Which polish would you buy?

At Ace Hardware recently shopping for silver polish, my wife kept gravitating toward an 8-oz. tub of “Wright’s Silver Cream” out of the half-dozen choices. On the shelf next to Wright’s was the obviously cleaner design of “Maas Metal Polish” in a metallic silver box. So I hold the two side by side and ask Gaye, “Why would you say you prefer the Wright’s?” She took the question seriously, thought for a few moments and said, “It looks like I can trust it.”


So we bought both polishes, and I changed the name on the metallic box to Wright’s Silver Cream . . .


. . . which made it clear that the difference is not in the name but in the design. Gaye still preferred the tub, and, I must say, so do I.

What’s going on? The tub breaks a lot of rules. Garish yellow border (which has what to do with silverware?), felt-pen logo, cheesy typography and silver utensils worthy of the White House, all crashing at once. The Maas box is simpler, with fewer lines and shapes, a single typeface, a centered layout — more disciplined, purer.

So why does the tub work? Because, in this case, it appeals to Gaye’s needs. It’s round, organic, human. It fits your hand. It has a big mouth, easy to dip a rag, expansive, generous. And the label looks rather homemade, which is where the polish will be used, in the home, on nice stuff. Familiar. Non-threatening.

In contrast, the straight lines, hard edges and spare typeface of the metallic box appear hard, industrial, unyielding. Inside the box is a silver tube that requires squeezing, like toothpaste. Its narrow neck conveys constraint, resistance. The visual effect is cooler, less personal, more appropriate for car or power tools, work you’d do in the garage.

So in this case the tub wins. That said, the tub, like many successful products, is not beautiful. It succeeds because of its humbler, less-noticed assets, mainly its physical package.

Don’t overlook this. The size and folds of your page, the format of your screen, the shape of your product — these are real influencers that beautiful graphics can modify but not overcome entirely.

1. Have you seen similar examples?

2. How much better might the tub do if its color/surface/label were beautiful?

3. Could beautiful (warm, organic, non-threatening) graphics make the box more appealing than the tub?

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94 Responses to Which polish would you buy?

  1. Ressa says:

    Good blog, John. In my opinion the tub looks more old-fashioned, so that would make one think it had been around longer and would be more reliable. Something to think about in my designs. Thanks.

  2. Joan Auclair says:

    I just don’t associate a box and a tube with silver polish. The round tub makes sense. In this case, the graphics have no impact on me.

  3. Joe Camblin says:

    1. I see similar examples all the time. The difference often depends on the category of product. With get-the-job-done products, like this example, the looks are almost always secondary to ease of use and general practicality.

    2. If the tub’s color/surface/label were beautiful, I think the product would sell about the same. It might lose some buyers’ trust while gaining new buyers’ attention. The tub form might win out though and ultimately gain a small increase in sales.

    3. Beautiful (warm, organic, non-threatening) graphics would make the box more appealing than it is now but NOT more appealing than the tub.

  4. Heather says:

    I think part of the tub’s appeal, in addition to the practicality of its wide mouth, is its concrete images of silverware. That makes it much easier to visualize its contents in my own kitchen, in use on my own silverware, than those of the more abstract box. (Also, my own tub of Wright’s Silver Cream lives under my kitchen sink, where I wouldn’t want to store a product whose packaging wasn’t both sturdy and water-resistant.)

  5. The box on the right looks like it would be more expensive. I associate bad design with cheap products.

  6. Steve Ruis says:

    I think Wright’s Silver Cream has a reputation that is decades old, and it is missing the point. I think keeping an older, stodgier design could be to its benefit. Seeing an “old” design package on the shelf next to all of the “new, improved” designed products leads people to believe that “if it is still around, it must work.”

    I really would like to see their sales figures before and after such changes. The design change makes it harder for old folks to find (and they’ll wonder, “Will it still work now that they’ve changed it?” when they do.) And new folks will have no idea the stuff has been around for decades working rather well.

  7. Donna says:

    Without a doubt, it has more to do with the utility of the packaging than anything; sort of like trying to imagine buying paste shoe polish in a tube — it would be a mess, and it seems as though you would waste a bit.

    Google images of the Wright’s Silver Cream, and you’ll see their older label. They’ve at least made a step in the direction of indicating what the polish is for by adding silverware images — although the old label had a sort of historical feel to it, something your grandmother trusted.

    Great blog to make us all stop and think. Thanks!

  8. Joan says:

    Actually, I thought the MAAS would be the better product . . . newer, stylish graphics made me think that the product worked better, was improved over the old-fashioned stuff.

  9. Gilly says:

    I think the branding for the tub also looks somewhat dated — which, in this case, might be a plus. It looks like a product that’s been around for a while and is therefore more trustworthy.

  10. Sean DSouza says:

    The package just doesn’t seem like polish. It’s a bit like WD40 in a toothpaste tube.

  11. Peter McWade says:

    The tub is what almost all polish comes in, and it is ingrained that polish is in a tub. Most is sold in a tub. The tub is easy and manageable. Most polish I get is for my car. You don’t find too much of that in fancy boxes and tubes. I’d pick the tub, as that is REAL polish. No need for fancy labels to sell me.

