Trader Joe's:
a retrospective of sorts

a decade of creative & design I produced for
one of the world's most iconic brands

trader joe's is a specialty retail grocer with over $2,100 sales per square foot--more than double any other grocer. they have accomplished this with little to no advertising, no loyalty programs, no coupons, no "daily deals", no focus groups, and no paid influencers.

Role: Senior Designer

November '07 - January '18

Unique to most creative in-house or agency settings, all of the work in this retrospective was executed by myself: design, copy, and creative direction. (Trader Joe's creatives own their projects end-to-end.)

My approach to creative & design at Trader Joe's was rooted in complete fearlessness. It's this radical idea that people shouldn't be force-fed boring at the expense of fearing a product's potential failure. But even more importantly, it's understanding that a moment of joy goes a really, really long way.

Thematically this body of work is representative of cumulative details that provide a customer experience that is simultaneously unexpected and full of delight.


While Trader Joe's has a handful of category-specific line-looks (primarily protein & dairy), most products are end-to-end in the hands of the creative. When Trader Joe's launched a rotating suite of small lot coffees, this was especially true. The first of these was a bean grown in Sulawesi.

One of my favorite small lot coffee executions was a coffee bean known as Geisha that can fetch up to $70 for a mere 12 ounces. Trader Joe's price point was significantly less at $20--which was still more than any other coffee on TJ's shelves. With each store only receiving 48 cans I knew the presentation had to be more than your average coffee can design.

I worked diligently with the vendor's printer that included machine numbering, hot foil stamping, and a beautiful brush cotton stock. The goal was to match the expectation of the price point with the product's shelf presence.

A corner stone of my design is all-original illustrations. No stock art. I developed a unique method of creating "WPA-style" prints by using handmade ink-roll shading vectors. The result is something a bit more unique than a conventional Illustrator brush. I've since passed down this technique to designers for other retailers including 711 and Imperfect Foods.


category: pet

I get asked if I've ever "snuck" anything onto a Trader Joe's package and the answer is, "of course." My dogs Cosmo and Sophie (RIP guys), have made more than a few appearances. A lot of fun details on these packages including some hand drawn type and even some illustrations of my doggos. To this day when I buy pet products adorning their likeness the Trader Joe's cashier will ask, "what kind of dog do you have?" -- it was a little more fun when Cosmo and Sophie were still alive because I would just point to the dog on the package and say, "that's my dog!"

category: health & beauty

category: holiday

this might be one of the favorite things i've ever written. as part of a visual element i framed a die-cut window showcasing trader joe's extraordinary bark with an epic string of stream-of-conscious prose in small 8 pt type. the thing is, if no one ever read a word of this copy it in no way negates the product. however! the customer that decides to invest their time into the journey of the product is let in on the joke. they become part of the experience.

Dare we say this is an exercitation in the pairing of many a dandy, not merely candy, a bark as no other bark could be conceived, nay, dreamed–as a dream within a dream–rampant with mini milk chocolate peanut butter cups, replete with pretzels… a divine concoction that no mere mortal could deny to try, one long road from ordinary, an extra step, an extra ingredient, no turn-by-turn instructions provided, a map to decadence, caramel popcorn, transcendence… throwing caution to the wind we collected this collection from no whim, each ingredient unto its own… a deliberate choice as dictated by the muse of taste, these words “extra” and “ordinary” do make for strange bedfellows as we meld this delight like one melds the prose of seemingly infinite possibilities across a blank page–or if you will, a canvas of dark chocolate– we fearlessly let our brush fly over a palette of savory and sweet and crunchy and salty… a way of which to speak the heart on this timeless journey, teetering about the edge of olfactory bliss… we didn’t add almonds, one doesn’t simply add almonds… we decisively crushed those almonds, this is the bark that demands the determination of destiny, proving of “extraordinary”, a steadied spin, a dreaming dream of mini milk chocolate peanut butter cups, pretzels, caramel popcorn and crushed almonds, there is no better adjective than these words: extraordinary bark of the finest collection.

i was tasked with redesigning the trader joe's chocolate passport.

The previous design consisted of rustic textural patterns tied together with rafia. (I thought it was a little clunky and the rafia didn't hold the product together very well.) I decided to make the passport actually look like a passport. all elements were custom made to my specifications including the red tie disc and multicolor string.

Growing up in an era of 8-bit gaming consoles and largely analog entertainment, board games were a routine staple of fun.

As a creative, I'm still obsessed with board games which is why I created this vintage-vibe of an advent calendar. The copy is pretty great.

"Place game piece on the start space. Open the perforated square and collect one chocolate. Follow the instructions of each space and move game piece accordingly to the next sequential number. Wait exactly one day to take your next turn. Taking two or more turns on the same day will result in losing that many future days worth of turns and chocolate."

"Landing on a green space: essentially green spaces involve intrigue, mystery, strategy and moving the game piece forward exactly one space as directed by each green space’s directions."

"For the win: after 23 days of game play, making this possibly the longest board game in history, prepare for victory! After landing on the 24th space remove the last remaining chocolate and congratulate yourself for winning Trader Joe’s 24 Chocolate‘s Adventure Game."

The Trader Joe's perennial holiday favorite "Taste Test of Caramels" has a great story behind it. Read more.

category: grocery mix

brand & marketing

i designed many of trader joe's ubiquitous reusable grocery bags, but the nyc bag has perhaps the best story.

The bag on the upper left was actually the original version of the NYC bag. About a month after appearing on the streets of New York, the Guggenheim Museum sent Trader Joe's a cease & desist order. I had infringed on the Guggenheim's architectural copyright law... "but could you please send us 50 of the bags." While my paintings may not have made it into the museum, I take great comfort in knowing, at the very least, my work has been appreciated at the highest level. (I replaced the museum with, what else, a cupcake.)

The boston 20th anniversary has some of my favorite hidden nuggets. Actually, for the bottom of both boston trader joe's bags i replicated boston's famously orange parking ticket along with some fun copy. worth a read. (one of the boston bags i created is TIKTOK FAMOUS.)

Thank you for purchasing this reusable grocery bag commemorating Trader Joe's 20 year anniversary of setting up shop in the great state of Massachusetts. In 1996 this bag would've conveniently transported your camera, the film for your camera, your books, your giant portable cellular phone, your giant portable cellular phone charger, maps, a compass, thermometer, barometer, address book, 40 pound portable laptop computer, 40 pound portable laptop computer charger, pager, personal organizer/date book/calendar, CD or cassette player and last, dozens of CD’s and cassette tapes. Fast forward to modern times. With the advent of smart phones this bag now serves a completely new purpose… selfie stick holder. Of course you could also use this bag to transport your drone, but we find that it makes a pretty decent vessel for hauling groceries from Trader Joe’s straight to your home—just as it would’ve 20 years ago. #selfiestickbag

the portland, oregon bag is another fan favorite i conceptualized and designed.

Taking a cue from Portland's ubiquitous music-scene flyers, I wanted the execution to really harness Portland's DIY ethos. also, punk bands named after Trader Joe's products... is "Reduced Guilt" the perfect punk band name or what?


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