While you’re waiting for the ketchup to ooze out of the bottle, you might notice the label pasted on the front. It’s a label you’ve seen all your life, and you’ve never given it’s design a moment’s thought. Someone who’s given it a lot of thought is Stan Church, principal and executive creative director at Wallace Church, Inc., a strategic brand identity firm which redesigned the Heinz line. His mission has been to be a member of the big boy’s club and he’s got the awards to prove he is.

“When I was a young boy, I was constantly drawing and I was able to put my Lionel trains together at a very young age, and I would build things out of scrap wood and make toys. So I was very constructive. When my mother realized what my skills were, she started suggesting that I go to school to be an engineer. She figured, if he can put his Lionel trains together when he’s three years old, he’s got to be an engineer.

“My father had an appointment for me to go to West Point after high school, and Governor Rockefeller was my sponsor. When I told him I wanted to go to design school, he nearly cried. I was the only son, and I think things were spinning in his mind and he was giving up on me.

“My dad was … he never actually made anything comfortable for me, although he had the means to do so, so I always had to work. I don’t know whether he was wise or whether he was just cheap. He was also politician.

“After graduating from design school, I needed a job, and the first company that called me back was an ad agency, BBD&O. So I became an assistant art director, and I worked for an art director that would do little rough drawings, and then hand them to me, and I had to make them look wonderful. I was also very, very ambitious and motivated, so I would work day and night and weekends, helping them to pitch accounts. So I was always sort of in the scene with the big shots; there were some famous art directors there, and I was mingling with them.

“What happened was that they started moving me around, to be an assistant to other art directors that carried more clout. Usually those were guys that were more creative, so I ended up working with some really brilliant people. Then I became an art director after a couple of years, and all of a sudden I had a nicer office. And I got there quickly, so that was very exciting.

“You know what was really exciting for me? To go into the offices of art directors that had all these awards on their walls. And I thought, ‘These people must really know what they’re doing.’ And they were famous, you know: people knew who they were.

“When I started my own company, I was nervous, because I didn’t have any money; I pretty much opened it up with credit cards, taking a lot of risk. And the motivation behind all this was that I wanted to win awards, so that I could have them on my walls, like those art directors back at BBD&O. It was all about recognition, and not money. When I was younger it was about winning all these awards to feel like I was a star or something.

“Our standards here are very high, and we’re published all the time in design books, and we’ve won hundreds and hundreds of awards over the years. It’s funny, I read articles about someone who’s won a few awards, and I think, ‘That’s funny...we’re probably up to a thousand by now!’ In our business, we’re recognized as being the most creative in this particular field, which is called brand design.

“Brand design is all about the package. A package is a product for a company, so when you’re doing something to the package, the president of the division or the company wants to know what you’re doing, so you might go to a meeting and deal with that level of corporate people. And I kinda liked that. What I had been doing earlier was just annual reports and ads, and I’d sit with someone that was only managing design, and I’d have to hand it to them. I didn’t feel like I was getting enough respect.

“For many, many years, I was the designer here and I had all these people as my assistants. So I would rough out what I wanted to do, and then I would tell someone to sort of clean it up and put it together, like the assistant art director that I was, back when I started.

“When a client isn’t comfortable with what we’re doing, I have to convince them that what we’re doing is right. We try to push them into being a little more open-minded. The way that I do that is, when we’re in a meeting, I look to see who’s the most senior person, and then try to address that person as being the one that’s more adventurous and visionary. So if he says something, I’ll repeat what he says and sort of build on that. Anything that he says that kind of is more visionary, I’ll say, ‘You just said that we have to think about tomorrow!’ And then what happens is, everyone else won’t challenge that.

“With something like ketchup, it’s such an established brand, it’s almost like Andy Warhol’s Campbell Soup can. It really shouldn’t be changed much. A lot of these old labels were done by the guy that was producing the boxes and bottles, and he had a couple of artists in the back room that did the design. Some of these old packages are pretty awkward and funny. For the Heinz ketchup label, it pretty much remained the same. What we did is, we went in and added some detail and fixed the type and just tweaked it a little.”

©Zina Saunders 2006-2014

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