    Pete :-)

  12. Wright’s has been a prominent name in silver polish for a long time in that familiar tub packaging. That is what women of a certain demographic are used to. It would take a lot more than graphic design to overcome that brand identity.

    If you want to compete with what is popular, you either need to look like them only cheaper, or differentiate with a huge budget.

  13. Brett says:

    We are bombarded all the time by lies, political spin, corporate PR and, of course, advertising and packaging (“contents may shake down in shipping”!).

    We are, by now, well aware that we are always being persuaded in some way. The result, for me anyway, is that I tend to “look through” the packaging to see what is there.

    The biggest problem with the box is that it hides its contents. The tub does not; I can probably (if it’s not food) even take the lid off and have a look and a sniff. Further, if the box is clean, elegant and sexy, I know that someone is trying to sell me something. This is metal polish, for heaven’s sake. This is stuff that turns my fingers black.

    The Wright’s tub looks like what it is. Now that just may be good packaging, too. I am sure that they know what the marketplace is thinking.

  14. csleh says:

    Actually, I find the graphics are the reason I prefer the tub. The boxed item looks like fancy skin cream, especially with the scent callout. If you’ve never used polish, you might not know the tub is more convenient, but the sparkly graphic leaves no doubt what the product will do.

  15. Joanne says:

    I think the Wright’s tub looks like silver polish is supposed to look (customer expectations). It probably also stands out well on the shelf.

    By contrast, the other package looks like a hair remover or something that should be in the personal products aisle. :-)

    • Boonjer says:

      I don’t understand. Whether it is in a tub, tube, jar, or box, that is not what is is all about.

      We use the Maas on the brass railing at our church, and it does a fantastic job. The rails stay shiny longer, and Maas is easy to use. I am a Wright by name, and if their product does better than Mass it is one super polish. Use Maas on all metals except polished stainless steel. Can’t beat that.

  16. Phil Campbell says:

    John, how about giving us a mockup of a re-labeled tub? Maybe something in the style of the MAAS box applied to the tub for comparison? That would help advance the discussion.

  17. David G says:

    Silver cream feels old-fashioned, and so the tub and slightly funky layout makes sense to me for the low-tech job of polishing of my silverware. (I might prefer the look of the tube if it were iPod cleaner.) I also like the tub instead of the tube, because it looks like it belongs with a rag. And I don’t polish stuff very often, and the tub looks like it will hold up living under the sink.

    The other factor for me — before you changed the label — is that silver is the only thing I polish (not the iPod). Metal polish seems like it might work, but I don’t know, so I would stick to what I know and buy the Wright product. Ah, and another point for the tub: Would you rather have the w-right product or the maas/mass product?

    Great blog.

    • Boonjer says:

      I had not known my wife before I married her, but afterward I have found she is the best. I said that to help you understand this. Had I not used Maas, I would not have known what a great product it really is.

  18. Cheryl says:

    The box looks very similar to the box my facial moisturizer comes in. With the MAAS name with the dots, it kind of has a spa feel. There is nothing about the box that makes me think it would be to polish metal. The tub is cheesy, but it’s clean and bright just like I want my silver to be.

  19. Janis Camobell says:

    I think the clean design is fine, but the real problem is what else it looks like. To me, it looks like a lot of the design we are seeing from the cosmetics industry. Not exactly a match for silver polish. I also agree with your assessment of the container shape, but particularly from a usability standpoint. The wide mouth container also makes the buyer associate with similar household products such as shoe polish.

  20. June Santosa says:

    I think the reason the tub design is more appealing in comparison to that particular box design is not simply because the tub design is “right,” but because the box design is “wrong.” The purple and silver MAAS polish box looks more like the package of a drug store item (hand cream or shoe polish) than an item in a hardware store. If the Wright’s Silver Cream tub had been compared to another polish that had the right container design, it may not look as appealing.

  21. Rich says:

    Sure the tub says, good ol’ trustworthy product. But the box says sleek, high-tech and sterile. Seems like the stainless steel kitchen crowd would prefer the attributes of the latter. I suppose each design speaks to its target market.

  22. Scott says:

    I think the tub works in part because of the venue where you’re buying it. It’s in a hardware store. You just expect functional items in a hardware store with paste-like consistency to be in tubs. To me, it says that this one will do the job. It has that industrial/blue collar feel, like it’s something a contractor, plumber or carpenter would use. The bad design also seems to contribute to this. The whole “professional grade” sales strategy for tools, trucks, clothing, etc. plays into this psychology.

  23. Rick says:

    I agree with the comments for the tub — old-fashioned, trustworthy, etc.

    Couple of other observations:

    The tub is 8 oz., the box is 2 oz. Even if you don’t hold them in your hand you can still “feel” that the tub is full of the product, while the box probably contains a lot of air.

    The tub looks sturdier, and polishing silver is hard work. There’s a signal there that the tub is saying, “I can hold up under all this hard work.”

