Hawaii can feel like another country or, sometimes, another planet. You can see volcanoes, craters, pine forests, rainforests, and beaches all in one day. But as different as Hawaii is from other places, one thing is in common with the rest of the world…
The tourist brochures look like this:
Neon strokes! Stretched letters! Drop shadowsss!! All the effects! It’s a standard style that ironically lacks standardization. And it’s here to stay. Such enthusiastic designs appear in especially high concentration in Hawaii, perhaps the most touristy state in the U.S.
Amidst the rampant garishness, I found a visual oasis. This honey:
These pretty little pots of sweetness are by the Big Island Bee Company. Let’s take a closer look. On the side, there’s a block of copy set justified with generous leading, immediately creating a strong, clean, and calm tone in a small space.
The typeface is Adobe Jenson, a face rich with history—the Roman style is based on a face designed by Nicolas Jenson in 1470 (before Columbus sailed the ocean blue!). Its texture implies its past. Notice the tilted crossbars on the e’s and how they overextend a tad, like a calligrapher may have done. Periods are rotated squares, again recalling a calligrapher’s nib stroke. The y’s thicken at the bottom of their tails, like ink pooling. A close-up sample:
On the front, hand-drawn lettering and illustration. A mixture of an all caps serif and an organically flowing script. The accent type color matches the product and the flower.
This look reminds me of botanical sketches, the ones slowly, painstakingly drawn for accuracy and annotated neatly by hand for scientific use before digital cameras and scanners. The details here speak to that level of hand-craftsmanship and attention: the fine lines and dotted dividers, and the neatly printed numbers in old-style type forms. This could have been the style of an ID card for a botanical specimen collected in the late 18th century—before the invention of Excel sheets and instant label makers.
Honey is always slowly produced, and this old-fashioned style reminds us of that time-intensive care. The label makes it look as though it comes from a time when the pace of life was less rushed, when quality took time.
It also brings to mind apothecary labels and prescriptions, which were also handwritten with tidy line dividers. (And, perhaps subconsciously, because apothecaries dispensed plant and animal-based potions in glass jars.) With this subtle medicinal style, this product looks healthy and personally concocted (it’s hard to imagine mass-produced margarine convincingly wearing a label like this). And it turns out that Big Island Bees is a family operation—the production is indeed personal.
Line dividers can also create a sense of fastidious organization, fitting for a product coming from a beehive. The plant illustration pokes past the lines just enough to make it feel unconstrained, more natural…organic.
The nutrition facts and company info are set with layers of typographic diversity. Unlike those tourist brochures, the font differences here are kept within each type family, making everything look consistently related. It gets a tad crammed at the bottom, but notice how the ingredients section is set off with clean, simple lines—perfect for the clean, simple ingredients.
To top it off, the Big Island Bee Company adds a circular sticker to the lid, much like the embossed mark people put on stationery in olden days (“from the desk of”). With those double lines, it also resembles a postmark on a letter, reminding subtly that this product traveled all the way from the Big Island of Hawaii. An elegant way to look like a hand-picked travel souvenir—not a touristy gimmick.
If you don’t have an excuse to visit Hawaii, fortunately, you can still get a taste. These products (and more) are available for purchase on Big Island Bees’ website.
Mahalo for reading.