Minimalist design has the maximum effect in United Sodas of America’s branding
Placing a heavy focus on minimal details such as a varied colour palette and direct typography, United Sodas of America takes a different path to packaging design.
- Lucy Bourton
- 4 January 2021
When it comes to packaging, most designers tend to zoom in on the details, looking endlessly for an illustrator to work with, or an inventive approach to its labelling, maybe – or even an extra bold typeface to catch someone’s eye off the shelf. It seems little attention is often paid to the actual vessel, an element thought of as a non-negotiable factor handed over from the manufacturer. Yet the newly launched United Sodas of America pushes against this design approach, surprisingly placing its can’s shape centre stage and in turn making the everyday become iconic.
The result of over two years worth of work by Brooklyn-based brand design company Center, the design approach for United Sodas of America is built around the idea of reinventing soda and an audience’s initial perception of it. Beginning by studying and visually riffing off the name provided – as well as the brief’s leading question: “What if soda was invented in 2020?” – the agency’s founder Alex Center notes that the team (made up of Kevin Batory, Ashleigh Bowring, Pete Freeman, Andrew Galloway and Alex himself from Center, and Marisa Zupan and Kate Reeder from United Sodas) first identified soda as “a classic American beverage”. Therefore in its attempt to reinvent it aesthetically, the agency and brand should purposefully “embrace that, not avoid it,” he tells It’s Nice That. Center’s focused on the idea to add very little to the can visually, creating a minimalistic identity that manages to retain the same nuanced detail of its neighbours in the fridge.
The most obvious design decision when looking at Center’s approach is the colour palette used, again a concept driven from the product’s name. The inclusion of a 12 colour rainbow-like selection is a purposeful step away from the red, white and blue we often associate with the US, developed from the team feeling that "in a world that sees just red and blue, variety unites,” explains Alex. Collectively believing in this concept also led United Sodas of America to launch with 12 available flavours, and include one of each in their flagship variety pack. “That’s not normal for a beverage company,” adds Alex. “So that’s why the brand is so colourful, because the idea is that within the range of flavours, everyone is going to find one that speaks to them. A flavour for every flavour, if you will.”
Despite its simplicity, deciding upon this unified yet wide ranging colour palette took the team’s time. As Alex points out: “With a brand that is as minimal as United Sodas, all of the details needed to be perfect”. Beginning by tracing back the approaches of great American midcentury colour masters and colour field painters, including Ellsworth Kelly, Clyfford Still, Helen Frankenthaler and Mark Rothko, Center’s team aimed towards utilising colour as “a way of creating deeper meaning” as these artist had, referencing their colour palettes as a starting point.
More specific shades were then selected when it came to assigning colours to flavour, an approach which suitably “thought beyond just ‘the colour of the fruit’,” says Alex. Referencing not only flavour but wider ingredients, personality and a feeling, each comes together “in a tone that created an entire immersive experience, a flavour world,” he continues. This was also inspired by how the painters mentioned often made their own paints. “Clyfford Still used to mix them in his garage, Frakenthaler added extra oil to get the paints to mix with the canvas, creating a more complex tone,” points out Alex, “so, of course, a simple ‘blue’ wouldn’t do it for sour blueberry!” Each of these careful decisions add nuance to United Sodas of America’s branding, and is an area Center will continue to explore, “with more visuals, copy and sounds that make each a complete sensory experience.”
Aside from colour, the beverage’s branding is then brought to life through typography. The decision to use Klim Type Foundry’s Founders Grotesk as the main brand typeface was driven from a want to “feel unbranded”. Founders Grotesk offers “just the right amount of trustworthiness and directness but also some quirk to it,” says Alex. “It’s matter-of-fact and informative at times, and humorous at others.”
With United Sodas of America now launched in a design style which utilises minimalism “to represent the idea of a new America,” Center’s branding has piqued the interest of many with its unique approach. Reflecting on this, Alex adds: “The reaction has been truly everything we could have hoped for, and more,” he tells us. “We’ve been working on this project since we launched the studio in 2018 and have been itching to get it into people’s hands ever since.” For the founder, it’s been an additionally rewarding experience, given his background of working at Coca-Cola and across the wider beverage industry. “To go out on my own and put together a team of amazing humans that are building this iconic brand, I’m just so insanely proud.”
Center: United Sodas of America (Copyright © Center, 2021)
About the Author
Lucy (she/her) joined It’s Nice That as a staff writer in July 2016 after graduating from Chelsea College of Art. In January 2019 she was made deputy editor and in November 2021, became a senior editor predominantly working on It’s Nice That's partnerships. Feel free to get in contact with Lucy about creative projects for the site or potential partnerships.