Cleanup on Aisle 5

Note: Since this article was first written in 2006, WalMart has completely redesigned their Great Value brand twice. Maybe they read this post?

I just have to get this off my chest. It’s been grinding at my soul for several years now, and I can’t escape confessing this.

Since I live in a very small town, there’s only one place for starving designers to shop. You guessed it…Wal-Mart. I think I can overcome my ideological and moral issues associated with supporting the world’s largest corporation, but I just can’t handle one more day of their in-store brand design. “Great Value” products are driving me insane.

At first I was simply stunned that a company with all that money couldn’t come up with better design for their own store brand. The “Great Value” font is nasty when it’s readable and the photography/printing is depressing. It just exudes cheap, not “value” and certainly not “great”. I’m sure the work was done in-house at Wal-Mart, and the designers were well intentioned with a “need it yesterday” boss breathing down their necks. But a first year design student could do better. What does this communicate about Wal-Mart? Why don’t they understand how design can impact their business like Target?

Now that’s more like it! Great design used in a practical way. Design doesn’t have to be so “pie in the sky” altruistic to touch people’s heart. If we had a Target where I live and prices were competitive, I’d never look at another Great Value box of pasta again. In fact, I’ve even toyed with the idea of spending a couple of hours designing a new Great Value brand and more than a couple of hours driving to Wal-Mart headquarters to show them what design can do. But a blog post will have to suffice. I feel better now.

Gotta run, looks like I’m low on milk.

13 Responses to “Cleanup on Aisle 5”

  1. Frank McClung

    I’ve wondered about Wal-Mart wanting the products to look cheap and thus using “cheap” looking design. I recently read in Fast Company where Wal-Mart encourages its staff to take “free” pens from hotels and requires its employees to bring their own from home. Unbelievable. Now, the question begs to be asked, does good design always communicate expensive to people and bad design inexpensive? You should be able to have good design and still communicate “great value” or less expensive in a product. Non?

    You’re right about the two logos, but they are not identical. Maybe Templin cleaned an old log up or the designer at Howalt started his old firm. Hmmm.

  2. Frank McClung

    Bakari, your comments about the Templin Brink Target design being “food for display rather than food for consumption” is right on. I’m sure they did their research and this must have been what they wanted to communicate right?

    It raises the question should design even be noticed at all in and of itself. Or should it be like hair, only noticed when it’s bad or out of place?

  3. Dailey

    Sometimes I think Wal-mart uses bad design on purpose. The masses
    tend to think that if something is well designed then it must be
    expensive. Maybe they do it so that it looks cheap, so that people
    think it is cheap so that they’ll buy it. Nevertheless, it is
    wretched. I’m living in Greenville, SC right now so I have the
    liberty to choose well designed products and a lot of times I do.
    I’ve vowed never to buy a mattress from Mattress Max because his TV
    commercials are loathsome.

    Another interesting discovery from clicking the link in your post.
    When browsing through Templin Brink’s portfolio I saw something
    that’d I’d seen before. It was the Blackstone logo. Basically the
    same logo and company is on the Howalt Design site. Check it out. it’s #8 in their logo section.
    It’s the second one in the logo section in Templin Brink. It may be
    that they both somehow did work for Blackstone. It just struck me as
    odd to see it both places.

  4. Bakari

    Dailey, you make an interesting point. I recently redesigned a brochure for a friend of mine who is raising money to do service work in West Africa. One of her request for the brochure is that it not look too professional or well designed because she felt that it would indicate that if she had enough money to pay for a well designed brochure (she wasn’t paying me!) people might not make a donation.

    In this regard, it could be said that certain styles of design can convey a message about what something might cost.

    However, I think the difference between Wal-Mart and what Target is saying to customers is seriously about respect. The former chain doesn’t care much about its customers or employees, while the latter says you can have something nice looking without paying a lot of money.

    On the other hand, though, Templin Brink’s design makes you almost not want to consume the products. It’s like food for display rather than food for consumption. In that regard, what appeals to me about Target is not so much a well design product line, but the store itself. It provides a sense of clarity and respect for customers that you won’t find in Wal-mart, where everything looks worn out.

