Snapstag Cider Flyers

I opened my fridge to grab the above bottles for the photo and realized something: I really like apples.

Like, if you had asked me the answer would have been “Sure, why not?” or “Who doesn’t?” – an answer of indifference at the ubiquity of the fruit’s presence. But I realized that I have, as I write right now, two kinds of apples and three kinds of apple juices. On the counter top opposite a candle with a subtle apple scent. In my cupboard both Apple Jacks and Apple Cinnamon Cheerios (which are not, as I previously thought, the same thing) next to the box of apple cinnamon oatmeal flavoring and variety of dried cider mixes. Apple teas, though, I’ve declared terrible.

So it makes sense, I guess, to make an apple flavored ale.

We went the other day to the farmer’s market in search of fresh apple juice (preservatives in the commercial kind will kill the yeast) and came back with 2x 1 liter glass bottled soft cider from Harker’s Organics. We’re opting for small, small batches with lots of experiments and meticulous note taking so we can decide and make more in the direction we like the best. Next stop: The Vineyard, a local brew shop. First impression: super helpful and knowledgeable guys there. I had a shopping list based on this guide and they agreed, so we went with the Nottingham Ale yeast because in theory it should be hard to mess up. One packet is $4 and makes like, ~45 liters of brew, so we’ll have more than enough to keep playing; they’ll probably expire before we use them all. Silly yeast for having a shelf life. There’s some other pectins and things to control clarity and sweetness but I won’t get into the nitty gritty.

Unfortunately that’s all I can tell you at the moment, there’ll most likely be follow up posts in a few weeks / months.

In the meantime, we can play with the branding. There probably won’t be any real production scale any time soon, but can you blame design students for getting excited? We arrived at the name Snapstag entirely serendipitously and rolled with it. The above photo was the third try or something, so it’s hardly done. It’s not really original, but since we’re not competing on store shelves it’s less a concern to be memorable and edgy. We just wanted to do whatever we liked, and that’s what it is. It’ll most likely evolve over time and start to take on it’s own personality. I imagine there will be other names / brands for each flavor we come across and branch into it’s own right with ties to each other. We liked the industrial revolution Wharftown handmade branding that’s popular with the hipsters these days. I tried doing a truly hand lettered version and it’s terrible. I have so much respect for people like Gerren Lamson and Simon Walker.

In the end, it’s entirely for fun and we’ll have something to talk about and do with each other after we graduate.

Austin Eastciders Gold Top

Yeah yeah, “Cider is a girl‘s drink” you say, snickering at me across the bar table. But truly, all of my associations with the word are of houndstooth tweed Jay Gatsby hats and fox hunting with a break-action over your vested shoulder in the rainy forests of Britain. The contrast there is the warmth of the heavy stone pub and ornate oak tables, fireplace roaring in the corner quelling off the pea fog.

So whatever.

Anyway, I’m sad to read that I won’t be sipping this any time soon since the curse of most small breweries is that they don’t ship very far outside their zone – so unless I fly to Austin, it seems slim. The packaging itself is brilliant. Screen printed bottles are, of course, held in the very highest esteem. That’s how they used to be done, and for good reason.

Artistic credit goes to Simon Walker, who’s done an absolutely perfect job recontextualizing an entire genre of drink. But, really, everything is he does is just dripping with talent, so I guess I shouldn’t act too surprised.

You can read a full interview with Ed Gibson, the main man, over on The Dieline which is also where the above photos are from. There’s also the Austin Eastciders main page for more product information.

Well done, gentlemen.

Thoughts on Cereal Boxes

The best part about being a designer isn’t the lavish lifestyle. Nay, the piles of money and fast cars get boring after a while. I once bought Norway just because I could and peacefully ruled it for a number of years, but they too became bored after I designed solutions for all of their problems. Alas.

No. But seriously, one of the things I love most is asking ‘why’ because – and especially with made things – there’s usually a reason if you keep digging further.

I was eating cereal (gold leafed Apple Cheerios) and curious as to where the box shapes came from. They’re incredibly thin, but tall and wide instead. I reasoned that they’d get a better volume to surface area ratio if the boxes were made more even across the edges. With the minimization of material to internal space, they’d save cardboard and that means weight and cost and in the end streamline a variety of costs throughout the journey between factory and grocer’s shelf.

So why do they do it?

And I thought about it for a time and although it’s obvious now looking back, I didn’t realize it until I was in the store buying more – the flatter the front face of the box is, the more advertising it can display. Each box is it’s own mini billboard, so it stands to reason that you’d want to maximize that.

Logistically, the shipping and packaging advantages are probably negligible when compared to the effect of sheer size in a crowded, finite shelf area.

