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Packaging Design 101: Follow through with decent glue.

I'm on a technical tear.

My last mission was getting people to close conversations by saying "I got it".

Now I'm sniffing - or rather, picking, at glue.

I set out to buy a new toaster. I was hoping to make toast and get on with my life.

I bought the toaster because it boasted a "retractable cable". So stunningly convenient and obvious, yet no other toaster company seems to have thought of it.

The cord is always the ugly, dangly part that designers just can't be bothered dealing with. (At least Michele De Lucchi made it a feature in his spectacular, well, OK, $US2500+ Oceanic lamp). I remember being surprised and disappointed that even the mighty Philippe Starck produced a yuppie-looking shaver for Tar-zhay (in this series) that not only sported a long, "where do you wrap this?" cable snaking out from its svelte, pseudo hammered-pewter base, the whole thing became landfill when the rechargeable battery died.

So Oster is perfectly within its rights to bleat about the design savvy of its retractable cable by clamping a giant sticker on the side that says "Retractable Cable!"

With a big, die-cut arrow pointing to the spot.

But look what happened when I went to peel it off ...

Stupid Oster toaster label

Are they insane?

Most of the sticker was left behind, stuck like s*** to a blanket (as we say Downunder).

Picking at it risked scratching, nay, denting, the wafer-thin, brushed aluminum surface.

I soaked three sponges and laid them over the sticker, laying the toaster on its side for a day and a night. Note: significant toaster downtime for a lover of toasted Amy's tangy sourdough drizzled with a pierced fish oil capsule.

OK, now that I've made you thoroughly sick, get ready to throw up ...

The wet sponge trick loosened the middle of the sticker, but holy hoagie, left a perimeter of glue stuck defiantly to the metal.

Stupid Oster toaster label

Before you start emailing me with the subject header "Buy some Goo Gone" let me stop you at the door and say, "I got it!". 

But why should I waste half a bottle on it?

"This is an example of design not being followed through to the nth degree," said Danny Chiang, an architect who popped by for some tea and toast (except the toaster was lying on its side).

"No matter how well you design a product, if you hand it off to someone else who doesn't have the same vision, the result is compromised. That toaster should have had a pressure sensitive decal instead."

So after the brushed aluminum department handed it to the retractable cord department who handed it the packaging department, no one gave a flying foccacia about it except a certain irate Bed Bath & Beyond customer who has no time or patience to soak and pick at the carcass of a dead label.

Danny offered another anecdote from his world of concrete and clay.

"A stone quarry rep gave us a lecture on granite. If you cut this certain type of expensive granite one way, you get these attractive, shiny, star-like highlights showing up in the surface. If you cut it the other way, you lose the effect completely and it looks just like a piece of rock."

Apparently, a building firm sent a large chunk of said granite to a cutter who had no idea about slicing it this way rather than thataway, "and the consumer ended up paying a premium for the yuppie granite but without the benefit."

Apple is probably the best example of taking QA - "quality aesthetics" - to the nth degree. Its packaging, down to the mundane CD's and warranty booklet, is pristine, sharp and in order. No recalcitrant labels. It makes you feel that if you switch the damn thing on, it's actually going to fire up and work.

My new toaster seems to toast no better than the one from Goodwill I jettisoned because it was ugly and beige. Or does it? I'm so preoccupied with the gunky label, I'm not feeling like giving it the benefit of the doubt. I'm thinking of marching it right back to Bed, Bath & Beyond where, one store attendant was heard to say, "white people return anything."

The moral?  Follow your design through to the nth degree - from the nuts and bolts to the smoke and mirrors. It's not just a label, it's the flourish on your magnificent message to the world. And yes, the messenger will get shot - followed shortly by the name on the sticker.

The Galfromdownunder has been slowly dissolving this stupor-glued label in stages over several days, and microwaving her toast. Perhaps Oster should take a leaf from Muji's minimalist metrosexual toothbrush.

