I was stunned. I saw the news about Patagonia taking a stand against Trump’s plans to shrink two national monuments in Utah.
But, I confess, the news wasn’t what shocked me.
It was Patagonia’s website.
Yes, the headline is attention-snatching. That verb: stole. Connecting “The President” and “Your Land.” But even more (and augmenting the impact of this phrase) is the design. Centered, like an undeniable, face-the-facts tombstone. Black, the last color you’d ever, EVER expect splashed across Patagonia’s website. Patagonia makes bright raincoats, vibrant duffel bags, and crazy-colored fleeces. They are not afraid of color. Seriously not afraid.
So the black stands out all the more because of this decades-old reputation for bold color. It looks serious, as if in mourning, or as if it’s the darkest time in the world (especially with the white mountains in the foreground). In many ways, the look is very similar to some digital long-form articles designed by the New York Times. The serif typeface is Lusitana, not entirely unlike the Times‘ signature Cheltenham (pronounced: Chelt’nam). The sans serif is Avenir Next, consistent with the rest of Patagonia visual branding.
The similarity to the Times is particularly noticeable when you click through the “learn more” button:
In the black, the issue is described with words and graphics. But keep scrolling, and suddenly you break out of the black…
The white immediately suggests a fresh hope, a new start, a clean slate…perhaps even moral or ethical purity, or the sense that we should set aside the story and start acting in concrete ways (the expansive white reminds me of a big, blank sheet of paper, or a whiteboard). Black and white also hints that you can really only take one side on this: you’re in or you’re not.
Patagonia is positioned heroically, large, centered, and the subject of the sentence. In red, the quote from Teddy Roosevelt particularly conveys urgency. The look again is reminiscent of digital news platforms. It reminds us of trusted, authoritative sources, like the Times.
The House Natural Resources Committee has chimed in on social, parodying Patagonia’s design:
Times New Roman?! This feels like a flimsy, hasty stab against the environmental mission that Patagonia has proven across decades to establish with its products, ironically coming from an organization supposedly dedicated to similar values.
Sure, it is hard to know what’s true in the news these days of “fake news” (or maybe it’s been that way for a long time, but we haven’t pointed it out, like #metoo).
But, at least as far as graphic design goes in these ads, I’m still with Patagonia.