  24. Karen Tiede says:

    1. I wouldn’t use something that shines brass on silver.
    2. Neither silver, nor tarnish, have changed much in the last millennium. I hate any advertising with the word, “finally.”
    3. 2 oz vs. 8 oz. What were the prices?
    4. “Silver Cream” vs. “Metal Polish” — which is going to take better care of Grandma’s tea service?
    5. The tub is easier to use and doesn’t spill. The box doesn’t tell you what’s inside, and with those proportions, I’d expect to find an easy-tip bottle, like Brasso (which is runny).

    I know Wright’s is a U.S. company, still manufacturing in NH. Couldn’t tell where MAAS products are manufactured.

  25. Andy Baird says:

    I’ve always had a fondness for Wright’s, because as a child I was entranced by a promotional booklet that the company put out, explaining how in 1872 the founder accidentally discovered the polish’s “secret ingredient” (diatomaceous earth) when his cow got stuck in a muddy bog.

    That said, I’ve found that Noxon metal polish — which has truly ugly, bright-green packaging — works at least as well as either homely Wright’s or high-tech Maas and costs a good deal less. I haven’t bought Wright’s in many years. Sentiment can only go so far. ;-)

  26. Tycho says:

    Interesting points. Another big difference is that there is no ambiguity concerning what the jar is FOR. The box might contain anything from shoe polish to a dental care kit. The jar says what it is before you have a chance to read it. This is also appealing when looking through the stuff under the sink. The user-friendly aspect could be further enhanced by a rounded bottom so the last bits come out as easily as the first.

  27. emac says:

    I actually think that the ‘cheesy’ typography works in this case. It just looks friendly and easy — exactly what you want in a silver polish (to polish with ease). On the other hand, the cleaner packaging looks like a face cream that I might try . . .

  28. Jerry says:

    There is a time to have great, modern design (mostly for your portfolio), and there is a time to give the people what they want in a conventional way. Conventional doesn’t necessarily mean stodgy, old-fashioned, or graphically garish; trying to be too unconventional will lead to disaster. Take, for example, Target’s redesigned in-house label, “Up and Up.” Its minimalist design is attractive, colorful and ultra-modern. Consumers aren’t buying it, because they don’t want cabinets full of stark, cold products that seem, well, generic. Same for that new Pepsi can design. Somewhere there should be a line between aesthetics and audience. Designers miss the mark when they cannot think like consumers and only want to impress the art director or worse, themselves.

  29. Kristin M says:

    If I were looking for silver polish, I wouldn’t buy the Maas brand for three reasons:

    1) because the label says for “all metals,” which could mean that it only does a so-so job on everything, rather than a fabulous job on just silver.

    2) the flat and static feel to the design on the Maas box doesn’t conjure up an image of busy, bustling, silver-cleaning activity, which the Wright’s tub does, so the design doesn’t mimic the task in any way and is not inspiring.

    3) finally, if you hadn’t told me the Maas product was in a tube, I would have assumed it was some kind of add-water powder product in a plastic bag, which would inevitably be much messier than the tub.

    Great question! Thanks,


  30. Chris Mauersberger says:

    I concur with Gaye’s sentiments about the tub’s utility. Here, function follows form for me.

  31. coffeebeanzzz says:

    The tub is “friendlier” looking. Easier to use, and the yellow “handwritten” Silver Cream lettering speaks to me for some reason. Like it would be easier to pick out of all of the cleaning products in the dark cabinet under the sink.

    The MAAS box looks like some sort of drugstore product, not a metal cleaner. Plus it hides its contents. I would probably open it in the store if the box wasn’t sealed, and most likely wouldn’t buy it if i saw a tube inside. That’s a big container for a product that’s a quarter of the tub’s volume (2 oz. v. 8 oz.)

  32. As a shopper, I assume most polishes are basically the same.

    I’d rather pay for the cheaper product with ugly packaging than the expensive product with fancy packaging, and I’m a designer . . . LOL . . .

    I also think the silver package is confusing; I don’t expect polish to come in that size or shape.

  33. Virginia says:

    Two things may be at work here. One is that Wright’s says “Silver Cream” and includes photos of what looks like a family heirloom table setting, making it pretty clear that this product is intended for precisely this use and won’t wreck Grandma’s Gorham. As opposed to MAAS “metal polish,” which is vague enough to make one wonder if it’s an aggressive cleaner intended for copper-bottom pans and wire wheel covers.

    The other factor is the warmth of Wright’s “old-fashioned” typography (even though it has been jazzed up with the felt pen script). Compared to the “achtung!” rigidity and neutrality of the sans-serif type on the MAAS package, it makes it look like Wright’s has personality and integrity. And, gold is a good color to convey warmth, as well as hint at other metals that would benefit from the product.

    Hard to read on screen, but does the MAAS box actually say “French Lavender” at the top? If it does, I can see how a prospective customer would tire of trying to wrap her mind around the meaning of French Lavender Metal Polish and just go with the straight goods, no matter what the design of the package.

  34. Mark Hannon says:

    First of all, the tub looks like it holds a paste, which is how most people think of metal polish. The tub label also shows images of silverware and is just friendlier. The box is very generic. It could be any generic product.

