Chris Rogers writer on architecture and visual culture

A Niceday for walking the dog

Stationery shouldn’t be funny, should it? You shouldn’t smile when you take a packet of paper clips out of the storeroom, or laugh when you pick up a stick of staples.

Or should you?

In 1992, WH Smith Business Supplies, trade arm of the famous high street chain, engaged London design house Newell & Sorrell to change that, to make paper, envelopes and the other miscellanea of office life fun.

A bold beginning was simply to bring products together into a new brand and call it Niceday. Packaging colours were pared down, with the principal range using only black and white.

The key to achieving the stated aim of amusement amongst the filing cabinets, though, was a partnership with New York cartoonist Charles Barsotti.

Barsotti designed a cute cartoon dog – actually a pup – to front the new brand. But the dog would not just appear on every pack; he would actually star in a single-panel cartoon strip there that was different for every product. Thus staples became fences for a round of show-jumping; sticky tape was wrapped round the little character's muzzle; and plastic folder covers would provide a kennel-like shelter from the rain.

Other examples of this witty, highly original approach involved the Niceday logo. With glue sticks the dog looks, with a frown, at the same dot suddenly stuck on its own high up at the top of the product casing instead of where it should be; for floppy disks, the dot of the letter ‘i’ is held by a Greek statue of a discus thrower, a subtle double pun; and rubber bands are used as a catapult to target an apple made from the dot that sits on the head of a rather peeved cat, making this a triple pun.

Yet more packs feature a link between canine and content that is so subtle it actually requires a bit of thought to connect. A card index box with a smoked plastic lid shows the dog kitted out like a fireman, chasing a dark cloud, whilst toilet rolls simply have a drawing of the roll being unwound rapidly…

Barsotti devised a ‘Dogalogue’ for the firm (think about it), and his perky pup appeared on a wide range of corporate merchandising. Even after a takeover by French company Guilbert, the brand continued strongly, with a screen saver being distributed via floppy disk.

The new range and identity received widespread acclaim and won several design and marketing awards. It is still in use today, bringing a bit of humour to a dull field and proving that good design can change even the everyday.

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More examples of the Niceday range, a pun to be found in each

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