Friday, August 28, 2015

A Graphic Designer Reviews Hasbro's The Force Awakens Action Figure Packaging

Ron writes:

I interviewed toy collector, author, and graphic designer Mattias Rendahl a few months ago on the occasion of the release of his great book, "A New Proof." Hasbro's The Force Awakens figures having started to hit stores (the full catalog can also be viewed here), I asked Mattias to take a look at them and provide me with his opinions on the packaging. Take it away, Mattias.

Mattias writes:

I don’t consider myself a fanboy. I’m a toy collector: the toys and their packaging are what interest me. I’m more interested in who designed the toys than I am in Luke’s late cousin's father and whether Snaggletooth's real name is Zutton. To me, Snaggletooth is Snaggletooth, and 4-LOM is 4-LOM -- and definitely not Zuckuss.

That said, I admit I’ve been thrilled following the development of The Force Awakens, and I can’t wait to get in line to watch the movie when it opens. I love all the nods to the old movies that J.J. has made. I love the look and feel of the movie and the characters. And, being an Art Director by profession and author of the Star Wars packaging design book "A New Proof," I’ve been hoping that the toy packaging would be just as good as everything else we've seen from the production. Even though I haven’t been buying and collecting modern product for more than 10 years, when I walk down a toy aisle and see Luke, Han, Leia and Chewie figures on the pegs, I’m sure I won't be able to resist buying them. Provided, that is, the packaging is just as cool and revolutionary the vintage packaging from back in the day.

So it was with a combination of relief and disappointment that I examined the new packaging design from Hasbro.

The action figures themselves look cool. I like that they don’t have 1,000 points of articulation. But the packaging leaves a lot to be desired. It feels like a desktop product created in focus groups. The group participants have provided input regarding what they like about toy packaging. And, of course, they've advocated for what they're used to seeing: illustrations of characters in extreme action poses. I do like the clean cut of the cards. And the header, with its simple, big Star Wars logo and attractive typographical rendering of the words "The Force Awakens," is nice. But the illustration of Kylo Ren in the upper right corner is a tired concept. It originated 20 years ago with the POTF2 line and its looming Darth Vader. And it popped up again in The Phantom Menace line, where Vader was replaced with Darth Maul. We've seen this already.

Mattias' attempt at correcting the problems he sees on the Hasbro packaging.

Anyway, I can live with the top of the cards. It's the bottom two-thirds that leave a lot to be desired. If you have a movie with fantastic, nice-looking photography, why not use that imagery on the action figure cards? That's something a movie-based toy line should leverage. The look and recognition established by the movie's advertising should be leveraged, too. The illustrations on the new card backs don't do that. Even worse, the two illustrations, each in the same style, make the design look cluttered and undifferentiated. My eye doesn't know where to focus. And don't even get me started on that big ugly sticker promoting a big ugly accessory: it draws attention away from the toy.

A good packaging design spotlights the toy so that it becomes the hero. The design elements should support the toy and make it look even cooler than it actually is. I don't think that's happening here.

Finally -- and this, to me, is a major blunder -- where on the packaging do you look to find the names of the characters? That element is way too discreet. Fans, of course, will know all the names, and younger kids can’t read. But as a parent and somewhat casual fan, I want the packaging to tell me what I'm buying. I want to be able to answer my son when he asks me about the characters we're buying. My son likes the toys related to Disney's Cars. Without obvious names on the packaging of those toys, neither he nor I would know what to call the 100 or so characters, and we wouldn't have as strong a connection to the world in which those movies take place. Names, I think, are important.

So far I've discussed the design of the card fronts only. The backs are too boring to warrant comment. Okay, I'll do it anyway: Where are the rest of the characters in the line? Where's that familiar "collect them all" feeling that inspired kids from previous generations to turn the products over and start drooling? Kenner was very successful with that approach more than 30 years ago. When I was a kid I used action figure card backs to mark the figures I wanted or had. Who didn't? I'd love to have that experience with my son. It's sad that these new Hasbro figures don't provide the opportunity for it.

Don’t get me wrong, I definitely don't want the packaging to have a straight-up vintage design, like Hasbro has been trotting out for years in their attempts at "vintagesploitation," as the guys on the 'Chive Cast would refer to it.  What I expected was something new that was as true to the Original Trilogy, in terms of look and feel, as the new movie seems to be. I'm disappointed we didn't get that.

In summary, the packaging isn't as good as I thought it would be, Hasbro has managed to make me feel that I shouldn't "collect them all,” and for once I'm relieved to not feel forced into buying my son new Star Wars toys. He can play with whatever he wants, even if it's not Star Wars. Right now it's Lego (yes, with a focus on Star Wars), My Little Pony, and dolls. We have a lot to choose from. See you in the toy aisles.

9 comments:

  1. Mattias nailed it. My reaction as well seeing most of the Hasbro stuff that's leaked.....disappointment.

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    1. I like both the toys and cardbacks. They packaging may not be as iconic as the Kenner line, but some of that art is fantastic, vibrant and exciting. It evokes ARAH GI Joe stuff.

      It's not classic Wars, but it is hands down better than the last few years from Hasbro.

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  2. I Feel Like I'm Looking At A Video Game , Not The Package Of A Toy

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