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CHOPSTICKS

PUBLIC TYPOGRAPHY IN AN ASIAN GROCERY By Brittany Lee

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INTRODUCTION It’s a terribly enlightening experience to go grocery shopping in a store where you don’t know very many of the products, nor do you read the primary languages on the packages.

GROCERY SHOPPING IN ASIA Despite being half Chinese, I know very little of the language. Most of my experience with my culture comes from the food my dad will cook sometimes and from the food we eat for Chinese New Year. With what I knew, I still had a hard time identifying foods and products at the 888 International Market. From my experience, I learned the value of different forms of imagery and how they can transcend languages. I also learned that certain styles of typography will still stand out even if you don’t know the language.

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The food at the 888 Market came in all sorts of packages. Things like produce had no packaging at all. On the other hand, foods like candy, sweet drinks, and ramen were contained

TYPES OF PACKAGING DESIGN in brightly multi-colored packages with large, bubbly, outlined type. Many also featured cartoon characters, some more famous than others such as Hello Kitty and Goku from DBZ. In contrast, bottles of things like Soy Sauce or Sriracha sauce contained very little imagery. Most sauces and cooking liquids were in clear bottles with a logo and equal amounts characters and english type. In between these extremes were the canned and preserved foods which still used bright colors, but only a few. These foods showed a photographic image of the food they contained typically. Depending on the food, the type could be entirely characters, entirely english, or a mix of both.

“The main feature to note about Asian packaging collectively is that bags, bottles and boxes are often visually harmonizing traditional symbolism with contemporary principles of global art.� - Amelia Robin 04


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UNAVOIDABLY EYE-CATCHING Candy, sweets, chips, soda, juice; what do all of these things have in common? In the 888 International Market, all of these products host a variety of unavoidably eye-catching design.

BRIGHT, BOLD, AND CHEERFUL Typically, these products have multiple languages on each package, one being a primary Asian language depending on the food, and the other language being english. The name of the food is in big, bold, bouncy letters across the front. The package itself is colorful and bright, often hosting 4 colors or more. Best of all, many of these packages use the tried and true Japanese and Koreans styles of animation, featuring fun animals and characters to advertise the product.

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“Cutesy imagery of dolls and cartoon animals are frequently found in South Korean branding strategies. They are often inspired by illustration and film.� - Amelia Robin

Popular culture is the most notable thing in Japanese design and so it comes as no surprise when a lot of their popular products like Yan Yan, Pocky, and Ramune feature popular anime or game characters. Hello Kitty is in an alarming amount of Japanese design, and on several packages throughout the 888 International Market. However, my personal favorite was including the infamous Goku, Vegeta, and Piccolo from DBZ on Ramune Bottles.

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Looking down any given aisle at the 888 International Market, you’ll find cardboard boxes. The store is cramped and bursting with it’s multiple products and brightly colored packages. Sometimes there are boxes ready to be unpacked and sometimes the box is just stacked and the top is ripped open so it becomes a makeshift shelf in and of itself. The shelves are fully lined, but there’s something fun about getting it out of the box too.

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Soft pinks, bold greens, punchy yellows, the packaging for junk food at the 888 Market features a rainbow of colors. Most packages in the chips, sodas, or candy aisles had at least four

VIBRANT COLORS colors, if not much more. Pinks, reds, and yellows seemed to be featured most with oranges and greens coming next. Some products used blue, but very few did and only as a background or detail color. Primarily, the junk food packages are warm colors, bright and attention grabbing. The colors are likely gendered slightly as well, with mostly pink packages advertising to girls. This is a convention of Japanese packaging, a branding of ‘cuteness’ to attract customers and viewers. On the other hand, if the package doesn’t advertise using ‘kawaii or cuteness’, then the design and colors are gender neutral.

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Japanese pop culture focuses on a ‘melange of psychedelic swirls, sixties pop-art colors, space-age retro curves and bubbles, goofy-cute cartoon characters, and some funny, funky, type treatments’ as noted in New Design: Tokyo. The design in contemporary Japan is bright, bold, and energetic. This began many decades ago in the 50’s with westernization, drawing from styles in North America. After the 90’s Japan began to individualize and create a mix of styles. One such artist of Japanese contemporary art is Takashi Murakami.

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The typography on food packages in the 888 International Market don’t just come in many types of languages, they come in several sizes, colors, and styles as well. For products such

BOLD TYPE as snacks, candy, and sweet drinks, the type is bold, whether it is in english, chinese, japanese, or korean. Often times, the name of the product is the largest part of the package and the focal point. The letters or characters are bubbly, filled with color, and are outlined with white lines and possibly, more thick colored lines. Some letters or characters even have multiple colors and highlights to appear three dimensional. It is not uncommon for these packages to have more than one language and multiple fonts either. Predominantly, junk foods host a bright, colorful variety of bubbly and energetic type.