Part two of this is an open question I’m still debating:

Eye level is really important when putting things on shelves. That’s the primo spot for merchandise and brands pay more for it when negotiating for products, we know this, but I wonder if cereal’s “eye level” isn’t actually lower because the target market for sugary cereals is younger. They want the kids to take the boxes off the shelves to submit into mommy’s cart. The data is inconclusive and depending on which store you go to (I’ve looked a couple since I had the thought) you might find that each brand has a chunk that takes up the full height (so that that whole strip is the same type all the way up and down) but is relatively skinny down the shelflength.

Anyway. I don’t claim to have any answers, but those are some observations and an interesting topic to question.

No Name Brand

The ever awesome XKCD recently posted this comic – and he’s right. It occured to me that Americans don’t have No Name Brand, which is literally just name brand stuff repackaged into glorious yellow boxes with crisp black Helvetica.

We call it Helveticola.

There are entire stores that sell this as their primary brand and it’s doubly awesome because it’s actually cheaper than the ugly graphics branded counterparts. Who says good design has to be expensive?

Granted, occasionally the foods don’t taste the same; things like mayo and ketchup. But really, it’s pretty impossible to mess up Cheerios and I suspect quite often the foods come from the exact same factory.

The branding itself is effective. It’s easily recognized and conveys the item for what it is clearly and easily. I’m not sure about American packaging, but our laws require both French and English, so I suppose that’s really the only extraneous part when living in provinces that are majority English speaking. That’s still different than being superflous, though, French is still effective and practical for the other half of the country which maintains it is good design.

Whereas other brands might have pictures of the contained food on the outside of the package, No Name usually just makes little windows into the contents. It’s simple and elegant. Occasionally there are foods that dont look like what’s contained (like cake mix is just powder, but the picture on the box is a finished cake slice) so they will use pictures on some items. Also, of course, packaging that cannot have windows (like aluminum cans) will have a wrapper that may have a picture of the contained. For the most part, though, it’s glass jars and plastic bags which lend themselves well to such simplicity.

So, Randall Munroe, there’s your solution. It’s the answer to a great deal of questions and I repeat it again for clarity: move to Canada.

Present Wrapping with Style

I’ve always liked butcher shops. No, I’m not some twisted murderous person – though I do think they smell delicious, which apparently is concerning to most everyone else.

No, but I mean, there’s something entirely lovely about the collection of utilitarian design coming together to accomplish a task as ideally as possible. I’m not trying to say the meat industry as a whole is good or bad, and please, before I get hate mail, that isn’t at all what I’m getting at here, but I do like the example it provides.

In case you’ve never bought anything directly from a butcher, you typically get your meats wrapped in nondescript paper and taped or tied, occasionally with a logo stamped on the top. I like it’s multifunctional use: you can wrap any amount / shape of meat and no matter what, you can (a) protect the product and (b) have packaging with the logo facing up. This might not seem like a huge accomplishment, but consider the alternative: wrapping paper that has the logo printed in pattern all over. This might work for some shops’ identity but usually it comes out busy and hard to look at. So I appreciate the simplicity and elegance of the solution. Also, and mostly: it’s far cheaper. That just makes sense. It’s easy to write on and make expiry notes etc.

Remember, not everything elegant was intentional or designed that way. As much as we designers like to think that elegance is impossible without us, lots of things do just fall into place. The simplicity is inherent, it was not something more complex that was removed, true, but sometimes that is not only good enough, it is in fact the best. Minimalism is exactly what you need, nothing more and – this is the part people gloss over – nothing less.

I think the main point when I started writing is my vendetta against hideous gift wrap, so, there’s also that.

In other news, I’m also planning some really neat projects for the holiday and I think you’ll like them so stay tuned!

Photos via

Novum 11/11 Cover

Novum 11/11 – Making Of Cover from Paperlux on Vimeo.

Awesome work. As you know, I’m a huge fan of Bucky and triangle curves.


Scrapbook 25

I haven’t done a scrapbook in a while since the Acrylo Inspiration Tumblr started, but I miss the ability to group things into common colours, say. I see it as a sort of visual playlist, things from every source coming together into a sort of complimentary harmony.

So, I’ll continue to do both, I think.


Windows 8, UI, and Design Philosophy

Although no one seems to like Tech Crunch, we still all read it and occasionally they’re even right about something.

That something is this:

The above image is directly from Microsoft’s findings, as posted on their development blog.

TC writes:

Microsoft concluded that the command bar is underused because it’s not robust enough, and upon further investigation found that few of the common actions were even to be found there. They are looking for what they need to add. The solution, obviously, is to pump up the command bar until it becomes equally usable.

