Converting 33-cent plastic drainage pipe into a credible electronic product mock-up.


Identity Design
Kendra Heim

Creative Direction
Steve Teare

Concept version 1

Initial Concept v1

Review 1

Design smell is a term for designs that violate principles or best practices. These designs are complex, unskilled, or bizarre. The term “smell” suggests design evaluation is subtle and subjective. It’s difficult to define rules of good design since it involves art. Design smell is best detected by peer review.

1. Use of gradients
Gradients on the packaging printing may reproduce fine. But gradients without hard edges breakdown or pixelate on the web. Lightweight 8-bit PNG format is fastest for web speed. This was not a criteria for the label design. But “badges” used on the website will mimic packaging identity.

Gradients often turn into pastels. Pastels are in a gentle or delicate theme or mood.

2. Grayscale differential
A 30-percent differential in foreground and background grayscale helps the eye distinguish edges. This is important for shape and edge recognition (aka readability of text). The label didn’t pass the grayscale test. Touching color edges less than that 30-percent difference optically pop or flash. It’s a human-eye trick.


Grayscale test – 30-percent differential for readability.

3. Type size
Typeface used is Geometric 415 BT.

4. Readability

QUOTE: “A good rule of thumb is every 1 inch of letter height provides 10 feet of readability with the best impact. For example, 3-inch tall letters make the best impact within 30 feet; however, they can still be seen and read from up to 100 feet away.”

Go big. Be readable on a high shelf. Stack the name if needed.

5. Color palette

Power tool example 1 – Black and Green

The goal is powerful. This usually is 50 to 70-percent coverage dark color. Green doesn’t always infer rugged industrial strength. More environmental and soothing would be the green feel. There are power tools using green dominance: see two images below. Notice black has pretty heavy use.


Sample 2 Green and black industrial look.

6. Overlapping gradient design
A design technique introduced in 2014 by Google in their Material Design components. It was mobile-technology driven and intended to simplify mobile flat design. The goal was producing lightweight icons. They draw onscreen with CSS3 and HTML5 code and SVG files. It has a nostalgic feel like cheap 2-color overprinting from the 1950s. Endorsed by Google and used in Android. It’s mainstream.

The gradient and green monochrome colors feel too safe. Take more visual risks if you dare. This audience can tolerate bold.

Concept 2 – solutions

Backbone packaging – version 2.

1. Horizontal layout.
One side the name, the other side all the product specs and model info. The label extends to the height of the tube but lets clear plastic show tube above and below.

2. Bolder logotype.
Stacking Backbone allows improved readability of: warehouse IoT. New Font size is as follows:
Backbone: Geometric 415 Black 51pt.
Warehouse: Geometric 415 Black 23pt.

Logo iterations.

3. Conservative, but strong colors.
Dark Green: intelligence/monetary growth/unique
Brown: firm/durable
Dark Red: power/strength
Dark Blue: stable/reliable
Type: light gray #e6e6e6

4. A-sub-W symbol repair.
The “a” is Franklin Gothic BT Demi 52.5 pt.

Example of scientific notation with a-sub-w (or water activity).
Iterations o f typographic problem solving.

Color opportunities.

Concept 2 colors converted to alternative robust and powerful palette using thematic reverse color lookup.


White borders – top and bottom – print clear.


ganged 5-up on oversized 12×18″ white adhesive-backed vinyl.


Job name: prototype decals for Backbone product

Total number of pages: 4 (separate PDF files), CMYK, embedded fonts, 300dpi

Quantity- 1 sheet of each PDF (5-up) (red, green, brown, blue). 4 sheets total (yield 20 labels or best case).

Final trim size: approximately 3″ x 11″

Flat size: n/a

Bleeds: 4 sides (1/8th inch at outer edges)

Stock: white vinyl, 12×18 sheet, house stock, adhesive back

Inks: CMYK, laser output

Files furnished: 4 PDF print ready (attachments)

Bindery/finishing: cut down, all pages trim the same.

Schedule: 24-hours or less

Label Application

After cleaning the surface area, wet the area using a spray bottle and a solution of about 5% soap / 95% water. Apply the sticker while the area is still wet. The sticker is water proof because everything including the ink is plastic. You can spray the label – or even immerse it.

Creative Brief

1. Product Description
Many remote battery-operated sensor tubes comprise a Backbone network. The product has an inner hybrid hermetic tube. It contains AA battery power, antenna, microcontroller and sensors. The outer tube serves as anti-crush armor and for product labeling.

Backbone measures temperature and relative humidity. These two are the most common measured environmental parameters inside warehouses. Temperature and Relative Humidity determine ripeness, freshness, flavor, and preservation of biological products. These include fruits and vegetables but also beans and other agricultural products).

Backbone has no interface, keyboard, switches, or buttons.

2. Features Differentiating Backbone
Bury Backbone inside post-harvest product containers. You can place it under a ton of apples or potatoes or coffee beans. Competitor instruments are lightweight, tiny, and seem fragile like potato chips. Backbone is strong and durable. Ruggedized.

Backbone doesn’t measure the warehouse building environment like competitors. Backbone measures inside bins right where the product is actually at. Backbone communicates wireless data. An Internet of Things (IoT) is where 1000s of sensor tubes are inside a single warehouse. This also allows packing-house mapping besides monitoring product market readiness.

The high-end Backbone uses triple sensor redundancy (like NASA). Three sensors vote on results instead of one. This increases system reliability. Voting logic reconfigures or disconnects faulty components.

3. Target Audience
Customers are domestic and international large corporations, co-ops, and government organizations. Buyers are committees. Decision makers and influencers are engineers and scientists. Our first market of interest is scientists and market innovators in agribusiness.

4. Deliverables
Four different adhesive-backed decal/labels produced for prototyping.

Dimensions: The exterior armoring is 3″ I.D. perforated corrugated drain tile (black). The actual outer diameter is 3.5 inches. It is 5.25-inches long (high). It sits on end when on a desk. The “slightly-uneven” ends are trimmed with a knife by hand. There are 17 horizontal ridges.

5. Competition
There are at least 35 direct and indirect competitors building temperature-humidity datalogger.

Measuring Relative Humidity and Temperature are not new. Backbone is different and unique (perceived as innovative). The market is already educated as why these measurements are critical. We specialize in measuring inside at a container or bag level. Not shelves or stacks inside a warehouse building. We are not the market price leader. Backbone strategy is a skimming strategy and not a penetration strategy.

6. Details on Tone, Message, and Style
The feeling is powerful, industrial, and rugged. The audience is male (90 percent). The exterior tube is black (dark gray) with horizontal corrugated ridges. The flat surface area on the ridges is ¼ inch wide.

7. Typography: The website will use fast-loading utilitarian mobile system fonts. We will not use webfonts (aka Google Fonts).

8. Bootstrap startup
Steve Teare – using personal savings and the cash from first sales.

Unexpected Collaborative Design