Packaging Design 101: Follow through with decent glue.

I’m on a technical tear.


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 …

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.

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.

About the author

"Be social and the networking will follow." Lynette Chiang is an award-winning copywriter, brand evangelist, social media community manager, filmmaker, solo world bicycle adventurer and inventor of useful things. Her work has been featured in Forbes, Harvard University curriculums, the New York Times Book Review, FastCompany and the relationship marketing business press