Unnecessary Rebrands: Focus on function, then aesthetics

Lipstick on a pig

Everything old is new again. I find this saying to be rather true lately but I’m not excited about it. Borrowing from the ideas of the past and reinventing them to be better is something our culture has always done with varying results. What really annoyed me recently was the BVD rebrand of 7-Eleven’s coffee services for their Swedish market. Everything I read applauded the effort, much to my chagrin.

It’s Nice That said,
“Futuristic in a retro way, these coffee cups look like the kind you might grab behind the scenes while shooting an eco-friendly dystopian sci-fi movie in the eighties – and that’s certainly no bad thing.”

Fast Co. Design describes it as,
“Rebranding 7-Eleven With A Bold, Retro-Nostalgic Style.”

Even Brand New liked it saying,
“The new look that adorns coffee cups, napkins, sugar packets, and takeout bags has a great energy and although it’s billed as being retro and reviving 7-Eleven’s own graphic history it feels decidedly contemporary and fresh.”

Taken from the aforementioned Fast Co. article, BVD describe their work accordingly.

“The iconic stripes are the take-off point of our design,” BVD partner Rikard Ahlberg told Co.Design. “We used them in a new and more modern way, creating a strong recognizable graphic signal that works in a busy environment.”

This is where I’m rolling my eyes at the computer screen. I don’t really draw a problem with the rebrand itself. The striping is well done and creates an interesting visual language when used on the range of items you see above. But fuck, we’ve been here before! We’ve seen this! I refuse to agree with anyone who makes the argument that this design strategy was “futuristic” or “contemporary.” This looks just like the 70s, period.

It’s also a smoke screen. What we’re not talking about here is two things: How the cup functions and what the coffee tastes like. What does it matter what the cup looks like if this is filled with brown colored swill? Does the cup feature new features that prevent my hand from burning? Does it take less paper to produce? How is this, other than aesthetically, any different from the previous cups 7-11 carried? In my mind this is just as bad as the recent American Airline rebrand. Was the rebrand executed pretty well overall? Yeah, I totally think so. But is it going to make their service better? Will I have more leg room? Will they carry better foods and beverage to make my flight more enjoyable? Doubt it! This is just putting lipstick on a pig.

Funny enough, you know who’s actually innovating on cup design? Starbucks. They released a new reusable cup in early January hoping to get patrons to use them instead of wasting standard cups. Are the cups “cool-retro-futuristic-buzzword” looking? No, they look like cups. But they’ve tried to shift the behavior of their guests, and in turn, help the environment.

This is the type of design we should be applauding, not some tasteless green, orange, and yellow stripes slapped onto a cup that will ultimately filled with dirt flavored dredge.

February 4, 2013 / By