    Anyway, thanks Five, for this post. Very interesting.

  5. Frank McClung

    Kikaiju, I remember those original generic brand boxes as well, and I’d almost rather go back to them. Good point about the other products in the pic not being GV. This was just the best public domain pic I could find at the time on the Internet with GV products. And yes, when it comes down to it, I’d rather save money and spend it on the people I love. I still love thoughtful design though.

  6. Kikaiju from Newsvine.com comment

    Having lived through the early generics era -when store brand meant stark black-and-white labels in giant type such as DOG FOOD or BREAD- I can forgive GV’s barebones packaging. It’s really not a lot worse than any other store brand. My family buys a ton of store brands. We’ve had it all from the old generics that smelled bad (the actual packaging, I mean) to the current ones that sometimes exceed the quality of the name brand.

    Ultimately I’m much more concerned about the price and the contents than what the box looks like. That’s the entire purpose of store brands. This is not your esoteric gold leaf pasta with the Italian-sounding name. This is bulk macaroni. From Walmart. Your stomach will hardly know the difference if it comes in a GV box or if you empty that box into a glass jar for storage.

    A lot of people do that, you know. The food goes into a glass or plastic container and all the branding and packaging and things with names goes in the trash. The family ends up creating their own personal generic brand of everything. I know this horrifies fans of branding. Target does indeed do a much nicer job with their designs but they’re aiming at a different, more upscale customer. They have to aim higher and look nicer. And lately Target seems to have been spending an awful lot of time looking at how Ikea does things -anyone else see Target’s “Stockholm” line of furniture? Stock. Home. It’s not only a dig at Ikea but also a sort of pun. Sadly, it was not up to Ikea standards for quality or price but it was a nice try. If you have to imitate, Ikea is a great place to look for ideas.

    By the way, the picture on your blog shows Ol’ Roy and Equate packages as well. These are store brand but they aren’t GV. Equate, in particular, is made by multiple subcontractors such as pharma mega giant Perrigo, and many of them put their own names and addresses on the packaging. Equate is not lowend. Many of them are literally the same contents sold as the store brands you’ll find at Kroger, Publix, CVS, Eckerd, Walgreens, and even Target. Again, it’s all about the contents and the quality, not the package.

    Ol’ Roy is made by the same people who make the store brand dog food for Petsmart. The food is the same and both stores use nearly identical can artwork. They don’t even try to hide it. Instead of worrying about making new can artwork, I hope making it in scale quantities has allowed them to come up with something good for my dog to eat. He can’t read and doesn’t care about the cans anyway.

    For the record, I feed him better stuff than that. I’ll eat the GV people food. He gets namebrand doggy food. Same with my cat. What’s the lesson here? There’s the obvious one about who I care for, and a sad story about the time I fed a dog some generic dogfood which it wouldn’t eat, so it ran away and got hit by a car and died. Because I tried to save a few bucks.

    The lesson here is save money where it matters but spend more for the people and things you love.

  7. Jonathan

    I have a big appetite. I can eat a lot of food. But I also have a big appetite for good design. And there is no doubt that the food tastes better when the design of the box looks good. (Yep, I still read my cereal boxes.) I’m sure it’s psycological-I believe I am putting better quality, more healthy food into my body just because the print job on the box is good. Beats feeling bad about what I eat just because the packaging communicates “you’re eating rubbish!”

    But Walmart has been around for a long time. They made the buying-in-bulk idea work for them long before anyone else. And, in order for a company like Target to contend with a big dog like Walmart, they had to find a different angle. And they have.

    I’d have to say that I choose Target because of the overall in-store experience-good customer service, well-thought out floorplans, friendly, well-dressed people that are “Always” willing to help; Easy-to-read displays and better packaging add to the overall experience for me. There are some things my wife still insists on buying at Walmart, but they are usually namebrand items that cost more at Target than they do at Walmart and she’s a bit more money-mnded than me. (Me, I can’t stand shopping for 15 minutes and then standing in line for 45 minutes. Anyone else have those experiences?) But I think Target has it right. They create an excellent mood and carry it through, right down to the items people purchase and carry home with them. And I think well-informed employees and informative POPs are all a part of Target’s design. (Who was it that first coined the phrase, “Good design doesn’t happen by accident”?)