  35. Julie Parker says:

    It’s not just tub vs. box. If you put the two boxes side by side on a shelf, without the tub, I would still buy the Wright’s Silver Cream. It has a clear name and purpose, while the MAAS typeface makes me guess at the spelling, opening the door for doubt to creep in. It could be an automotive product, but then I see the French Lavender, which doesn’t quite fit, and I am confused. The message isn’t clear. It would be interesting to see a MAAS version of the tub.

  36. I would buy the Wright’s because my grandmother used it, and I’ve used it all my life. I know it is a good product and it works the way it should. The tub wins over the tube simply because it is less wasteful. However, if I didn’t know the product, I generally buy the product with the most attractive packaging. I enjoy seeing good design when I open my cupboards!

  37. gazoo says:

    When I think of silver polish, I think of my grandma. My generation and subsequent generations don’t have the tradition of polishing the silver before the Sunday meal, so if I were to buy silver polish I would either choose the brand I remember Grandma using or choose a brand that Grandma might have used.

    Grandma would not have used something in flashy packaging. She would have chosen something that was economical and a workhorse. She’d be impressed with function over a pretty box. Because Grandma was so much more familiar with the product than I would ever be, I’d trust something that she would use, or that looks like she would use.

    20 Mule Team and Quaker Old-Fashioned Oats come to mind when I think of products with an old-fashiony feel, that seem familiar and therefore “right” because they’re what Grandma used.

  38. Jackie Bourgaize says:

    Once again, the medium is the message.

  39. Len Williams says:

    The reason the tub succeeds is simple: it communicates what the product is used for. So many designers get lost in the “look” of the packaging that they forget that the very first rule of design is good communication. The reason the Maas product fails is that the box could contain anything. In a store you have a fraction of a second to communicate:
    1) What your product is and does
    2) How good it is
    3) What benefits a user will get from it

    If the designer doesn’t take these items into consideration first, the packaging will be a failure.

    All that said, the tub could be easily redesigned to look more elegant and attractive, but I would definitely try to use photography of silverware and silver plate to communicate what the product is at a glance, then freshen up the logo and rethink the color scheme.

    Everything in a design (colors, typefaces, photos/art, layout, etc.) should forward the communication of what the product is and does to the benefit of the customer.

  40. Hi there John,

    Like Joan Auclair said, the graphics don’t impact me. It’s the packaging itself that appeals to me. When you look for polish, you already have a “picture” in your head of what you are looking for, and you go and look for something to fit your “picture.” The tub just makes sense, and in the old days almost everything came out in tub or tin form, so I think most of us familiarise ourselves with that.

    The tub definitely wins, with or without the graphics!

  41. Tony V says:

    Wow, I just love questions and discussions like this; it tells me that what I do as a designer/artist is so important, and that we as humans are so complex. It shows me that we need to do our research as thoroughly as possible when it comes to answering a brief, and that we need to help clients of products come up with the best possible design for their product.

    The tub seems to be winning hands down, but did the designers of the Maas product do their research well enough? Or are we comparing apples with pears here? Silver polish vs. metal polish.

    What the blog does tell me is that the Maas product did a good job in coming a close second (you chose it), as there were six products available. Something must have worked. Perhaps we should see all the other available products to ascertain the true power of both designs.

    What would be interesting is to see the sales figures of all the polishes sold at the hardware; remember: test and measure.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking blog.

  42. Anke van Lenteren says:

    My very simple and sexist thought was: The tub looks like solid work, whereas paper packaging looks like it contains face cream or cleanser. Tub any time!

  43. Tim R says:

    Here’s another thought to toss into the ring. Wright’s knows exactly what it is: Silver Cream. The silver utensil handles reinforce the message. Maas says it can polish all metals. What other metals might I want to polish with a metal cream? I’m not really sure. Copper, maybe? If I’m looking to buff up my good silver for Thanksgiving, Wright’s wins.

    Maas also claims, “finally a shine that lasts.” Intuitively, I’m not buying it. I’m guessing that by the time I need to use my good silver again, it needs to be polished once more. Again Wright’s, with its garish yellow letters and sparkling silver handles, is winning the argument for me just by knowing what it is and what it’s supposed to do. There’s a bunch of other stuff written on the Maas box that I can’t read. The Wright’s packaging is simple, direct and fits one’s idea of what a silver polish should look like.

    Also, isn’t it true that most cleaning products use bright color along the lines of Wright’s? I’m thinking the scrubbling bubbles here, or Mr. Clean, or anything else in the cleaning aisle.

  44. For me, the box (Maas product) is more like something you get from the chemist — cough medicine, for instance — so it draws on the wrong concept and gives the wrong message about the product. The round, wide tin/tub is much more what you expect.

  45. Hi,

    I’m from Denmark, and I only know the two products from the pictures given. My first impression when I saw the pictures was that “Wright’s Silver Cream” is too shiny, and the flashy yellow-blue contrast is making me think that the seller tries to sell a bad product by adding a colourful label.

    The “Maas Metal Polish” seems much more low contrast and trustworthy.

    That I have this totally different feeling from the other commenters makes me believe that the generations-long history that many of the other commenters seem to have with “Wright’s Silver Cream” is the most important feature making them like “Wright’s Silver Cream” more than the other product.

