They had done it before, using their design talents to elevate the "Share a Coke" campaign to a visual success. Now came the campaign’s next iteration – "Share a Coke and a Song" – and a new host of challenges for Coca-Cola Design.

How, the team tasked itself, could it make music come alive on Coke cans and packaging?

For inspiration, they dug deep into Coca-Cola’s heritage and all things music, commissioned a world-renowned illustrator, and explored nuances of typography and iconography that only a graphic designer can fully appreciate.

The results can be seen at the nearest display case or on that Diet Coke can in your hand. Splashy lyrics. Bold musical icons. Recognizable elements of Coca-Cola everywhere.

To understand the process that went into designing the look of Share a Coke and a Song, we recently spoke with three Coca-Cola Design team members: Frederic Kahn, James Sommerville and Elyse Larouere.

Share a Coke and a Song Glass Bottles

The glass bottle carrier highlights some of the design team’s bold decisions and challenges, from designing a vinyl record on the side to headphones to a guitar to a speaker, all with the center of the design falling precisely on the seam.

Frederic Kahn, Design Director

The veteran designer already had spent two years working on visuals for Share a Coke when the music campaign crossed his desk. Instead of people’s first names, now his team needed to incorporate lyrics. “This had to look like more than just words on a can,” Kahn said.

That meant it was imperative to “deliver visually on the music,” he said, paying careful attention to ensuring consumers would be able to see their work from a distance – say, as their browsing grocery aisles. “We knew we would need bold music icons so that people could see from a distance that it’s music-related. Everything had to be in a music context.”

Kahn and his team went to work on the two most important facets of the design: How to treat the lyrics on cans, and how to incorporate a music-themed campaign on packaging of all kinds.

Step 1 became a study in typography. Coca-Cola already had a set style for Share a Coke, but what worked for a name or nickname wasn’t working for the lyrics. “It was hard to read,” he explained.

The team dove into the Coca-Cola archives, searching for inspiration and just the right typeface. The inspiration came from 1979’s “Have a Coke and a Smile” campaign. You know, the one featuring the iconic “Mean” Joe Greene TV ad. The words from that campaign were in a font known as American Typewriter. As in, 

Kahn instantly knew it was the right font. Slightly angled with hints of nostalgia and songwriting. “Like an artist typing lyrics for the very first time,” he said. He remembers dashing over to Vice President of Global Design James Sommerville’s office later that day after quickly visualizing it across a range of lyrics on bottles. James loved the look – problem solved.

Step 2 was finding an illustrator who could make the words and music themes sing out from packaging and cans. The natural choice was Noma Bar, a graphic designer, illustrator and artist who has illustrated more than 60 magazine covers and published more than 500 illustrations. He is familiar with Coke, as he designed the Marvel-inspired Coca-Cola Mini Cans earlier this year.

Bar, Israel-born and living in London, is known for his clever use of negative space – the space that surrounds the subject to provide shape and meaning. Kahn’s team sent Bar a brief and asked him for 10 sketches based on musical icons such as turntables, instruments, speakers, a boom box and earbuds.

His job: Tell a story with the icons.

James Sommerville, VP, Global Design

The nod to Coca-Cola’s heritage is rooted in a frequent phrase from Sommerville: “Kiss the past hello.” That means “how do you restore the past not just to be nostalgic, but to reimagine something to make it appeal to a new generation. So it’s about finding those great moments and making them fresh again, according to Sommerville.

The Share a Coke and a Song design was all about kissing the past hello. Old, beloved lyrics. Turntables. A stylus touching vinyl. Illustrator Bar incorporated all of those historical elements – along with heavy doses of today’s music scene, like the earbuds and boom box – into the design.

The campaign also had its challenges. The team needed to integrate the design across different shapes (20 oz. bottles, 12 oz. cans and mini cans) and packaging (6-packs, 12-packs and even bigger packages). They also wanted to make everything seamless, with every element blending into and working in combination with the others. And they had to incorporate key brand attributes and packaging requirements, such as in bar codes and calorie count indicators.

This was no cut and paste job, which would have been “the worst thing to do.” Instead, each size can or package called for variations in the design. Aluminum bottles, for example, allowed for earbud cords to be wrapped around the top of the bottle neck. Packaging designs had to pop out at people whether they were stacked in a store or stuffed in a refrigerator at home.

Along the way, close attention was paid to the finest details. For example, some of the guitar strings had to be thinned to make them look like real strings, but not too thin so that they’d disappear on packaging.

There also were scores of hidden icons that can only be seen upon close examination. Coke bottles in the earbuds. Bottle caps as the center of the vinyl records. That stylus on the vinyl record – another red Coke bottle. Oh, and the bridge on the guitars – a Coke bottle tipped on its side. Look closely and you’ll discover many more hidden gems.

All of it fun, consistent, musical and, connected to Coke.

Share a Coke and a Song Cans

Elyse Larouere, Design Manager

One challenge for the design of Share a Coke and a Song was “to help consumers go on this journey with us,” said Larouere. “Only instead of a name, we were now communicating lyrics, which some people might say is an even more personal connection.”

That’s because people use songs and lyrics to mark key moments in their lives. The high school homecoming dance. A romance. A breakup. The song that becomes “our song” for soulmates. Songs that became shared moments with others.

“We wanted to encourage that action of sharing because this song made me think of you,” Larouere said.

Music iconography was the vehicle with which the design team took consumers on that journey. Hence the musical notes that serve as quote marks around the lyrics. The red Coca-Cola ribbon serving as earbud wires and wrapped around 12-ounce cans. More musical notes flowing from a large guitar to a can on packaging. Even how the words of the lyrics were broken from line to line “so that you can sing that song in your head,” Larouere explained.

All of it designed, she said, to “make the connection between written type and the iconography... so that consumers know exactly what they’re looking at.”

All of it also had to be package-friendly. The large icons on packaging – the vinyl record, the guitar and the speaker – take a circular shape with identical horizontal and vertical centers, as well as identical diameters. This allowed for easy design and flow from package to package and “feels right to you because of the consistency,” said Larouere.

Like the change in font for the lyrics, the team also was challenged with how to make longer sentences with lyrics (versus a single name) interact with the Coca-Cola Lippincott ribbon, which first graced Coke products in 1969. With a goal of nesting the lyrics with the ribbon, she and the team pulled from the archives.

“What we liked about the typography and ribbon lockup was that it wasn’t a departure from our heritage,” Larouere said. “We got the inspiration from the ‘Have a Coke and a Smile’ ad. So, it felt consistent with our past but was fresh.”