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White Dog Corn Whiskey

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Historical 
Overview
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In collecting images from the 1800s through 2010 it was interesting to see “art for commerce” become “commercial art” or graphic design.

The tone of the ads, while generally hopeful and aspirational seems to have dipped into sometimes more serious tones, or a complete lack of any personality of late.

Grids, initially nonexistent, seemed to reach their zenith of importance in the 60’s and 70’s before being bent, broken, and discarded in the modern era’s quest for as open and clean a layout as possible.

Graphics shift from works of art dedicated to the glory of product itself to illustrations and photographs more intent on capturing the enriching lifestyle that the product promises.

Letterforms make a steady decline from unique, expressive, artistic elements on the page to a handful of fonts designed to communicate the basic tone of the ad.

The message of these ads also appears to move from the hard sell to disaffected indifference. There is a gradual shift from a true broad cast to a narrow cast.

Specific Examples

Glidden

This ad for barb wire is just tremendous. I love the illustrations of floods, and fires that can not harm this high-tech fencing option that keeps your livestock safe from passing trains.

Clearly they don’t want you to just buy the wire, they want you to buy them. Look at that beautiful factory. Who would want their barb wire made anywhere else?

While there appears to be no discernible “grid” the lavish golden banner dips down to emphasize the company’s logo-type. The swooping arcs of the train tracks lead your eye to the important info on the illustrated sheets of paper in the corners and the border, which serves double duty as an illustration of the product and a fanciful finish to the piece.

Sampson

I love this one, because for such an early ad (also 1800’s) there is a clear hierarchy to the pertinent information established with big bold fonts and the use of a two colors.

Passing this on a crowded city street you could quickly read that the Royal Albert Hall will be featuring C.A. Sampson, The Strongest Man on Earth. The picture of Mr. Sampson, smack dab in the middle, is the exclamation mark on the piece. His rippling muscles and that fierce mustache defying you to not attend.

What this ad lacks is the more structured grid and a clear top-to-bottom read common in the early 20th century. I read everything in red first (straight down), then black. It works, but it’s not ideal. While the type tilted on it it’s side (to either side of the photo) is interesting, and frames the picture nicely, I’m not inclined to read it. It feels like ”creativity” for lack of a better solution.

Kitchen Bouquet

This ad is from the 20’s, and I think it shows how the industry was coming closer to a standardized hierarchy of headline, sub-head, and copy.

However the real stopper is the brand name in big red letters directly under some deliciously illustrated food; which leads our eye up to the happy wife... past the disembodied chef’s head, and to the headline, sub-head, and copy.

It’s a bottom up approach, and your eye travels in a sort of semi-circle, but it works.

RCA

This mid-century ad from RCA shows a real grid, and a well conformed to hierarchy of the important information, but most importantly it is an example of the lifestyle around the product, selling the product. The photograph does more selling than the copy. It is no longer a means to fill space or re-enforce the copy. Look how happy and successful those TV viewers are. Don’t you want to be like them? Buy this fantastic color TV then, dress up, and start living in the stylish lane!


Lustre Creme

I think this ad is a good example of the grid beginning to fade into the background. While Liz appears to float in white space, this is still very much a three column ad. However, the art director has made the bold decision to break out a bit by breaking the headline, and dividing page with a large image. This is also a good example of letterforms/fonts being used to emphasis the femininity of this ad.

Thinking of this ad in terms of an evolution from the RCA ad, the product, while at the top of the page is de-emphasized further and the appeal to women to be like Liz is the main thrust.

Schlitz

With this Schlitz ad from the 70’s we see an almost complete abandonment from the grid. Seeing, “It’s” poking out to the left like that feels like a change I would have gotten from my C.D. The sun and figure organize the content and direct your eye to that refreshing mug of “beer”, which is almost anecdotally tucked into the corner of the ad.

Incidentally, I think it’s also interesting that while this man is clearly African-American he is silhouetted enough to give the impression that he could be anyone who enjoys being active and getting a little buzzed.