    It’s not the layout of the label, it’s not the choice between a tub or or tube — it’s because “my mother used it.” And, well, my mother did not use it!

  46. Rowena says:

    The box is beautiful and clean, but looks like it belongs in the cosmetics section and not with the cleaning products. Also, the tub packaging is much more familiar and would be the first thing I would pick up, having nothing to do with the graphics themselves.

  47. Rodrigo Mattos says:

    It seems to be a consensus that the tub is more appealing. The round shape combined with a wide opening to dip the rag fits all needs.
    The look of the box doesn’t translate well into silver polish. I think it is because of its hard/sharp edges (which may invoke scratching instead of smoothing).

    I have to agree with Adele from South Africa that the graphics don’t matter in this case.

  48. Hi John,

    Here are a few thoughts to add to the discussion:

    1. The Maas brand looks like Pearl Drops Tooth Polish to me, not silver polish. I wouldn’t even see it on the shelf; my mind would skip right past it.
    2. If I’m polishing silver I want silver polish; “metal” polish sounds too generic — and silver is a more “fine” metal to me.
    3. The tub is much easier to work with when polishing — leave it open and use one hand to dip in and get more polish; don’t have to put down what I’m polishing to squeeze a tube to get more polish.
    4. While I don’t love the graphics on Wright’s, it does look old-fashioned enough to have a long history selling polish, and like it will do the trick. Looks like I’d find it in Restoration Hardware with other products that have been around for eons and could use a facelift!

  49. Jim Cunligge says:

    I’d be more tempted to rub the item in the box onto my face than a spoon.

    This product doesn’t need a box outer.

    The cheesy cutlery stems also “sell” what the product is.

    We all know how messy this stuff can get (oily/greasy); that box wouldn’t last a minute!

  50. Scott says:

    Great discussion!

    Also, isn’t it really tradition as well? Silver polish has been coming in tins and tubs forever, and it just seems “proper.”

    And, maybe silver polish is a bit messy to use — scoop out the goo and rub and wipe — and the clean design doesn’t look like it likes to get down and dirty to do the job.

  51. Wendy says:

    I’d like to see the Maas-type design on a tub for a real comparison. However, for “metal cleaner” I use Nevr-Dull Magic Wadding Polish (and they seem to have updated their packaging since the last time I bought a can). It’s been a very long time since I polished any silver besides earrings, and for those, I prefer the liquid dip or a silver cleaning cloth.

    From a design perspective, I was drawn to the clean lines of the box. But then, I’m not in the market for silver polish (and I think the last time I bought some, it came in a squeeze bottle not unlike suntan lotion).

  52. Hugh Henry says:

    Many graphic designers fall into the trap the “newer” looking design must be better for the product. The Maas looks very trendy and current and, as some other commenters have mentioned, could any product . . . face cream . . . sunblock . . . anything.

    Many customers shop by shape; that is, they look for the familiar when shopping. WD-40 comes in a can with a straw taped to it . . . Jell-O comes in a little rectangular box.

    When customers are shopping for silver polish, they are looking for something they have seen in their parents’ home or their grandparents’ home. Familiarity is a strong force in design and should never be discounted when beginning a redesign project.

    The only exception is when package shape has been a hindrance to using the product. Think about the paint can and how the Dutch Boy brand changed the container. But even then, they still haven’t completely changed the industry.

  53. Keith says:

    Wright’s has been around a long, long, long, time . . . surely there are some imprinted emotions driving these sales. I’m sure many of us have had childhood experiences with Wright’s at our mother’s or grandmother’s homes. The magical properties of this product in the eyes of a child are bound to leave an impression, no matter how ugly the label is. I think the fact that this is a utilitarian product also comes into play. I buy gas at the cheapest station. Yes, BP’s logo and stations evoke a sense of a clean-burning, environmentally friendly product . . . but in the end, gas is gas. I also couldn’t help but notice that Wright’s gives you eight ounces of product, while Maas only provides two.

  54. Ute-s says:

    I’m not a native speaker of English. Living in Germany, my family has no tradition of buying Wright’s. But nevertheless, I would buy Wright’s, too, if I saw it on a shop shelf.

    The image of the sparkling, polished spoon makes it clear to me what it’s used for. With the box, I would not be sure whether I’m buying the right product for my needs.

    The USA as well as Germany are countries with a large population of people who were not born in the country and who learned the language of the country as a second language. For them, packaging that shows the product or its use is much easier to understand (and to buy) than stylish, type-only packaging.

    I sometimes go shopping in the Turkish supermarket around the corner, because I love Mediterranean food. I only buy packages with images showing the content (or transparent bags), because I don’t understand a word of Turkish.

    (Admittedly, images sometimes can be misleading. I remember the astonished face, when a foreign visitor asked me with horror in his voice “Do you eat cats and dogs in Germany?” when seeing cans of pet food on supermarket shelves.)

