• Transform magazine
  • May 26, 2024

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Should we have a say in other people’s designs?

David K BW 2022

David Kimpton, founder and executive creative director at London-based design consultancy Kimpton Creative, talks about the discourse surrounding the rebranding of WHSmith and Lyle’s Golden Syrup. If we don’t know all the background information, he wonders whether we should really be commenting so strongly on rebrands.

There have been some very interesting exchanges of views on LinkedIn regarding redesigns – I dare say you may well have seen or taken part in them. The first one to ‘light the touchpaper’ was WHSmith looking at whether to change their external store signage to WHS. 

Now, I don’t mind saying that the WHS proposed solution is an odd decision – but, as was pointed out by Marketing Week’s Mark Ritson, “It’s a bleedin’ test for goodness sake, so let’s keep a lid on it.” But, he goes further and tells the design community to stop passing judgement on it. Top copywriter and qualified design commentator Nick Asbury comes back at Ritson with a rationale for NOT stopping commenting, after all, isn’t the purpose of a test to gauge people’s opinions? 

Anyway, that seemed to die down when everyone in the design community had finally had a say.

It’s often the manner of the comments that cause me to baulk at what I’m reading, not so much the sentiment. After all, whoever has been creatively involved will probably read what’s said and it hardly qualifies as constructive feedback! It’s often the written equivalent of road rage.

We weren’t party to what was briefed, why it was briefed, or what they intend doing with the test results. For all we know, it may be a clever ploy, a stunt, who knows? 

Then came the repackaging of the infamous Lyle’s Golden Syrup and LinkedIn exploded into life! But this time, it was personal! All of a sudden, the world demanded an answer to who had the audacity to touch the oldest packaging on our shelves. How on earth could it be that a product that we all grew up with had been tampered with. Sacrosanct. Words like ‘vandalism’ and ‘outrage’ were used.

To be fair, I also had an initial reaction to the new design, but that’s really a different issue. That was more about the design than change. Again, we don’t know the story behind the reasoning to modernise. I would hazard a guess that they were losing sales, perhaps due to other products having more shelf presence. 

I did find it mildly amusing that some commentators were incensed by the new treatment of the lion and bees illustration, representing a quote from the bible’s Sampson and Delilah story: “Out of the strong came forth sweetness”. I suspect very few people ever knew the significance of the illustration… or cared.

But funniest of all, Lyle’s haven’t even dropped the original tin, they are just bringing out a modernised range alongside it, in a cleverly shaped squeezy bottle, to capture new audiences.

Whatever you think of the new design, there is no doubting that it is more impactful, more legible (and that has to be a good thing in our accessible world), and I imagine more appealing to younger audiences who haven’t noticed the sticky old tin relegated to the back of their parents’ food cupboard.

It seems to me that it’s perfectly okay to comment on new design, but commentators should bear in mind that they aren’t in receipt of all the facts. So who knows, maybe ‘Out of the vitriol, came forth considerate insights.’