Darkie to Darlie

By Susan Merritt | February 3, 2013

Darkie to Darlie

Three stages of packaging design as the Darkie brand transitioned to Darlie.

Geoff Schwartz, one of my more adventurous students from San Diego State University, headed out on a global trek after he graduated. His journey included western and eastern Europe and a trans-Siberian train trip from Budapest to Beijing. Geoff kept in touch through postcards, letters, and a carefully hand-lettered annual report that recounted with a profound sense of humor his experiences along the way.

Dada-inspired cow tee shirt

Dada-inspired cow tee shirt by Geoff Schwartz.

To cover living expenses while he was underway, Geoff designed and screen printed tee shirts. He sent our son one of his tee shirts with the image of a Dada-inspired cow, which I gladly inherited when my son outgrew it. The Trend Eagle label is long faded but the outlined image of the cow with brimming udder has endured years of wash and spin cycles. Even the colorful split fountain that fills the cow’s black-outlined body has held strong.

Geoff was aware of my interest in international consumer packaging and cross-cultural design that resulted from my having lived in Switzerland for six years, five of those years as a post-graduate student at the Basel School of Design. One of my most prized tokens of Geoff’s friendship is the set of three packages shown above that he collected in Asia. These chronicle the transition of Darkie brand toothpaste from the original label to an interim package and then to the final redesign. The United Press International newspaper article transcribed below was clipped by Geoff and included with the three boxes, which also contained actual tubes of toothpaste. The article describes the context in which this shift in branding and consumer packaging design took place.

Thank you, Geoff, wherever in the world you may be…

September 1989
United Press International

Outrage taking ‘Darkie’ off label

Singapore—Asians have been happily buying Darkie Tooth Paste for 60 years, unaware the name or logo of a black man in a top hat with a grin revealing dazzling white teeth was offending anyone.

But outrage in the United States and elsewhere at the label has prompted its maker to change the name and image and mount a massive campaign aimed at retaining the loyalty of confused consumers.

“We look at it this way,” said Eddie Niem, managing director of the Hong Kong-based manufacturer Hawley and Hazel. “We want the toothpaste to be internationally acceptable.”

Although the product is not sold in the United States, Niem said, “We do not wish to offend anyone unnecessarily. It wouldn’t be right to retain a name and package objectionable to North American blacks.”

No one complained prior to 1985 when Colgate-Palmolive, the U.S.-based home products company, purchased half ownership of Hawley and Hazel. Since then, the giant firm has been accused of promoting racial stereotypes through its marketing of the toothpaste.

A coalition of black clergymen complained Darkie was a derogatory description of North Americans of African origin. They said the logo, which stemmed from the minstrel act made famous by entertainer Al Jolson, conjured up images of a fawning inferior eager to please his master.

It’s not the first time a U.S. corporation has abandoned a well-established image under accusations of racism. The Quaker Oats Co. changed its Aunt Jemima picture on pancake mix packages in the 1960s to one that did not resemble a black plantation worker.

During May, Colgate-Palmolive are launching a year-long drive to introduce consumers to Darlie Tooth Paste, complete with a new logo of a face so shadowed that it could represent any race. The bright white teeth remain.

Targeting Singapore, where Darkie has a 50 percent market share, Niem said the challenge was to make the switch while retaining the loyalty of current users.

The marketing avalanche then spreads to Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Thailand, where Darkie commands between 20 and 75 percent of the market.

With Colgate paying for the redesign and repackaging plus reimbursement for any loss in profits, Niem said researchers went through many variations on the name Darkie to find one similar but not potentially objectionable.

The first suggestion, Dakkie, didn’t make it.

Dara Demmings, a spokeswoman for the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility in the United States, informed Colgate that Dakkie was unacceptable “because it was still pronounced the same as Darkie in several East Asian languages.”

“We finally came up with Darlie,” Niem said, “an invented word” made up by replacing the “k” with an “l.”