  55. Jim Bellomo says:

    Audience. It all comes down to audience. The comments on this post are outstanding, but I don’t think I read one that says that their marketing comes down to knowing their audience. People 30 and under are probably not going to be buying silver polish. Sorry, my kids (over 30) have never polished silver in their lives. The designer who did the tub just understood this. The box is for trendy yuppies, the tub for silver-polishing, aging baby-boomers like me. And probably like you and your lovely wife, John. ;-)

  56. Sharon says:

    A straightforward, new-timey reason to prefer the old-timey design: less packaging. It’s not hard. You see what you get.

  57. clem Wigley says:

    The tub is unpretentious and honest; people are not always seduced by slick design. It reminds me of an example they showed us in art school: a farmer leans an old roofing slate against a post with the words “Free-range eggs for sale” written rather badly in chalk.

    Across the road is a massive, beautifully branded sign, complete with a plump brown hen, displaying the same message. Who’s eggs do you choose? Most people would go for the slate against the post.

  58. Since you presented the revised packages to the same person, the decision had already been made in favor of the familiar name and package. You should have chosen an evaluator who had not been involved in the original comparison.

  59. Gord Wright says:

    It’s good to see that some people here understand that graphic design isn’t the only thing that goes into marketing a product.

    The obvious first thing I notice, as someone unfamiliar with either brand, is that Wright’s shows the benefit of the product — sparkly clean silverware. I do note that others are seeing advantages of functionality of the package and brand loyalty.

    Of course, the most important thing is not to understand what graphic designers think, but what customers think. Graphic designers need to understand this point . . . especially because that’s what this exercise is all about.



  60. It appears to me that these two products are intended for different purposes, Wrights for silverware and Maas for small pieces such as jewelry. Hence the difference in container, packaging, etc. I’m wondering if Maas intended to have their polish shelved next to Wright’s in the household section.

    For me, I would keep the smaller tube of Maas in my bedroom near my jewelry and other small metal pieces found in a clothing closet (purse decorations, metal buttons, etc.) and would want something that cleaned all metals.

    The exclusive look including the bedroom/bath smell of lavender, along with the smaller size and ease of dispensing a small dab at a time through the tube is certainly what I would probably choose for jewelry, etc. With the popularity of beading and jewelry-making, I believe the Maas would be best as well and better marketed through craft shops, jewelry stores, etc.

  61. Julia says:

    One more thing about the boxed product: The scent is “French lavender.” Really, people, of what value is a fake lavender scent with silver polish? Yech! I’d rather have the silver (which I will use next week at Thanksgiving) not reek of some weird, non-turkey scent.

  62. RogerG says:

    I side with Joan — for me, too, the new clean lines of Maas make me think of it as more modern, hence further scientifically advanced, so . . . gotta be better.

  63. Sharon Spurgin says:

    Friday morning and I’m swamped with work, but here I am, checking out metal polish labels. I’ve just had a whole new world opened up to me — did you happen to check out the “Cape Cod” kit? Even Grandma would like the looks of it. And, yes, the Noxon label that another reader mentioned is . . .

    This is such a wonderful business! Thanks, John!

  64. Debra Nelson Luraas says:

    The tub is my choice because the graphics show a sparkling silver utensil. The visual attracts my attention; without having to read a thing, I know the product is what I am looking for.

  65. phil hocking says:

    Mainly, it’s because Wright’s is a familiar name; it has been around a long time. That being said, the wide-mouth tub is a lot more practical in this instance — for both reasons — you can trust it. The clunky graphics are almost irrelevant and, in fact, might add to the “warm fuzzy” appeal of the product, unlike the austere look of the other brand.

    I would have made the same choice your wife did.

  66. Beth Walsh says:

    Wow, my first reaction even before reading anything about these two products was that my eyes were glued to the Wright’s tub. The yellow, felt-tip marker font was the clincher, followed by the ornate silverware handles glittering on either side of that. The humble tub packaging pronounces “ease of use” and holds out that alluring promise of instant gratification. The cleaner, cooler design of the Maas product, on the other hand, is a much more stand-offish look, harder for the average buyer to relate to, though a quick visit to its website shows a much more approachable aura and gorgeous pictures of all types of metal their product should be able to shine up nicely for you. But since we’re really looking at the packaging here, I have to own up to that first impression.

  67. Leslie says:

    One question is who buys silver polish? It’s mostly older people who own silver and have bought that polish for years. The established look of the tub is probably a familiar item that buyers seek out on the shelf.

  68. Tricia Young says:

    Well, my first reaction was that I liked the Maas design. True, the tub might be more practical, but because the Maas product says it works on all metals, I would tend to go with that. Who has silver to polish? I have stainless steel, some copper, bronze, brass, and maybe some silver that gets used occasionally. I don’t like the Wright’s design too much, and I like to have product labels around that look nice on the shelf. Like Kleenex boxes that match the decor. And I love French Lavender. Looking at the two websites tells me that the Wright’s polish can be used on other metals, but it doesn’t give that impression on the label. I don’t like the font, the colors, or the little sparkles on the silverware. I even like the tube better than the tub. Call me different.

  69. karsy says:

    For me, it’s the container:

    What if you put the “modern” design of the Maas label on the tub container?

    And put the Wright label with the silverware on the box? Does that change the appeal?

