Nearly a year ago we reported on changes at the United States Postal Service (USPS) that involved renaming some of its services and the introduction of a freshly-designed set of boxes, envelopes, and tubes that were received with a modestly encouraging response. More interesting than the final result was that we were having a conversation about design and USPS at all. At the time, I closed my first paragraph of that post with “No credit given” for who had designed those well-intentioned boxes. New York, NY-based GrandArmy recently posted a comprehensive page with their work for USPS that shows a large breadth of work to reposition the visual retail presence and in-store experience of more than 30,000 locations. Included in the scope of work was the redesign of the packaging which, as you will see at the end of the post, had a little more flair to it than what was finally produced by another vendor. To continue the unexpected conversation about design and USPS here is a look at what is basically a complete redesign of the USPS (sans logo).
The United States Postal Service is one of America’s great infrastructure achievements. In addition to being a technical marvel, it is also a storied and hallowed institution. From the Pony Express to the first letters sent by air-mail, few things are so uniquely American.
Plagued by budget woes in the modern era — the USPS sought to modernize its image, and more importantly, streamline the retail experience with clear signage, way-finding and packaging.
USPS retail locations manage to be some of the first world’s most depressing “retail” experiences. They are drab, there are long lines, the clerks are rarely in a good mood, and there is too much information posted everywhere that makes little sense. Any small change that improves that experience would be a bonus. To the rescue: Gotham and a couple of condensed styles of Knockout. Perhaps a clear answer for us designers but, as GrandArmy tells me, it wasn’t an easy sell to USPS: “Typography was a big part of the discussions. We had to spend a while justifying our choices and petitioning for them to purchase the right fonts — but in the end they were reasonable. They appreciate good design and were happy we cared so much about their brand.”
GrandArmy developed a total re-design of the USPS in-store experience. A robust three-bar layout system was applied to all materials, from menu-boards to hang tags to welcome signs to kiosks and so on. This system holds together a huge variety of collateral. Ancillary materials include emotive creed posters, window clings, a mobile app, and shipping box design (since modified by an external team.)
We wanted to create a visual language that paid homage to USPS’ heritage, but was a modern, clear and simple update. There are a lot of contemporary brands that try to wrap themselves in the American flag — but our case to USPS was that here is a brand that actually deserves it. So a contemporary update on Americana, with modern, clear grids and hard-working typography — that was our brief to ourselves. In the end, the system is extraordinarily simple. Red, white and blue color fields separate every piece along consistent ratios, and these ratios inform headline and body copy sizes.
Like the recent Domino’s Pizza post about their type family, this isn’t a straightforward identity redesign but its implications in how we perceive the USPS brand can be as significant as changing its logo. (Not quite, but you get my point). GrandArmy’s guidelines and efforts in redesigning “boards” are about communicating in a clear, elegant, moderately exciting language. These are far and away more positive adjectives than anyone thinks of when thinking of the USPS’s communication efforts. Without any overly fancy design tricks — this is basically a typographic, hierarchy exercise on steroids — GrandArmy has set up a lovely and clear system that is helpful and attractive.
I would love to do another follow-up post in a year and see if the boards above look as good in the actual locations as they do in these handsome photographs. My guess is “not as much” but I do think they have the potential of starting a broader transformation of the USPS in-store experience… that is, assuming there is any money for the poor organization to implement changes.
I should probably elaborate on the above but, no: Yeah!
Finally, we come to the boxes. I wanted to keep them at the end so you would see the progression and how they are the culmination of all of the more “basic” work, coming together in, well, a tight little package. Although the packaging that launched a year ago was a step up from its predecessor, the proposed and submitted designs by GrandArmy had that extra cohesiveness and (as evident in the two boxes directly above) more Pow. Yup, pow. More of it. With any luck some of the more expressive traits of these boxes will find their way to the real boxes. Probably not. But it’s definitely encouraging to see the USPS even engaging a design firm and working to establish a contemporary presence.
To conclude: Yeah!