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  • Glenn Martin

    I bought a multi-cooker last fall, and there is still a sticky spot where one of the labels used to be, even after being washed in hot soapy water after every use. However, the pedestrian steamer sits in the cupboard out of sight until pressed into occasional use, and I'm neither a designer nor aficionado, so my grief is long forgotten. The machine has succeeded in training me to expect less and accept whatever I get, at least for modest household items. Well this is sounding rather woeful! Don't worry, I'll be okay. I'm standing by to see if the toaster situation requires you to take any action. Will you contact Oster even if you succeed in removing the label and glue in order to help them improve their product? Glenn

  • Walter Jacques

    Lynette, I know it shouldn't be your burden to deal with, but you might try steaming the label off. Put on a kettle and hold the label over the spewing steam once the water begins to boil. This will probably be the best and quickest solution short of a Brillo Pad.

  • Merl Ledford

    Lynette identifies an issue that market leaders "get" and wanna-bees "don't get": COMPLETE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE.

    A business run by bean-counters focuses on the "corporate me" side of a transaction: "How much will it cost "my company" to perform a specific function.

    A business run by the marketing department also focuses on the "corporate me" side of the deal. Marketing is obsessed with pointing out features that differentiate "my company's product" from others without regard to how obnoxious the message might be to the buyer. (In some cases, Marketing actually likes "obnoxious" because it at least gets people's attention!)

    Businesses that "get it" looks at transactions from the "buyer side." The driving question -- the focus of a successful business that "gets it" -- is "What is the Customer's Experience?" This outward, customer-focused approach to business keeps the buyer-side of every sale in focus. That's the target. Not marketing association awards or trade journal recognition. Bottom line: If the CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE with a product or service is good, the company prospers.

    Apple is a good example of a business where TOTAL CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE is the final arbiter of product design and execution but there are lots of others out there. Does your business "get it"? Or are your people so focused on the "me" side of each sale that they lose sight of the people who ultimately keep "me" in business?

    Look at Lynette's experience with Oster is a classic example of how failure to focus outward, on CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE gives horrible results. First, you've got a gal-customer. Assume she's got nail-art she likes and has just paid for. Then picture her trying to carefully lift the corner of that "obnoxious-school-of-marketing" sticker with her freshly done nails. NOT PRETTY! Then take it a step farther: our gal-customer reaches for her trusty nail enamel remover, the first thing that comes to mind when her nail-art chips, to rid her purchase of Oster's Marketing Dept's uber-sticker. Can you spell "Explosive Fire Risk Danger" and "Plaintiff-Lawyer Heaven"? But assume the thing doesn't blow up (our customer is out of nail polish remover). She gets as much of the uber-sticker off as she can, uses the toaster once and sets off the smoke alarm in her building when the damn thing smolders and creates a small, glue-fume-laced fire.
    Take home point: Focus your business outward. Sure you can do a lot to make things run smoothly inside your shop. But the final test of everything you do has to be focused on the buyer-side of every exchange: on the COMPLETE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE.

  • Andrejs Ozolins

    You're right; it's maddening. I wonder, though, if it's a matter of not following through on the design. I wonder if the goal of the design is simply to get the thing to the checkout; what happens afterward may be of no interest to the manufacturers. You know, "the medium is the message," the labeled toaster is the Ding an sich, the mature fruit of the process. After you leave the store, the fruit is past its prime and beginning toward rottenness. So, "what do you expect?" Pick at the label if you want, try to spruce it up, but its life was over when you signed the Visa receipt. It all fits the idea that we're switching from manufacturing to service. A manufacturer would aim to produce an actual toaster; but as a service, it's enough to get you happily choosing a box and carrying it to checkout. If you really wanted toast, you'd go to a restaurant where toast is their service.

  • Justin Winslow

    Lynette, I am sobbing for you and your toaster dilemma. This product was RUINED by a sticker! I feel like this has happened to me. At least you got a good FC piece out of it since the toaster is forever aesthetically compromised. I hope the remains of the label will flake off one day revealing this sleek machine in all its glory. Until then, keep writing this funny stuff!