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Here are four examples of some of the interesting packaging types found in the 888 International Market. The top middle employs the use of ‘kawaii’ and Hello Kitty on a bag to draw in younger and/or female customers. On the other hand, lastly, glass Ramune Bottles feature a myriad of different designs with this one focusing on a famous shonen anime character. The fun thing about Ramune Soda is that it features a unique marble and groove system to open and drink from the bottle.

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Cartoons and animation have been a central part of Asian cultures, particularly Japanese and Korean, for many decades. Food products are no exception to this trend. In fact, many treats have

CARTOONS AND CHARACTERS packages that use characters or anime tv shows as an advertisement technique. Cartoon animals are a frequent feature on foods for younger children while more specific target shoppers will use an anime with a corresponding audience. For example, characters from Naruto may be used to sell ramen noodles. Packages will also use cartoon people with no affiliation to a show as advertisement as well. Even objects or graphics of the foods themselves will be given human features to add more fun to the advertisement.

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WHAT YOU SEE IS WHAT YOU GET How do you know what you are buying if you cannot read what the label says? Easy, just show a picture of it on the package. Or better yet, have the product in a see-through container. Many

PICTURES AND GLASS products such as pickled vegetables, preserved fruits, and canned food comes with this sort of packaging. Often times, the image shares the limelight with the type and in these cases, the type is extremely varied. It could be as loud and bright as the candy packages, as simple as sauce bottles, somewhere in between, or something different altogether. While not as bright as the chip aisle, these packages still boast multiple colors and bright backgrounds to draw the eye.

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“Competition between manufacturers is fierce, and brash packaging is a way to grab attention.� - Natalie Avella

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An easy way to know what is in the container without being able to read what it is would be to see a picture of it on the front. This technique is used for many canned foods in the 888 Market

PHOTOGRAPHY to ensure that customers of all ethnicities know what they are buying. Often times, the products are things like mushrooms, baby corn, and chilis. With the cans, a small grouping of the food is cut out and applied to the label of the container, accompanied by type, on some sort of brightly colored, and possibly patterned, background.

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These six photos show a good representation on what majority of the products in the canned food aisle are - vegetables, fruits, and mushrooms. Many of these items are meant for cooking purposes and a lot of them are things that the average American may not be familiar with in their local Hyvee. For example, the baby corn and the heart of palm are definitely things I don’t buy every other Tuesday.

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Much of Thai graphic design comes from Japan. Japan’s culture of games, animations, and the like became a popular part of Thai culture in the late 20th century. Anime and dramas were among the most critical influences. In this time, Thai design used Japanese aesthetics with Thai color schemes, mascots, and typography. It wasn’t just Japan that Thai design drew from, however. Modern Thai design is geared mostly towards commercial purposes and is now swept up like the majority of Asia in being influenced by Korean design elements. While Thai design has a lot of it’s own elements, the amount of trade and connection to other countries has proved to be a strong factor in the aesthetics, especially for food.

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Interestingly enough, many jarred foods featured an interesting habit of including stripes in the packaging. For the jars above and many others, red stripes were added to the lid. Other products like chili sauce had stripes built into the label on the jar. In contrast, the dried plums (top image) uses only a white label with black and red type on a clear bottle to display the plums.

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There are shelves upon shelves of clear jars filled with all sorts of foods in 888 Market. These glass jars come in many different sizes and typically have a label wrapped around the

GLASS JARS center. These labels are entirely typographic and sometimes in multiple languages. These wrappers also usually have graphic elements. Another interesting characteristic of jarred products is that many of them include stripes in the design, whether it’s on the label or on the lid.

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Bubbly type, bold type, slim type, simple type, hand-written type, brush stroke type, all of these appear in the canned and preserved food aisles. There seems to be no rhyme or

VARIED TYPE reason for which these various type styles are applied to the packages other than the brand in which it belongs. The dragonfly brand mushrooms have a thick, outlined type. The citron tea jars have a handwritten stroke. The wasabi boxes uses a combination of brush strokes in english and in Chinese characters. Despite the differences in type, they all do have one thing in common - they work together in equal parts with the imagery on the package.

“Thai design in the 21st century represents the mixture of various cultures. Eastern and Western cultural products are imported to Thailand and these affect Thai local communities and culture.� - Khemmiga Teerapong 28


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THE BARE ESSENTIALS With all of the overwhelming bright colors in the store, it’s almost a relief to walk down the cooking liquids and sauces aisle. These shelves full of bottles are all considerably simpler than the rest

SIMPLE AND CLEAN of the products in the store. Soy sauce, sriracha sauce, rice vinegar, cooking oil, soup base, and etc. These products all come in clear bottles with labels that are almost entirely typographic and feature only 1 or 2 colors, 3 at the very most. On more prominent and popular products such as soy sauce or dumpling sauce, logos are featured to call more attention to a shopper.

