Opinion by Eleanor Robertson Posted 9 September 2020
The spray paint packaging on shelves in Ukraine is usually sad, and often amusing: ‘sad because someone made it… amusing because someone put it into production,’ Kyiv’s Madcats Agency admits. There’s a riot of colour, a sea of tasteless typography and a catalogue of dreadful names (Auto Email, Body 999 and Rector are among the competition).
Mitka is different. The aerosol paint is produced by Poltava-based GPL, the country’s leading manufacturer-distributor of technical fluids and auto parts. During a two-year partnership, Madcats has given the conglomerate a new corporate identity as well as a smart packaging system for Vira, the company’s flagship car lubricant.
Mitka is the Ukrainian word for ‘mark’ because paint can be used to ‘make a mark’ with colour. A bit like a graffiti tag, it’s personal, elevating industrial and automotive spray jobs to an act of expression, an art that might ‘leave a trace in history’. This isn’t fine art; it’s about the sort of everyday beauty that can bring pride.
The packaging expands on this name with design that is bold, expressive and charmingly subversive. The logo forms a cylinder complete with a neat little nozzle, playing the visual trick of recognition and surprise. It’s smart and precise with distinctive capitals filling the height and width of each can. On the shelf the shape is instantly recognisable, emphasising the product’s practical utility.
The chunky font – presumably based on Helvetica Extra Compressed Black – is equally striking in Latin as in Cyrillic, conveying a solid heavy-duty work ethic. It feels familiar yet fresh, demonstrating the essential power of typography.
On the reverse, large warning symbols are a key element of the layout, proudly applied in Oracal print vinyl. There’s humour here as much as a celebration of functionality – the same comic bravado which takes ‘make the logo bigger’ to its extreme and revels in its own success with a thumbs-up from a heat-proof mitten.
The product photography is witty too. Under the Lynchian glare of hazard lighting, a black backdrop forces the aluminium cans to recede while giving prominence to the logo, mischievously suggesting the object that is hidden. Props include breeze blocks, bright orange correx and safety goggles in an exaggerated display of masculinity that is borderline cartoonish.
Though it’s hard to judge tone in translation, there’s an interesting relationship between the rebellious playfulness of these visuals and Madcats’ self-effacing, self-consciously mundane project description: ‘I’m just a paint… With me, you can paint the fence, fridge and hilt of your favourite katana’. This ‘smile in the mind’ is delivered with a knowing wink.
There are flaws. Despite its cleverness on the shelf, the logo is less impactful in other contexts, especially digital applications where the wordmark is rotated (presumably to improve legibility). The cute symbol for social platforms might work better with the M upright, crowned with the cube.
For a brand that’s all about colourful expression, the colour system may also not be sufficiently robust. Madcats’ case study suggests that colour indicates contents: ‘the color accent is for making it easy to choose the right color’. Yet there are over 300 products in the range, and only five vivid midtones in the showcase – so it’s not clear how successfully this would roll out.
These factors aside, Madcats’ work certainly grabs attention. The packaging bristles with attitude, delivering a strong idea in a way that is immediate and pure. It’s dramatic, it’s brave and it’s just the right side of tongue-in-cheek. Like the paint, it ‘gets the job done’ but insistently on its own terms.