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Living Can Kill You

Don Watt, brander of No Name

One of my earliest memories of design involves wandering aisles filled with uniformly yellow packaging of different shapes and sizes. Each item was labelled with the same, tightly kerned, black typeface and was always set in lowercase.

This carefully designed unbranded branding strategy was conceived of by a man named Don Watt. The “no name” products for Loblaw’s grocery stores transformed the retail industry (he went on to develop brand design strategies for Walmart and also designed the Home Depot logo and store experience). Coincidentally, considering the imageless design of the “no name” products, Watt was also one of the first designers to use photo-symbolism on packaging. His work there became iconic, as well: a red mug sitting in [a pile of coffee] beans.

In his career, he helped design the Canadian flag preferred by the nation’s first Nobel Peace Prize winner. He also did design work for another Canadian legend: the Avro Arrow.

Don Watt died, unexpectedly, last week at the age of 73. His minimal, acutely Canadian, “no name” aesthetic — and its use of Helvetica — will nevertheless endure as a lasting influence on my design sensibility.