Established in 1948, Dr. Bronner’s is a manufacturer of certified organic and fair trade soaps and personal care products that in 2014 had a total revenue of $80.3 million with their popular liquid soaps accounting for 67% of it. The company is well-known for treating their 130-plus employees exceptionally well and for their philanthropy, contributing up to $8 million worth in financial, in-kind, and direct action contributions. Their products and overall brand have a cult status and a lot of it has to do with the company’s unconventional origin story and text-filled packaging, which I will quote below from our book, Graphic Design, Referenced:
The descendant of three generations of German soapmakers, Emmanuel Heilbronner immigrated to the United States in 1929 at the age of 21, working with various soap companies in the East before establishing himself in the 1930s in Milwaukee and dropping the first syllable from his last name. In the 1940s, now a self-titled doctor, Bronner began to draft and persistently share a plan for world peace in “Spaceship Earth” through unity of religion. In 1945 Dr. Bronner was arrested for speaking without a permit at the University of Chicago and institutionalized in the Elgin State Insane asylum. He escaped six months later and fled to Los Angeles. There, in his small apartment, he began mixing soap with a broom handle, which he sold while expounding on his theories at the Pershing Square public park. When he noticed people bought his soap but did not bother to listen to him talk, he started writing his philosophy on the labels.
In the late 1960s, Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps gained popularity with the hippie culture because of its all-natural ingredients, durability, and its equal effectiveness in cleaning groovy locks of hair, bell-bottom jeans, and Volkswagen vans. Packaged extremely simply in brown plastic bottles with one-color labels—the text on Dr. Bronner’s products became evolving soliloquies on its founder’s philosophy, referred to as “The Moral ABC.” The labels of the 32-ounce soap package each carry as many as 3,000 words expressing Dr. Bronner’s thinking, which references everything from Mao Tse-tung to Albert Einstein, Joseph Stalin, and Halley’s Comet. Dr. Bronner passed away in 1997, but his sons maintain his legacy and are overseeing their increased popularity. The Bronners have declined purchase offers, and while sale may still be a possibility, the labels will be safe: A provision in the company’s charter states they must remain the same.
This March, the company introduced a revised version of their packaging. No design credit given.
In 2014, Dr. Bronner’s added 13 stars to our corporate logo in reference to the cosmos, which inspired Dr. Emanuel Bronner’s ALL-ONE vision, and continues to inspire the company. The stars acknowledge that all our work happens within a larger cosmological context.
The smaller stars can be seen as representing the 12 constellations of the zodiac or the 12 tribes. The brightest star represents our sun or the Eternal father.
Together the stars add up to 13, a number with mystical meaning in Judaism as well as other religious traditions. The placement of the stars uses a pattern from Metatron’s cube, an ancient geometric figure which uses 13 circles to create all the platonic solids, and which represents completeness, perfection and wholeness.
We will start with the logo, redesigned a few months before the packaging, it seems. A fairly simple evolution, the logo keeps the globe shaking hands but with a slightly better drawing of the elements. I never I thought I would say this but the swooshes in the new logo are much better. Gone is the Medicine Man typography and in its place is a combination of Futura and… Trade Gothic Condensed (?) that looks quite well with the bold amounts of blue of the icon. The 13 added stars looked completely randomly placed but, like all things Dr. Bronner’s, the rationalization and grid blew my mind. It’s not a good logo by any means but at least now it’s a much tighter unit.
Modeled after the aesthetic of the original labels on bottles of soap first created by Dr. E.H. Bronner in 1948, the “Old & Improved” labels preserve and affirm the authenticity and history of the brand, as well as reflect the modern ethos and style of the current generation of the Bronner family and the products’ contemporary customers and fans.
“Our new product labels honor the legacies of our grandfather, Dr. E.H. Bronner, my father Jim Bronner, and my Uncle Ralph who have each helped shape this company into what is today,” says David Bronner, President of Dr. Bronner’s. “Each label contains this special pledge that represents a distillation of my grandfather’s philosophy that adorns our labels, while summarizing our mission and purpose as a company: In all that we do, let us be generous, fair & loving to Spaceship Earth and all Its inhabitants. For we’re ALL-ONE OR NONE! ALL-ONE!”
Most people know Dr. Bronner’s from the serif packaging so, at first, seeing them go to an all sans approach would seem like sacrilege but the evolution image shows that the serif version is the odd one out. What made the previous labels so great was that they were utterly un-designed. All the text was justified and although there was some hierarchy it wasn’t as didactic as we’ve all been doing it through our careers. The new labels are definitely designed by someone concerned with spacing and legibility. You could argue that some of its soul has been sucked out but in terms of doing a meaningful evolution without sacrificing the original intent, this succeeds quite well. These products are instantly recognizable on the shelves of the grocery store because of their typographic texture and this new version keeps that initial impact and then keeps you hooked with the onslaught of text. Also, the revised visual language extends perfectly to whatever product the Dr. Bronner’s team puts out.
There are a few more of those product sheets here and they are all equally awesome. The text border on the sheets is so dorky and ill-advised that no other company could pull it off. I’ve always found Dr. Bronner’s fascinating and I think this change makes their products even better and more convincing while at the same time demonstrating a keen sense of brand continuity and consistency that few other consumer products have. All-one!
Thanks to Eric Doctor for the tip.