Fearless or Flop?

First, let me state that I am not a Trader Joe’s shopper. I have no attachments to their brand. I also have never been inside a Trader Joe’s. In fact my only experience with Trader Joe’s is an episode of Ellen I watched years ago. However, I have heard of them and have some idea about their brand.

Last week I received the Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer, their version of a sale circular (with a little bit extra). I recall occasionally receiving this and immediately tossing it in the recycling bin. There are two grocery stores within five minutes of my home, and the closest Trader Joe’s is a twenty minute drive, on a good day. However, my resolution to be more committed to this blog caused me to pause and peruse The Flyer.

As a designer, this wasn’t a good pause, though. This was a “How could this possibly lure anyone to sit down and read this thing?” pause. Perhaps this is where my lack of attachment to Trader Joe’s comes into play. A normal grocery sale circular is easy to browse; it is generally heavy on pictures and light on copy—just enough to communicate the weekly sales and featured items (in no certain terms am I saying grocery circulars are an example of good design).

The Trader Joe’s website describes the Flyer as…

“A cross between Consumer Reports and Mad Magazine, The Fearless Flyer is kind of like a newsletter, a catalog and a bit of a comic book all at the same time. It’s our chance to give you loads of interesting (hopefully) information about our products. And along the way, we like to toss in some witty (we try) tidbits and even a few old-fashioned cartoons.”

Fearless Flyer Cover

Fearless Flyer Inside

Convince Me to Invest My Time
Aesthetically, The Flyer falls short of the artisanal vibe found in Trader Joe’s signage, packaging and website. Take away the historical cartoons and you have no visual connection. Where’s the playfulness, engaging typography and informational hierarchy that I see in their website? The Flyer fails to draw my attention and convince me to invest my time.

Make Me Feel like I’m Reading a Short Story, not a Novel
It wasn’t just the design of The Flyer that gave me pause; it was also the presentation of an incredible amount of text. The Fearless Flyer requires a great deal of attention and commitment from the reader in order to wade through the 24 pages of content. The pages are overflowing, to the point of drowning, in text. Color and playbook-like circles and arrows are the main methods of separating content and guiding your eye across the page.

I also got the impression there was no rhyme or reason to how they presented their content. Every now and then I felt like there was an attempt to group similar items, but I’d continue to read and inevitably was lead to think otherwise. I was confused to find a “Handy Flyer Shopping List” smack dab in the middle of The Flyer. It makes no sense to me that a shopping list be placed in the middle of The Flyer when half the items on the list have yet to be “introduced” to the reader.

Laying Out the Page
These are just a few things that irk me.

  1. Paragraph spacing is larger than column gutters.
    While a particular article might feel airy, the articles themselves are encroaching into each other’s space.
  2. Paragraph spacing is inconsistent.
    When I see inconsistency in spacing, text size, leading, etc.,
    I always think back to kids in school that would use large type
    and double-space an entire essay to make the content fill their page quota.
  3. No baseline alignment.
    Each article feels as though it was crafted individually and “pasted” onto the page (but not in a good way).
  4. Horizontally scaling and/or negative tracking the text.
    A Thinking with Type ‘Type Crime.’ Make the shoe fit, not the foot. Don’t use these methods to save space.

Just One Person’s Opinion
You really do need to invest in this mini magazine in order to appreciate The Flyer’s kitschy writing and word play. Unfortunately, content is not enough to make me want to sacrifice my time. If I already had an attachment to the brand, perhaps I would feel differently.

Through some quick Internet research, I was able to find plenty of Fearless Flyer fans out there; one being Mr. Morgan Brown. His articles on artisanal marketing and authenticity in marketing are well-written and offer many valid arguments in praise of The Flyer. He almost convinced me not to write this article. However, poor design is poor design, despite the quality of the content. Amp-up The Flyer’s visual design and informational composition and I believe you could convince me to not only invest my time, but possibly visit a Trader Joe’s.