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“Japanese designers seek to avoid the bold and impudent quality that results from repetition or sameness in decorative motifs.” - Boye Lafayette De Mente

Traditional Japanese trends from Taoism led to a belief that rooms should never be ‘stuffed’ with beauty and that monotony and repetition should be avoided. The number of colors should be kept to a minimum and things should be kept simple so as to hold attention. The goal is to create a focal point, not an ‘abundance of beauty in a single setting’.

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While falling in line with the jarred foods and often using clear bottles to showcase the product, the packaging of sauces and cooking liquids are less demanding of the eye than

FEW COLORS anything else in the 888 Market. The majority of these products are in clear bottles that have type printed onto them or are wrapped in a simple label. Such labels are two colors at most and are not the bold and bright colors that customers may see in the candy and drink aisles. The colors used are typically warm oranges and yellows, complementing the color of the sauces and etc. in the bottles. However, the aisles still have a eye-catching pop about them with the common use of a bright red color on packages. Red and gold are lucky colors in Asian languages.

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Traditional Korean design was influenced strongly by spirituality, motifs, and nature. Some of the most popular traditional motifs are phoenixes, cranes, butterflies with a pair of fish, bamboo, plum blossoms, and peonies. Old furniture design favored minimalism and featured elements like carp, bats, and words about loyalty and sincerity. Every motif and symbol was meant to have a deeper meaning and to tell a story. Such things are still used today, but more modern elements of Korean design include clean designs with a lot of text and a focus on typography. There is also a focus on minimalism with bold colors and simple geometric forms which is in line with trends around the world.

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Dumpling sauce, cooking oil, soup bases, and similar bottles have little to no imagery. The only imagery used are traditional symbols, logos, or seals which typically appear on the label of the

LOGOS AND GRAPHICS bottle, above the text. The infamous sriracha sauce features no label and uses an icon of a rooster, a popular symbol of Chinese culture, in white lines on the bottle. Common cooking liquids like oil and soy sauce always feature a prominent logo or seal on the bottle, likely to differentiate between the several brands of each product on the shelves, although Kikkoman seems to be the most popular. Graphics and icons often include text or are made entirely of characters.

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Soy Sauce and Cooking Oil are by far the two most common items in the aisle, possibly the store. There are countless different brands for each product and each brand makes itself known with a seal and/or logo. Kikkoman soy sauce is likely the most well known for American shoppers and can be found in the back of cupboards across the suburbs. That, and, of course, sriracha sauce.

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As with most products in the store, the typography on the packages varies depending on the brand they come from. However, while chips and canned goods still featured rather

SIMPLE TYPE bold and painterly type, sauces and oils feature type that focuses on easy readability and simplicity. The english type is typically monoweight whether it is serif or sans serif. The characters are also typically mono-weight and do not feature stylized flourishes. Most notably, the typography is either the largest feature on the package or it covers the package entirely.

“Korean aesthetics are the aesthetics of the curvy line, which is different from Chinese aesthetics where form is emphasized, or the aesthetics of Japan, where color is key.� - Yanagi Muneyoshi

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CONCLUSION Three types of packaging have been broken down and described in terms of design. Do I know more about the actual foods? A little. I definitely know the snack, drinks, and sauce aisles inside and out by now. However, I learned a lot about food packaging techniques for Asian cultures. Most packages tend to be bold and attention grabbing, whether it’s through bold colors and strong type or fun characters and bubble type. What I learned the most was about different design aesthetics for countries in Asia like China, Japan, Thailand, and South Korea. Most often, these countries also draw on each others’, and western nations like the US, pop culture for modern design. Now, the food of the 888 Market isn’t necessarily the best place to see the peak design for each country, but it’s still an exciting and telling experience.

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CREDITS Roblin, Amelia. “42 Examples of Asian Packaging.” TrendHunter.com, TREND HUNTER Inc., 30 Apr. 2015, www.trendhunter.com/slideshow/ asian-packaging. Mente, Boye De. Elements of Japanese Design. Tuttle, 2006. Gomez, Edward M., and Setsuko Noguchi. New Design: Tokyo. Rockport, 1999. Avella, Natalie. Graphic Japan: from Woodblock and Zen to Manga and Kawaii. RotoVision, 2004. Teerapong, Khemmiga, et al. “Thai Graphic Design Culture: A Review of Thai Graphic Design History and The Role of Graphic Designers in Thai Society.” The Asian Conference on Cultural Studies, 2012.

Photos, Text, and Design By Brittany Lee Fall 2017 University of Kansas Instructor: Patrick Dooley Typefaces: DIN Condensed and Neutra Text


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Chopsticks: Public Typography in an Asian Grocery  

If you've ever been to the 888 International Market, you've probably seen the sheer amount of different products that crowd the aisles and i...

Chopsticks: Public Typography in an Asian Grocery  

If you've ever been to the 888 International Market, you've probably seen the sheer amount of different products that crowd the aisles and i...

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