Full-page newspaper advertisements proclaiming “Darkie Is Now Darlie” generated so much commotion in Singapore that special telephone lines were set up to cope with the barrage of questions.

“Most people ask why we’re doing this and if the toothpaste is different,” said Tan May Lin, one of a team explaining the reason in as much detail as the caller wants and assuring that the product has not changed.

To ease the transition, Mien said packages of family-sized Darkie and Darlie will initially be sold together at a special discount price. Television commercials will focus on the name change with the emphasis on acceptability “all over the world,” Niem said.

“In a 40-second spot, we can’t elaborate on the complaints” that sparked the switch, said Niem, who is Chinese. “In Asian minds there’s no problem with Darkie. It doesn’t have any negative racial connotation.”

Once the manufacturers are convinced that customers have accepted Darlie, they then will introduce the new package, replacing the familiar black face with an anonymous one. “That may take 12 months,” Niem said.

“Intensive consumer research shows that the new name will be well-liked and we expect the majority of our users will accept the changes,” Niem said. “However we will invest as much as is needed to ensure that loyalty is not adversely affected.”

No matter how long it takes for Darlie sales to match those of Darkie, Niem is convinced of the justification of the name change.

“What we’re doing is right. We won’t even entertain the suggestion of trying to keep the package the way it was.”


By Susan Merritt | November 24, 2012

Caroline Tiger coined the term objectorialist, “a design writer who is interested in objects and their meanings and in how design shapes a region and vice versa.” She looks at Philadelphia via its objects, which she categorizes as found in Philadelphia, made in Philadelphia, esteemed (high design), and mundane (ranging from subterranean to low design).


Caroline and I met in New York in the summer of 2012 during the Design Writing and Research Summer Intensive at the School of Visual Arts (SVA). We spent two inspiring weeks in the SVA D-Crit studio under the tutelage of accomplished professionals who guided and critiqued our work.


Caroline and I thought it would be interesting to expand the objectorialist concept to other cities. So, I look forward to examining San Diego through the eyes of high and low design, and sharing the significance of goods manufactured here as well as worthy objects from elsewhere that I discover throughout the city. In addition, from time to time I’ll introduce pieces from my own collection as objects of my desire since they don’t necessarily fit into any of the established categories.

Letter Openers

By Susan Merritt | November 12, 2012

Display of letter openers from our collection.

Letter openers are useful objects that can be found in a wide variety of sizes, shapes, materials, and themes. Collectible examples are more readily available now since email and text messaging are taking precedence over letter writing. During the eighteenth century, letter openers made of ivory and silver were favored by the well-to-do. In the late nineteenth century, the letter opener became a popular advertising giveaway and many were made of newer materials such as metal or celluloid, like the Fuller Brush letter openers shown below.

Fuller Brush letter opener showing front and back of the same design.

I found this pair when I was shopping for a gift for my husband at the Antique Mall on Newport Avenue in Ocean Beach, California, a small beach community a few miles northwest of downtown San Diego. I had been scouting for hours and was ready to give up when I thought I spotted a letter opener among a disorganized pile in a curio cabinet. The door was locked. I hunted down the shopkeeper with the key. She unlocked the cabinet and handed me what was indeed a slender plastic letter opener. I immediately recognized the raised image as the Fuller Brush man in his one-button suit wearing a hat and carrying a case. The company’s logo confirmed that it was a promotional item from Fuller Brush Company. Then I turned the letter opener over and found the image of a teased-haired woman wearing a knee-length dress with gloved hands carrying a similar case. Fuller Brush woman? When did women join the Fuller workforce? On the one hand I was delighted at the equal rights aspect and at the same time astonished.

