Many people shop for pasta sauces like they do for toothpaste: Stand in the aisle. Look up and down, and left and right at the wall of options. Consider the prices. Imagine the different flavors. And ultimately, choose something with packaging that speaks to you.

Certainly, some people have strong brand and flavor loyalty, while others couldn’t care less. But even in those cases, packaging still matters.

PastaSauce

This is as similar and as different as it gets. The products are essentially the same: organic, tomato basil pasta sauce. If you stripped the jars of their labels, they’d look identical. The prices were comparable; like $3.99 each.

Green Way’s sauce is labeled cleanly, with a cohesive color palette and simple typography. (Not quite Optima, but close.) The photo is fresh, open, and airy.

Brad’s Organic has bold colors, a happy child’s face, assorted fonts (including Lucida Handwriting with a drop shadow), and a photo of tomatoes framed in a triple-stroked circle. The logo type is contained in a yellow block, the product information in an orange block, the flavor in a rounded rectangle, all sandwiched between black bars at the top and bottom.

These labels speak to different people and different occasions; I’m sure I’m in the minority of those who buy both of these at once. One feels elegant and corporate, suitable for a dinner with Wedgwood plates and an intimidatingly white linen tablecloth from PotteryBarn. The other feels homemade and playful, perfectly at ease on a picnic table with Tupperware.

Which sauce label would you choose?

I confess I opened Brad’s Organic first.

Lucida Handwriting with a drop shadow is something I can’t imagine using—again. But years ago, back when MS Paint and Publisher were sources of endless fun, back when I spent hours cutting up catalogs to make collages (PotteryBarn and Tupperware were equally fair game), back when WordArt was magical, I’m sure I did. I loved drop shadows and strokes and fills and crazy fonts…more meant more fun!

With its clashing colors and sundry typefaces, Brad’s Organic reminds me of that spontaneity and freedom of childhood. It reminds me of what designing meant in grade school, when no one laughed at Comic Sans. It reminds me of the joy of creating something on the home computer and watching it slowly emerge from the printer.

And it reminds me of the excitement of running around to share my artwork with my family, a sprint that’d inevitably take me through the kitchen…where sometimes, on the right day at the right hour, I might find a pot of pasta sauce bubbling on the stove, warming up for dinnertime.