  70. Barbara says:

    I agree with the editor’s comments and others, but, primarily, I’ve been buying Wright’s for years and it works well, so I would likely not even have tried the other. Karen Black said it well: “While I don’t love the graphics on Wright’s, it does look old-fashioned enough to have a long history selling polish, and like it will do the trick. Looks like I’d find it in Restoration Hardware with other products that have been around for eons and could use a facelift!

  71. Michele says:

    I think the tub wins for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is the look of its competitor. The Maas product looks like something I should be applying to my skin, not my utensils.

  72. Ellen Fish says:

    Clearly I am a woman of a “certain demographic.” You buy Wright’s because it works. Because your mother used it. Because you know what the tub looks like and you can find it easily when you buy it again (which is probably once in every three years). The sparkling silver spoons work to tell anyone — whether English-reading or not — what it is for.

    This is Coke Classic — don’t mess with the formula; don’t change the package or the branding. Those who know it want it just the way it is.

  73. John Sinclair says:

    When considering design and graphics for any product, the object is not to win awards but to achieve sales. The stye must fit the product and the market.

    Who is to say that the tub is a bad design? For the product and its market, it is giving off all the right vibes.

    OK, so it might offend the design purists — you can just hear the, “Oh my gawd, they’ve set the name in 24.025-pt Times bold when it should have been 24.125-pt, and that yellow band — couldn’t you just throw up?!”

    But we’re not selling “good design” here. We’re not even selling silver cream; we’re selling the promise of shiny, clean metal — as shiny as the cutlery on the tub in a pack that looks as if it will last forever.

    It’s sitting there on the shelf shouting at the customer, “I’ll make things shine — you impress your guests — go on, pick me up and see how easy it is. I’m the one to do it!”

    How unlike the box sitting there bland and boring saying, “I’m in disguise — you would never know what I do unless you looked closely and spotted the words “metal polish”— in possibly 24.125-pt type.

    It’s as simple as that.

  74. Jonathan Aragones says:

    Try putting the Wright’s label on the box and the Maas label on the tub. Or add a silver spoon to the Maas box? From my personal experience, I would use the tub for big serving platters, and a squirt bottle for smaller copper or silver ornamentation. But now I prefer the tarnished patina over the shiny stuff that looks like cheap chrome or plastic.
    Ironically, what I recall from my memory as a grocery store stock boy is that the Wright’s packaging is the newer version. Silver polish used to be sold in metal cans with push lids, not plastic with screw on tops. And the labels were almost always text with no graphics of silverware. People would always ask me if they could polish copper or brass with silver polish, and I would need to read the label.

  75. Lesley says:

    Maas metal polish does a good job of cleaning metals. It is expensive but lasts for ages and is stocked in the UK by Lakeland, a kitchen company that has branches nationwide (oh dear, I’m sounding like an advert). I use it but have never heard of Wright’s Silver Cream.

    Sometimes all the best, well-researched and thoughtful design may be applied to an item, but you pick a product for other reasons, such as you know it does the job, or you trust the retailer who sells it or your friend told you it was good.

  76. jackie says:

    I think what facilitates the tub being a more likely purchase is that it has pictures of silver items on it — it’s not a “mystery cream” — it’s quite obvious what it’s for.

    The clean, white box might work for apothecary skin care, but making a product box too sterile might make people question its proposed use (unless it’s a very established name or meant to be a piece of art! LOL).

  77. Droolcup says:

    Good blog, good comments. My own two cents are these:

    1. Wright’s is a brand I know, and even if it looks outdated, the formulation of the items I would polish has not changed, so outdated is fine.

    2. I wouldn’t want to try to use silver polish from a tube. If it were anchovy paste or tomato paste, now, that’s another matter.

    3. The box is far more attractive and I would look at it and admire it, BUT I don’t know the name, I can’t see the tube, and for all I know it could be my moisturizing cream, which comes in a little pump in a box quite similar to that.

    4. Though I don’t love the tub’s label, the tub wins out of practicality.

    5. As a consumer, after admiring labels, I compare weight and price and, if brands are both unknown to me, I go for what is most cost-effective. The polish container is not going to decorate any spot in my home that is regularly viewed, so it will add nothing to my environment. Sheer practicality rules.

  78. Fadhel says:

    If it were an anti-aging cream, I would go for the Maas, as it looks more sophisticated, more industrial (coming out of a laboratory, with loads of years of research behind), and since it’s a smaller tube, it must be very efficient, because you would only need a little droplet to do the job.

    On the other hand, I wouldn’t trust the silver cream, as it looks like it’s homemade, cheap (comes in a tub), it contains larger amounts than the Maas, so it must be inefficient, because you will needs loads of it, and that’s why it comes in a “bucket.”

    Now, when it come to silver polish, the whole concept changes upside down; as John explained, the homemade look of the sliver cream makes it more appealing.

  79. Greg says:

    I think one of the things that people are missing here is the connection that the label makes with its audience. If you see a round, white tub with a dark blue background, white printing, and yellow accents, what do you think of? To me, I think of mayonaise (Hellman’s) or, to a lesser extent, Miracle Whip. Associating a silver polish with something familiar and, possibly, comforting, would make one more inclined to buy it, no?