This was a perfect find. My husband actually uses letter openers to neatly slice envelopes along the scored edge of the flap. It drives him crazy when I use my index finger and rip a messy path on my way to the contents. It was also a sentimental object for me as it sparked childhood memories when the Fuller Brush man would visit our home and open his case to reveal an array of brand new brushes. The fact that it was a promotional piece was perfect too since both my husband and I are graphic designers and can appreciate the object’s purposefulness to increase sales and promote public awareness. This turned out to be my lucky day; there was a second letter opener—identical to the first except for the color. I eagerly bought both so Fuller man and Fuller woman could stride side by side in our display.

The object inspired follow-up research with a particular goal to learn more about the letter opener as well as the company’s female sales force. In 1906, Alfred Carl Fuller founded Capitol Brush Company. That year he hired two employees, a brush maker and a salesman, and by the end of the year he had hired two dozen men as door-to-door dealers. In 1908, the first female was employed—Fuller’s wife Evelyn—and in 1968, the company established a sales team of women to sell a new line of cosmetics and hairstyling products. They were designated the Fullerettes. During the 1960s more women joined the general workforce to supplement family incomes and, likewise, the number of female Fuller representatives increased.

The letter opener was developed as a promotional gift to be slipped into a die-cut card that was left behind by the salesperson. In addition to promotional text, the following message expressed gratitude: “We are pleased to offer you this Fuller Brush Nostalgic Letter Opener as a Thank You for welcoming us into your home.”

A description of “The Fuller Brush Nostalgic Letter Opener” followed:
This letter opener with its unique design originates from the late 1950s. We continue molding these letter openers today…using the same die cast mold as used over 40 years ago.

You will note a “Fuller Brush Man” depicted on one side…with a “Fuller Brush Fullerette” depicted on the other. Since 1906, tens of thousands of men and women have carried the Fuller Brush Story to millions of homes in America.

You may even “know of” someone…a friend, Mother, Father, grandparent, brother, sister, uncle or aunt…who either shared the Fuller Brush Story with others or enjoyed using Fuller Brush products.

In a way, this letter opener is a tribute to these many friends of Fuller Brush. We hope you enjoy this Nostalgic Letter Opener…much as a friend enjoyed it as a token of appreciation over forty years ago.

According to a representative at The Fuller Brush Company, sales people still give out letter openers with the Fuller Brush man depicted on one side. Unfortunately, the Fuller Brush woman no longer resides on the other side.


Kovel, Ralph and Terry. Kovels’ Antiques & Collectibles Price List 2008. Black Fog & Leventhal Publishers, New York, 2007. 411.

Letter from The Fuller Brush Company

Paris—DesignPack Gallery

By Susan Merritt | October 12, 2012

Interior DesignPack Gallery, books

Interior DesignPack Gallery, books on packaging and packaging design


June 17, 2010

Unlike other cities, such as New York, which is laid out on a grid, Paris, at least for the most part, is not. One misguided turn and you’re headed in the wrong direction, or just not in the right direction, the one intended to lead you to your destination. Sometimes it works out, though, like today, and you discover something unexpected.

I set out on foot for the Bibliothèque Nationale located at #58 Rue de Richelieu. My brain failed to translate the map accurately and I suddenly found myself in the midst of a dense protest march surrounded by uniformed police and undercover security near the Bank of France in the neighborhood of the Palais Royal. The Palais was the childhood home of Louis XIV and now houses the Council of State and the Constitutional Council, as well as the Ministry of Culture.

At #1 Rue de Richelieu I turned to work my way through the chaos of the protest back up the congested narrow street to #58. En route I passed a shop at #24 whose window display enticed me to go inside, where I experienced a temporary reprieve from the noise and exhaust of the crowded street and discovered a wide array of products made from recycled materials, as well as books on packaging and packaging design. I wandered through the shop to the back of the first floor where a slide show with English subtitles chronicled the history of Samsonite luggage, a unique form for packaging clothes and travel items. A series of company advertisements showed how the styles have changed over the years. The newest Samsonite line, sturdy and lightweight Cosmolite, was included in the small exhibition and also available for purchase.

