Ed Griffin holds several job titles at Haugaard Creative, a design studio in Chicago, Illinois. He’s an Illustration Director, Senior Designer, and Expert Retoucher for major brands that include Quaker Oats, Kraft, and Tropicana. But his most famous title might be “Personal Makeover Artist” to Cap’n Crunch. Griffin has spent 20 years illustrating Horatio Magellan Crunch for cereal box packaging, and has even branched out into design work for other mascots like Kid Cuisine’s K.C. Penguin and Heidi from Swiss Miss. We were lucky to land an interview with Ed on National Cereal Day, fittingly enough, as he reveals more about how got involved with mascot illustration, the hardest part of a cereal box to design, and his never-ending adoration for the Quisp alien.
AW: Please excuse our terrible pun, but what drew you towards illustration?
EG: I always knew I wanted to work in a creative field. I’d been an artist since day one, but didn’t know where or how to make a living out of it. It wasn’t until art school that I discovered illustration and package design were possible careers. When I took a job at an art studio, I thought it would be a good learning experience before I moved on to something else… Fast-forward 32 years!
AW: Before you joined Haugaard Creative, had you worked with brands before?
EG: After graduating from Ray College of Design, I freelanced for a short time before taking a full-time position Feldkamp Malloy, an art studio in Chicago. It was one of the last art studios around and was a great place to learn about packaging and design. Phil Haugaard was the president at the time and when Feldkamp closed, he started Haugaard Creative Group. Having existing relationships with several clients such as Kraft Foods, Keebler, and Quaker Oats, we hit the ground running. Quaker Oats is still our largest and most loyal client to this day.
AW: How does one illustrate today? Do you still do sketches with pens and pencils or is it all done on a computer?
EG: I still sketch out concepts and scan them into the computer, where I can manipulate elements in terms of size, colors, and patterns. Nothing can replace a good old-fashioned sketch to get your ideas down quickly without fussing with how good or bad something looks. There are things I miss from traditional ways of illustrating, but the pros far outweigh the cons to me working on the computer. It’s an amazing tool that I try to get the most that I can out of.
AW: Which brand did you do your first major designs for?
EG: I think the first designs I worked on were Kraft Macaroni and Cheese packages. I designed and illustrated mascots for “123’s” and “ABCs,” then Cheesasaurus Rex came along shortly after that.
AW: As Cap’n Crunch’s “personal makeover artist,” you’ve been responsible for his nips and tucks from the last 20 years. Were you a fan of the character before you started working on the account?
EG: Absolutely! To this day, I don’t think anyone has come close to the great work Jay Ward Productions did. The commercials were witty, irreverent, and just plain funny. It was a great time to be a kid.
AW: Let’s talk more about those nips and tucks. How do you determine what tweaks should be made to Cap’n Crunch’s design to stay relevant with audiences?
EG: The Cap’n has been around for quite some time so when working on changes we try to be respectful of the history and brand equity he brings. Animation styles became more dimensional in the 1990s, so the Cap’n followed suit. In the 2000s, there was a push for a healthy lifestyle for children so the Cap’n lost a few pounds, became more energized, and acted more as the “ambassador of fun.” The target audience has changed recently to appeal to the “man-child,” which are adult males who still enjoy their favorite cereal. Because of this shift, we’ve tried to push back panel graphics and games to reflect a more irreverent, tongue-in-cheek attitude.
AW: For packaging designs, how long does the process take from start to finish for the average cereal box?
EG: Usually between 7-10 weeks, sometimes less if there’s a tight timeline or budget restraints. The side panels of the cereal box usually consist of nutritional information and cross-sells or an occasional game. The backsides are where the fun happens… Games, puzzles, riddles, and silliness. There are rarely any restraints so long as the content is relevant to the audience. Those designs are the toughest part of my job, but also the most rewarding.
AW: We recently did a throwback to Jean LaFoote, Horatio’s pirate nemesis. Have you been able to illustrate him or any of the other old school Cap’n Crunch characters, like Sea Dog, that hung out on the S.S. Guppy?
EG: As a matter of fact, yes! In the past couple of years, I’ve reintroduced every main character from the past, including several from cereals that I personally loved as a kid. I was a big fan of Quisp and Quake, which were two great Jay Ward creations. Jean LaFoote is featured on the new back panels along with Crunch Beast, Punch Crunch Hippo, Quisp and his crew. Jean and Sea Dog are also on an upcoming back panel for a limited edition this summer, so look out for it!
AW: You also helped revitalize Kid Cuisine where you illustrated their mascot K.C. Penguin as a “new and improved character.”
EG: ConAgra Foods approached us to redesign the existing Kid Cuisine packaging and update its mascot, K.C., who over the years had evolved from a chef to a penguin. The target audience had changed and I was asked to create an “aged-up” version of K.C. that reflected not only a current style, but was also more fun and energetic. After several rounds of concepts, we landed on a sportier; more playful version of K.C. that appealed to a wider demographic of children.
AW: You also worked on retro packaging for Heidi from Swiss Miss. When working on retro packaging for a mascot, how does the process differ from designing present-day packaging styles?
EG: I’ve worked on several retro package designs for different clients and they’ve been some my favorite projects. The fun part about retro packaging for me is if you have graphic elements from the past to work with, they instantly trigger a nostalgic response. In terms of design, I’ve always thought ’60s and ’70s packaging was much more casual. Many of the design rules today don’t apply so you’re free to make some unconventional design decisions. For Swiss Miss, we redesigned several variations of past packages along with faux-retro concepts, but the client felt the best route was a straightforward replica of a 1970s version including the original Claymation Heidi. I had tried a couple of different versions of Heidi that were rendered in styles from that era, but everyone who remembers her recalls the animated and wide-eyed, slightly creepy version.
AW: If you could work on any brand mascot’s packaging, whom would you pick?
EG: Quisp! He’s by far my favorite brand mascot.
AW: When you’re stuck in a creative rut, how do you get out?
EG: Along with a constant stream of music, I’ve tried to make my workspace as inspirational as possible. I collect gig posters, art toys, and art prints so all I have to do is look around and I can’t help but be inspired. I’m planning on bringing in my old beer can collection soon. There are some awesome package designs both past and present in the beer world and I enjoy the research.
AW: For fans out there that want a career like yours — and I’m sure there are dozens that do — what’s your best piece of advice?
EG: Keep drawing! It seems so many young artists today are too eager to jump on the computer before they’ve even sketched out a concept. I love what can be accomplished on the computer, but it should be looked at as just another tool to get you to where you’re going. I try and sketch things out whenever possible. Your final art is always better from it.