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Dig Deeper into Design — Starting with Yogurt

AirSpace

Chobanicore's visual language — the green and white — signals health and wellbeing. Together, these colors brand Chobani as a wellness company.
Chobanicore's visual language — the green and white — signals health and wellbeing. Together, these colors brand Chobani as a wellness company. By Charlotte A. Nickerson
By Charlotte A. Nickerson, Crimson Opinion Writer
Charlotte A. Nickerson ’24 is a History concentrator in Dudley House. Her column, “AirSpace,” appears on alternate Wednesdays.

Chobanicore (noun): authenticity as a marketing tactic, found even in the branding of your FlyBy yogurt cup. Imagine a woman standing on a balcony, holding a steaming mug. Her hair, the steam, and the leaves of lush plants all gush in the wind. Thrust into the utopia of Chobanicore through advertisements, one is forced to confront the cognitive dissonance of capitalism on a wellness retreat and design’s insidious potential.

The design-based authenticity of Chobanicore follows a decades-long lineage. Starting around the 1980s, designers copied Great Depression-era packaging and hand-lettered signs to convey the quality and materiality of American-made goods. Now, nostalgia has reintroduced this design trend into the backside of Domino’s pizza boxes, artisanal coffee shop menus, and yes — Chobani yogurt cartons.

Chobanicore’s visual language — the green and white — signals health and wellbeing. Color psychologists widely see green as a soothing color, reminiscent of nature. White has associations with cleanliness, simplicity, and new beginnings. Together, these colors brand Chobani as a wellness company.

I’ll be honest with you: I love Greek yogurt. A Costco-sized crate of it has taken up permanent residence in the corner of my fridge. It’s not Chobani’s design itself that is a problem, so much as the theoretical potential for this aesthetic approachability to spur widespread cognitive dissonance. Chobani itself is pretty much a straight-and-narrow wellness company — but similar design elements can be used to mislead.

New looks can hide old truths. Hand-lettering and specific color palettes can disarm viewers with the appearance of familiarity. These aesthetics can then be used to conceal ethical concerns, creating something shiny on the outside, but rotten to the core.

For example, in Silicon Valley, 2017-2020 ushered in Meta’s adoption of the Alegria illustration system, with flat humans with strange proportions and unnatural skin. Alegria both recalls 1980s nostalgia and introduces millennial ideals of diversity and inclusion. This provides, perhaps, the perfect cover-up for scandal.

But a big enough scandal can pull back the curtains. After the 2018 Cambridge Analytica scandal, where a British consulting firm used the non-consensually gathered data of millions of Facebook users for targeted political ads, think pieces criticized Alegria for distracting Meta’s consumers from the company’s failings. Writers coined the term “Corporate Memphis:” a corporate appropriation of the 1980s Memphis Design Group’s use of geometric shapes and bright colors to bolster approachability. In the face of such a large scandal, we all saw, for once, how design had fooled us.

This column is named “AirSpace” after the plethora of aesthetic emptiness that occupies our coffee shops, offices, and hotels, and has the potential to mislead us. You can travel the entire world and never escape AirSpace — and as Harvard students, who circulate the same Cambridge spaces, have grown comfortable with the unthinking repetition of class schedules and dhall menus, and often go on to work for large corporations desperate to win Gen Z’s favor, we might be especially trapped in the AirSpace. It’s important for us to think critically about vacant design as it relates to our lives; you can start doing so the next time you’re throwing packaged foods into a green bag at FlyBy.

Charlotte A. Nickerson ’24 is a History concentrator in Dudley House. Her column, “AirSpace,” appears on alternate Wednesdays.

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