According to the young man at the front desk, the gallery and shop are part of a packaging design company called DesignPack, which is located upstairs. The gallery, founded in September 2008 by Fabrice Peltier, is dedicated to the art of packaging design including the recycling of packaging into new products and art objects. I showed the attendant my San Diego State University business card and he allowed me take photographs. He also kindly pointed me in the direction of the Bibliothèque Nationale.

Learn more about DesignPack at http://www.designpackgallery.fr/

DesignPack Gallery
24, rue de Richelieu
75001 Paris

Telephone: +33(0)1 44 85 86 00
FAX +33(0)1 44 85 86 44


Interior DesignPack Gallery, recycled products.
Interior of DesignPack Gallery, recycled products.

Interior DesignPack Gallery.
Interior of the DesignPack Gallery, looking back towards the gallery.

Entrance to DesignPack Gallery Paris
Entrance to DesignPack Gallery Paris. The red lamps above the doorway are made from recycled plastic bottles.

Antwerp Sales

By Susan Merritt | September 23, 2012

I was in Antwerp in July 2010 primarily to visit the Plantin-Moretus Museum. On my walk from the hotel to the museum I found myself in the middle of the summer sales season. It was fascinating to see all the ways in which department stores and boutique shops competed for the attention of customers through their window displays. Here are some of the examples I photographed.

Miss 50%

Terre Bleue bag skirtSolden TOT 30% 40% 50%% tags around mannikin necksType on spineSalt and Pepper

Museum Plantin-Moretus

By Susan Merritt | September 23, 2012

Typographic Pilgrimage: Museum Plantin-Moretus, Antwerp

At the Plantin-Moretus Museum visitors will find intact the old printing firm of Officina Plantiniana, under the sign of the Golden Compasses, established at this location in 1576 by its founder Christopher Plantin. The complex also includes the family’s historic home in the Flemish Renaissance style; an extensive collection of paintings and prints, including works by Peter Paul Rubens, who also designed title pages and illustrations for their books; an unprecedented archive of business and family records; and an impressive library containing 640 manuscripts and 25,000 volumes, including works printed on Officina Plantiniana presses as well as books printed throughout Europe. In addition to classical texts and religious works, such as missals and liturgical volumes, the printing house produced scientific treatises and significant books on the arts and humanism, many by the humanist Justus Lipsius.

After Plantin’s death in 1589, his son-in-law Jan Moretus I took over the business, which was then passed on to the most capable son for the next ten generations. In 1876, after 300 years of printing activity, Edward Moretus sold the entire building and its contents to the city of Antwerp with support from the Belgian State and the following year the Plantin-Moretus Museum opened its doors.

In July 2010, I visited the museum and was astonished by the authenticity of the sixteenth-century print shop, which boasts the world’s oldest printing presses dating from around 1600; type cases full of cast metal type; a collection of 4,500 punches and 16,000 matrices, some of which were produced by the Parisian Robert Granjon, one of the greatest type cutters during Plantin’s time; and an unequalled collection of woodcuts and copperplate engravings. Plantin pioneered the use of copperplate engraving as a technique for book illustration.

I found it interesting that the type foundry and foundry workshop were set apart on their own floor, called the foundry floor, which was located on the top level (or third floor) of the north wing. Those floors were laid in stone to reduce the risk of fire. Since the casting of type was normally contracted out to specialized firms, the foundry was used only at intervals from 1622 to 1660 and later from 1736 to 1760.

Among the most significant books in the Plantin-Moretus Museum collection is the three-volume Biblia Latina, the 36-line Bible, printed around 1460 in Bamberg, Germany, by Albrecht Pfister using type cast by Johannes Gutenberg. Only 14 copies still exist and this is the only copy in Belgium. Of the Officina Plantiniana accomplishments, Plantin’s Biblia Polyglotta, which he worked on from 1568 to 1573, is considered the greatest typographical undertaking of that century—an eight-volume scholarly edition of the Bible’s text in five languages: Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Syriac, and Aramaic. King Philip II of Spain financed the venture and sent the great Spanish theologian and humanist Benedictus Arias Montanus to Antwerp to supervise the project.