Which as we know is the bane of good design.

Apple would have concluded that the command bar is underused because it’s not effective. They are looking for what they need to subtract. Whether the items necessary are in it or not, the user preference towards context menus and keyboard shortcuts seems clear. The solution is to eliminate the command bar altogether and find a way to make the more popular access methods even more accessible.

Which is often restricting.

But it does reflect the fundamental theories of design – both UI and otherwise.

I think a lot of industrial designers add and add and add until they’ve achieved this feature rich thing, but quite often that thing is hard to intuitively use and is usually a complete disaster in the end.

What we should be doing, as designers, is removing the extraneous, the things that the data shows aren’t useful, the things that we know aren’t useful. The outcome is not a design as much as it’s the ideal form for that function. This is the core philosophy behind most of Rams’ work, and can be found in most other great designers (Corbu, Eames, Rohe etc) including, of course, Ive’s own Apple products.

Because really, as a designer, do you ever want a product that looks like the menu system of that first Microsoft UI screenshot? Would you ever put your name on it and say “Yeah, this is the best I could come up with.” No. Of course not. Because it’s rubbish.

Be good.

Design and It’s Effect

I’m an information junkie. Hardcore, I spend most of my free time reading and absorbing things – new, old, history, contemporary, from science to art to, well, everything. I consume. The main thing that I’ve noticed in my consumption of design blogs / portfolios / Twitter bios is a common statement that reads something to the effect of: “Changing the world through design.”



I myself have used this statement to describe who I am and what I stand for, but I’m not sure it’s a valid statement anymore. Really, what does it even mean? Changing the world. Define change, first of all.

Frank Chimero made a poster that quotes “Design won’t change the world” in bold all-caps, then, smaller and below: “go volunteer at a soup kitchen, you pretentious f*ck.”

It should be noted that he himself is what I would call a design celebrity, at least in internet circles. He is kind of this epitome of what a graphic designer should be – someone who gives back to the community and writes and interacts and provides a source of direction for the entire genre of our work. He is inspirational, to say the least.

Contrary to politeness, I think I agree with his sentiments above; I would suggest that the evidence for ‘designers who change the world’ is not nearly proportional to the number of designers who advertise that they’d like to. This comes back to the first question, what are we calling ‘change’ anyway?


The common rebuttle goes something like this: Apple is a company bigger than Microsoft and Intel combined and yet their entire product line can be fit onto one table. Coincidence? Clearly, it must be the well designed aspect that changes them in the market place. They’ve changed the marketplace.

True. The statement makes sense – I think a lot of Apple’s success is the pure simplicity of it’s design, not only in the industrial / product / packaging aspect but also from the top down company organization design. I would also agree that they have changed the marketplace, if not the world. I remember when the iPods started rolling out and suddenly every single mp3 player became instantly obsolete and clunky. It was well designed. Simple.

But although that’s a fantastic example, how often does that happen and more importantly, perhaps, is it essential to changing the world?


Amazon’s site is clunky. It was when it launched and it remains so today, and yet, they’re still a very successful company. They filled a need and the people supported it – this from page one of classic business strategy (one that oddly gets frequently overlooked). It wasn’t design that made the business, it wasn’t some overwhelming simplicity or cleanliness to the experience. It was easier than the mess that was any competitor’s bookstore sites, probably; centralization made it more comprehensive to use, certainly. But is that good design in itself? Maybe we define ‘design’ too narrowly by only looking at the UX / UI?

Did it change the world? I’d say so. I think at very least it helped that wave of sites that changed the internet and the people’s impression of what it could do. Much like eBay in it’s day, these are sites that changed the internet from this static informational database into a lively, breathing exchange of physical things. Of course mine is a gross over-simplification, but the change remains. You can be successful without good design, it seems. But, if there had been another site that offered the exact same thing with a better experience, would it win? I would suggest yes.

There are lists of services that offer mediocre experience but continue to ‘win’ at business. Netflix has Blockbuster -this giant of traditional movie sales- by the throat. Netflix’s UI? Meh. But! It’s still easier than getting up and going to rent some physical disk.

People don’t want good design, people want easy.

Often, these go hand in hand (or cause and effect) but you can build one without the other.

Can design change the world? Yes.

Do designers change the world? Not any more than anyone else, I’m afraid.

Sushi Post-its


I don’t use that word very often, but that’s the only adjective I can use here.

Also, I am really happy I’m not the only one who has obsessive habits when it comes to desk organization using grids (although my desk rarely has so much stuff on it in the first place).

But a paper Rolodex? Really?

Via Colossal via Matomeno

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