    True, most folks probably don’t think they are buying more enriched pasta or more vitamin-rich brocoli, but I bet they feel they are. I know I do. And yet, we are really only buying prettier cardboard wrappings and better font selections. But that’s why good design matters and just goes to show how powerful effective branding can be.

    Case-in-point: the only GV item I ever routinely purchase are garbage bags – and I usually double line my garbage cans for no particular reason at all, I’m sure.

  8. katharhino

    I love Target’s design sensibility and “respect for customers.” But not all their stores are fun to be in. Our local Target is older, a little shabby, and crowded; whereas the local Walmart is new and looks up-to-date. Anyway I have to say that I buy into the Walmart thing. I admit that I go to Target for “cute” and Walmart for “cheap” and I don’t need cute canned tomatoes. I just want my tomatoes to be reliable and cheap.

    As for that, I’m not convinced that good design CAN communicate “cheap.” Because good design always says “somebody cared enough to spend time making sure this looked beautiful” and that sentiment is antithetical to “cheap.”

    I agree with Kikaiju. Quality matters for certain things. When I find a lower quality in the store brand, I buy the name brand instead. But I buy it for the quality, not for the design. I know, it’s terrible that I’m saying this and I’m a designer, right? Could package design fail? Well, marketing and/or packaging might make me try something new, but only quality and value for the price will make me keep buying it.

  9. Lib

    I just want to throw out another company whose “generic” package designs have made me stop and take notice. Publix grocery stores have done a wonderful job of redesigning their store brand.

    I think good design often goes hand-in-hand with great service and a positive shopping experience. I also think it’s another way to re-affirm in the consumer’s mind that they have chosen a good place to spend their money. Design and presentation is really important to me, and like Dailey, there are actually places I cannot bring myself to shop b/c their advertisements are so offensive to my eyes and ears.

    I had to bring up Publix b/c I’ve noticed I actually prefer buying their generic brand over name brand products b/c I like the way it they look in my cabinets. Crazy? probably. But it proves that design matters, and it doesn’t have to communicate “cheap”. It can convey that you’re getting a better product for your money.

  10. Anonymous

    Getting back to one of Frank’s original points: buying art supplies at Walmart. As tempting as it is to recommend outsourcing famliar purchases to a supplier in another state via email and credit card, I sometimes have the impulse to want to feel the paper and hold the pen before I buy it. But that luxury is gone, since I moved to a new city. I don’t particularly like the art supply stores in this town so I’ve found a consistant supplier online for the materials I am familar with. The price is just low enough that I can easily afford the UPS rush charge and get it the next day delivered. I’m not shilling for any one particular supplier, having tried several, but with a little research, one CAN find bargains elsewhere – and people on the other end of the phone line willing to answer questions and offer alternatives. When was the last time you tried to ask a Walmart employee a product question?

    Walmart to me is a flat landscape of average to below-average products, with the exception of name brand necessities like black garbage bags. It’s a little bit tragic that Americans have flocked to a store where 70% of the contents are made in China as our neighbor’s jobs went overseas, American products and old-fashioned quality are disappearing. Mediocre art supplies have nothing to do with packaging but the content and quality. Not to be zenophobic, but I once trusted art supplies made in the USA and Europe. I remember people took pride in what they were making, and the quality of these products made for better art too.

  11. Chris

    Dailey-

    Templin and Howalt use to work together at Charles S. Anderson. You’ll see they both show the Spinner logo as well.

  12. Beth

    Just to add one more comment to the pot- Wal-Mart just opened a “high-end” store the Dallas area. Their goal is to be able to compete against Target. The store is laid out in a nicer floor plan than most of its stores. And while they are stocking items that are a little more “high-end” looking-these products are sitting next to the GV brand! So they spend more money trying to look like Target, yet they might actually meet their goal if they took the time and redesigned their generic products.

  13. kathol

    who cares about the packaging. if it looked like it was through a war i could understand but i’m not wearing it or decorating my house w/ it.

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