In July 2005, the Plantin-Moretus Museum was officially added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. In the words of Ludovicus Guicciardini, “As fair and wondrous as all that precedeth it is the great and splendid printing office of the royal printer Christopher Plantin, for, to this day, its like hath no compare in all Europe.” (Description of all the Netherlands as translated by Cornelius Kiliaan, Amsterdam, Willem Blaeu, 1612)

Entrance to the Plantin-Moretus Museum.

Entrance to the Plantin-Moretus Museum on the Vrijdagmarkt in Antwerp.

View of Heilige Geeststraat

View of Heilige Geeststraat.

Printing shop

The printing shop in the Plantin-Moretus Museum.


View of the courtyard.

View from foundry.

View overlooking the courtyard from the type foundry window.


De Nave, Francine. The Plantin-Moretus Museum, Printing and Publishing before 1800, Francine de Nave, Plantin-Moretus Museum, Antwerp, 2004.

De Nave, Francine, and Tijs, Dr. Rutger. The Plantin-Moretus House, Workshop, and Museum Complex: Building History, Antwerp, 2005.

De Rynck, Patrick. Guide to the Museum Plantin-Moretus Prentenkabinet, English edition, BAI, Antwerp, 2009.

Golden Ratio lends itself to fashion

By Susan Merritt | January 6, 2011

Sisters use formula to find perfect fit

This article by Tanya Mannes with photos by John Gastaldo was published in the Thursday, April 15, 2010, edition of The San Diego Union-Tribune and caught my eye because my husband, Calvin Woo, and I are fascinated by the golden mean and apply this “divine proportion” to our graphic design work. I also teach students about this and other proportional ratios that have emerged over the course of design history, particularly during those eras when mathematics and geometry weighed heavily on contemporary thought and practice. It’s interesting to see how Ruth and Sara Levy apply these principles to fashion design.

The Union-Tribune article at signonsandiego.com:

Golden ration lends itself to fashion: Sisters use formula to find perfect fit

Ruth and Sara Levy’s website and a video of their presentation on the Rachel Ray show:

The Fashion Code website

The Fashion Code on Rachel Ray Show

Vitra Design Museum

By Susan Merritt | January 6, 2011

Vitra Design Museum

Vitra Design Museum, designed by Frank Gehry, is one of fourteen highlights on the Vitra Campus architectural tour.

During the summer of 2010, I visited the Vitra Campus in Weil-am-Rhein, Germany. Vitra manufactures industrial furniture, including classics by Charles and Ray Eames, George Nelson, Isamu Noguchi, Jean Prouvé, and Verner Panton, as well as work by contemporary designers. In addition to the factory buildings and the Vitra Design Museum, which was designed by Frank Gehry in 1989, the campus includes an array of innovative architectural structures designed by a diverse group of international architects. According to architecture critic Philip Johnson, “Not since the Weissenhofsiedlung in Stuttgart in 1927 has there been a gathering in a single place of a group of buildings designed by the most distinguished architects in the Western world.” A guided architectural tour provides access to many of the buildings, including the Dome designed by Buckminster Fuller in 1978, the Fire Station by Zaha Hadid, which boasts no right angles, and Tadao Ando’s Conference Pavilion both completed in 1993. These examples of modern architecture together with the museum exhibitions make the Vitra Campus an important cultural destination for the study of industrial furniture design and architecture. I was there to explore the newly opened VitraHaus, view the exhibition Die Essenz der Dinge/The Essence of Things, which considered “reduction in design from economic, functional, aesthetic and ethical perspectives,” and examine historical pieces from the Vitra collection, one of the world’s largest modern furniture collections representing all of the major styles and eras from the beginning of the nineteenth century.

