edge. But wait: 太 (Tai) = “great” and古 (koo) = ancient. What lofty distinction…and verbally caloric! Premium, indeed.

Cannabis on ice.

Cannabis on ice.

At first, I was not sure of the name of this drink. Was the “Swiss maple leaf” a stand-in for a letter? Coice? Caice? O was it merely separating two words? The fact that I bought this in Canada added to the initial confusion. “C” for Canadian? The name was simpler than I thought – C-Ice — but still a little clunky: “C” + “ice” looks shorter than it really sounds. And, I don’t see any value in the reversed second “c.”

Interesting, the verbal and visual plugs for Switzerland. The cube did conjure up ice-capped mountains. (Just looking at the block of ice cooled me down.) However, there is no real logo here, despite the potential for a great one. In a design update, I suggest combining the Swiss flag with the cannabis leaf (given they are both square-ish) for a cannabis leaf-shaped flag…a much more effective message encapsulated within a compact, mobile-friendly footprint with the power to be smokin’ hot, unlike the name.

The taste? Approximating cold yerba mate…refreshingly bitter. Lastly, I couldn’t resist the orange packaging…none other than a Lamican® from Finland. Sturdy, with good print quality and nice in the hand.

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Flight of fancy naming.

As a child, I was a big LEGO® fan…before the tricked-out kits with “know-before-you-buy” specificity. Back then, our creativity was our own, resulting in something new every time we dumped the pieces out onto the floor.

Fast forward to Nanoblock. I was feeling a little nostalgic as this Bald Eagle was coming into being. Curiosity also dug in its claws surrounding the name of this national treasure.

Bald this bird is not! In New Latin, it was a “sea eagle” (haliaeetus), which became “white head” (leucocephalus) in Latinized Ancient Greek. “Piebald,” a term for horses and other animals with an alternating and irregularly spotted color pattern that includes a large presence of white, gives us “bald.” Piebald (black and white) is to Brits what pinto (spotted or patched) is to Americans and Canadians. And now you’ve got the second half of the magpie’s story.

1944 Wheat Penny.

Eyes peeled for a wheat penny…or better. That’s me alright. Recently one came my way. The thrills of paying in cash! U.S. coins were so much classier a century ago. Even today’s stamps have succumbed to the same sad state of bland design watered down further by ubiquitous political correctness.

In fact, the original one-cent piece saw a lot of changes in its 51-year run. When it was first issued in 1909, it was about the same size as a current half-dollar. Initials of the designer, Victor D. Bremer, were on the reverse, moving in 1918 to the front on Lincoln’s shoulder. During WWII, the 1943 steel cent was popular as a copper replacement. What with the metal thieves’ zeal these days (they stole my copper wire flowers from my front yard), it’s curious why so many pennies are still in circulation. I guess the criminals are purists.

Geodetically yours.

With a name like this, how could almond clusters go wrong? What? An anonymous suggestion box card says “Lose the radiating almonds; they cheapen the nuclear effect at center stage.” I, myself, like the vertical brown “compass arrow.”

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