  80. David Kunkel says:

    I agree with all the comments that “silver cream” is task-specific; that the Wright’s tub suggests greater value for my dollar; and that one assumes that a traditional product is best for a traditional task. I was intrigued by Paw Hermansen’s (of Denmark) comments . . . that the Maas name and package design looks/sounds European, and he was drawn to that product. I come across this often in my work for a multinational corporation; European design expectations and culture are very different than U.S. ones, and you must carefully design to meet their expectations. For instance, my stock photo subjects must be overwhelmingly Caucasian and young; non-work life must be implied; Bauhaus design influences are still very strong. “Know your audience” is the takeaway from this conversation, overall.

  81. Laura (aka Pixel Princess) says:

    I like this example. It is a good learning device. I would buy the old-fashioned container, because I already know and use this brand of polish. However, I do not know what I would buy if there were only the more modern-looking boxes vs. and old-fashioned, tub-like containers. But, since there were two distinct types, I would go for the brand I grew up with — and it looks like it has more product in it than the tall, modern-styled box. I must agree that the label is ugly — and that sometimes as a designer I do fall for that kind of marketing of “pretty labeling and packaging” — depending on what the product is and what the cost is.

    Thanks again for a great example! I shared it with other designers.

  82. Tobias says:

    I’d choose the container as well. But I have an idea for the box: Supply the tube with a sponge to apply and spread the polish directly like some shoe-polish products. Show this feature on the box, and voilà: It will attract more customers. I’d bet on it. Simplicity rules.

  83. Dave says:

    I’m a writer trying to learn a little more about design (I know, heresy), not a designer, so I’ll make a couple of points from the perspective of the great unwashed:

    1 — The picture of shiny silverware tells me (visually) what the product does.
    2 — The yellow border was irrelevant to me. I didn’t even notice it until I read about it in these posts.
    3 — The Maas box, while a “cleaner” design, might as well have been a brown paper bag that said, “polish” on it. Its design communicated nothing of value to a person who does not consider such things as a matter of professional interest (me). As I’m always trying to get across to our designers, don’t let the art get in the way of communicating the message.

    Keep up the good work — I’m learning a lot from this site!

  84. Does anyone even have silverware anymore?

    Does anyone polish silverware anymore?

    For what it’s worth, I’ll take the tub.

  85. Seb says:

    Here’s a plumber’s opinion on the matter:

    The tub packaging is the kind I would look for on the shelf. It is highly practical for the job that needs being done, easy to open and handle.

    The Maas packaging would not have caught my eye, as it looks more like the packaging of a beauty product than a household product. If I couldn’t read English, I would think it was some sort of skin lotion. That’s probably because of the color of the box.

  86. Kate says:

    Sitting on a shelf, the tub immediately tells me that I will be able to polish my silver. And the box? Well, it might do it because it’s near the silver polish . . .

    I agree with Dave to not let “design” get in the way of what we are trying to really do — communicate the message.

  87. Amy Dean says:

    What a great, yet simple, example of what design can do. There are many good points made about the history of Wright’s Silver Cream and the emotions associated with it, the practicality of the jug, and the unassuming packaging. What really strikes me is that the cleaner, more modern packaging is so unenthusiastic about doing the job. Polishing silver is about gleaming, shiny, bright objects. The Wright’s packaging at least illustrates what it is for and, for better or worse, the felt type says, Hey, we’re excited about getting our silver shiny! The Maas couldn’t be much more dull. You gotta at least pretend to be exciting by what you are promoting, right?

    Great exercise!

  88. Paul says:

    A similar example we all know:


  89. Mrs. M. Jane Feltham-Fletcher says:

    Please could somebody give me a “lead” to where I can purchase “Wright’s Silver Cream” in the UK/Channel Islands? I use to be able to buy in the Channel Islands but the dealer has discontinued! When searching on the Web site it seems I can only purchase this product in the United States/Canada.

  90. Pawel says:

    I am heavily into graphic design. It seems, you’d be able to tell the better product through the design of its package. Generally, the product with the aesthetically stronger/more-innovative label would be thought to be the better. But this is not always true. It almost seems like that idea is moving in the opposite direction in certain instances. In a case like this, I’d gravitate towards the canister of Wrights over the MAAS. There’s something about the low-budget/little focus on the design and packaging that tells me the company is more focused on the quality of the product. I almost feel like the company that markets things best is the one that needs your attention most. A product like Wrights doesn’t need the gimmicks, so to speak.

    I have seen this in a few other instances:

    BRAGG Apple Cider Vinegar — Hideous design, superior quality.

    PB BLASTER Rust Penetrating Catalyst — Obnoxious design, great stuff.

    I liked this article. Brought up a good point.

  91. Corey says:

    It seems like a matter of the right design for the right product… what package fits?

    The Wright’s says “Your silver will shine” and it SHOWS me. With nice clear images. The Maas is more abstract, and looks like some upscale designer product that belongs in the aisle with the perfumes and colognes (hard to have a “picture” of perfume). If these were THAT sort of item, and I were choosing an untried product based on packaging, I would probably pick the Maas.

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