The VitraHaus is a really fascinating building. It was designed by Herzog & de Meuron, a Swiss architectural firm headquartered in Basel. Their inspiration for the VitraHaus derives from the graphic icon of an archetypal house with a gable roof. Twelve of these individual “houses” are stacked on top of each other and blended together to form a unified structure that deceives perception and defies gravity. The ends of the houses are glass and positioned to take advantage of incredible views of the surrounding countryside. The interior spaces invite exploration; they are unique and unexpected especially where the houses intersect. The VitraHaus Café, Design Museum Shop, showrooms for the Vitra Home Collection, and the Vitrine, an exhibition space that features historical objects from the Vitra collection, occupy the VitraHaus.


VitraHaus, designed by Herzog & de Meuron, opened on the Vitra Campus in 2010. Luscious ripe cherries dangle from the branches of a tree on the campus, which was founded in the midst of cherry orchards.

VitraHaus, interior.

VitraHaus, interior, looking out over the beautiful countryside through iconic house-shaped windows where two "houses" intersect.

VitraHaus, interior, showcases products from the Vitra Home Collection.

Buckminster Fuller's Dome

Buckminster Fuller's Dome.

Vitra Fire Station

The Fire Station, designed by Zaha Hadid in 1993, has no right angles—a visual metaphor of the explosion that destroyed the previous structure.

Susan at Vitra Design
Susan Merritt in the Conference Pavilion at the Vitra Campus in Weil-am-Rhein, Germany, during a study trip to Europe in July, 2010. The Conference Pavilion was designed by Japanese architect Tadao Ando in1993.

All photographs by Susan Merritt.

References: Die Essenz der Dinge/The Essence of Things exhibition leaflet; Welcome to the Vitra Campus Design & Architecture booklet; notes from my personal travel journal.

Learn more about Vitra at their website: www.design-museum.de

Zambikes, innovative and inexpensive bikes designed to be built and used in Africa

By Susan Merritt | December 30, 2010

As a design professor at San Diego State University, I interact with young adults all the time, so was particularly inspired by the vision of Dustin McBride and Vaughn Spethmann, two young men from Rancho Peñasquitos, California, who founded Zambikes to build strong bikes for the rugged Zambian terrain. McBride and Spethmann recently teamed up with American bicycle designer Craig Calfee of Bamboosero and are also producing bicycles made of bamboo. Their process exemplifies qualities of good design: identifying a critical concern, listening and being sensitive to the needs of the community, and responding with an effective solution.

I first read about Zambikes in The San Diego Union-Tribune in a letter to the editor from Diane Spethmann of Rancho Peñasquitos. Her letter was published in the “Community Dialog” section of the Thursday, December 23, 2010, issue in response to an article published on December 5, 2010: “Project putting garbage to work wins prize.” The article, as Spethmann stated in her letter “rightfully highlighted Long Way Home for winning the BBC/Newsweek World Challenge, which recognizes grass-roots efforts to better communities. Long Way Home developed an effective way to use unwanted tires to build much-needed schools. The story,” she continues, “missed an opportunity to mention that one of the 12 finalists was Zambikes, founded and run by two San Diego County men, Dustin McBride and Vaughn Spethmann of Ranch Peñasquitos. In the three years they have lived in Zambia, McBride and Spethmann have trained and employed 30 Zambians to manufacture and distribute bicycles, bicycle-drawn cargo carts and ‘zambulances,’ and are now making bike frames out of locally grown bamboo. Using microfinance loans, their bicycle products empower entrepreneurs to start businesses, and the bicycle-drawn zambulance enables people in remote areas to receive medical attention, thereby saving lives.”

According to The World Challenge website, 2010 was “the sixth year of The World Challenge Competition and our 12 finalists again raise the bar for sustainable enterprises that are putting something back into their communities. They are all boosting livelihoods and improving living standards without wrecking the environment.”

View the 12 finalists at The World Challenge website and learn more about the organization.


Learn more about Zambikes and Bamboosero from the following videos and website:

Zambikes, Not only building bikes but changing lives

How we make bamboo bikes and trailers


Read more »