Poochie Girl

This Poochie Girl ad is so completely from the 80’s, I can almost feel my hair growing back into a flock of sea gulls. While a grid exists in this piece, it is nicely hidden and some graphic design conventions are boldly ignored (Photo under headline? Madness!).

This ad also signals the coming homogenization in advertising. Around this time, it seems that all ads, used Garamond or some such font irregardless of the intended audience. It was the rage, so everyone did it. Also, type setting was moving to computers, so (I think) creativity was beginning to take a back seat to technology.

Chanel

In the 1990s and 2000s ads frequently abandon a grid entirely, and the use of any superfluous information, in an effort to convey that their product is up-market and aspirational. If you didn’t know better, you could be forgiven for thinking “Chanel, Fine Jewelry” is a new movie.

The read hierarchy could not be clearer, but interestingly, the ring and the logo-type are of almost equal weight. It says; “A ring is a ring, but with our name attached to it, it’s special.” If you need a celebrity, or romantic image to sell you this ring, you are not the customer Chanel are looking for. I think this ad is justified in being elitist, but it’s the sort of thing that runs rampant today.

Adidas

Finally, an Adidas ad from a few years back. This ad breaks free from everything in the past. It’s a 180° shift from telling you who Adidas is; why they are great; and what makes this shoe special. It’s so simplified there is no need for a grid. It’s not trying to grab your attention with hyper-active headlines. It’s a sea of tranquility in your hectic life.

Now, you bring the message. You either know what this is about, or you don’t. Adidas doesn’t need your money. You need Adidas shoes. Blue ones apparently... or ones that are invisible until splashed with paint. I’m too old to tell anymore.

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Hierarchy & Shapes
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It's taken me a while to decide what I want to do for my project, but I've decided to design a label for a fictional brand of whiskey, "White Dog." Like any graphic designer worth his salt, I love to partake in a drink at the end of the work day to unwind. Whiskey, bourbon, or rye (neat) in particular.

White Dog is common slang for moonshine, or corn whiskey that has not been aged in oak. It's popularity is growing again thanks to a resurgence of craft distillers and it's legacy of illicitness. 

From the start I knew I wanted the challenge of stuffing a lot of info onto a label (like they did in the old days), but present it in a more structured, modern method. In addition to the name of the product I want to include some other things common to some whiskey bottle labeling:

  • Product Description
  • Back Story
  • Origin
  • Illustration
  • Proof & Vol. Info

As you can see from the hastily scratched Post-It above, my initial idea was to do an ad for "Old White Dog" including a bottle with the type arranged around it. I abandoned this idea in favor of just doing the label.  

After the Post-It scribblings, I got out the sketch pad and settled on a label with an approximate ratio of 5:8. I want the illustration and product name to be the first read; with the product description being a second read; followed by the story and vital info.

These small thumbnails illustrate the process of fitting everything in, and adjusting it's size and placement to achieve the desired flow. At the bottom are some doodles of a possible hand-drawn type treatment and "white dog" himself.

Through all this sketching the idea came to me to have a white dog illustrated as a spirit (emanating light) seen in a clearing in a wood. The story would tie into this image - my hack attempt at illustrating that white dog is a spirit made in the hills of Kentucky.   

Following this step, I did a final sketch at twice the size of the thumbnails. Things are a little more formalized now, but there is still room to tighten things up. I added a moon (this is moonshine after all) and had the brainwave to make the background a corn field (the only ingredient in the stuff). 

In the final version I will probably move "Corn Whiskey" to one line or add some decorative elements to either side if it remains stacked. The boxes with lines represent where the story will live, and the lines beneath that will be the origin statement and proof information. 

Through all of this sketching I was able to ferret out more little details then I typically have in other projects. For example, the corner decorations, where at first, going to be simple geometric shapes. After further doodling, I realized it might be cool if they were icons of corn seeds and leaves. I also worked out an idea for the border of the label. 

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