When I think of “spicy”, I think of food. I love food. I love trying different cuisines from around the world. Sometimes, I think I live to eat, and I’m not sad about it.

I remember the first time I tried Thai food. I was 14, and my best friend’s mom had her birthday dinner at the only Thai restaurant in a one-hour radius from my hometown of Fort Smith, Arkansas. My best friend and her family had lived all over the world; I had not.

When we arrived at the restaurant, I remember feeling anxious and skeptical. It was filled with smells and decor that was foreign to me. I wasn’t sure what to order, and I was worried whatever I ordered would be spicy. Off the recommendation of my friend, I ordered Pad Thai, spice level: 0. And I loved it. I also tried a little bit of everyone else’s food, too—not all spice level: 0—and found that I liked it all!

This is the first time I remember pushing myself out of my comfort zone, with regards to food, and it set me on the path to be a more and more adventurous eater. (Also, mango sticky rice is absolutely the best thing ever.)

The Food Network Arrives

In high school, I came of age with the Food Network. I started learning how to cook. I learned how to dice an onion and how to peel garlic. Giada De Laurentiis taught me about different types of pasta. Martha Stewart taught me about the Buche de Noel Yule Log. When I visited New York City, I ate at Bobby Flay’s restaurant and experienced his blend of barbecue, Mexican, and American food. I became a woman obsessed.

Going to college really expanded my palette, because I became friends with so many international students. This is when spice entered the chat. Hanging out with friends from India, Thailand, Indonesia, Mexico, China, and more opened my tastebuds to heat.

The spiciest thing I’ve ever eaten was a raw garlic clove in China. They served them in a little bowl for nibbling. I never thought of garlic as spicy-hot, so I popped the whole thing in my mouth. It was a very unfortunate experience for me, and a very funny experience for my travel mates.

Hot Sauce in My Bag

Every culture and every person has a unique relationship with spice. Germany calls black pepper and paprika “spicy”. Texas loves their hot sauces and spicy salsas. Southern India uses a ton of spicy chili peppers while northern India doesn’t. When I lived in Texas, my spice tolerance increased. It was a game to eat spicier and spicier. (Hot sauce in my bag—swag.) When I lived in Germany, I couldn’t find spicy food. The jalapeños in the supermarket weren’t even spicy.

My journey into spice was also my journey into other cultures. The spices a culture uses is an intimate look into their world and their history. Spice tells you what was available in their country, what was affordable, and what was important. I find the same to be true for design.

Design Spice

Like spice, every culture has a different relationship with design. In Costa Rica, you’ll find vibrant colors and expressive curves. In Sweden, you’ll find earthier colors and straight lines.

visit Costa Rica brochures

Costa Rica’s tourism collateral has a lot of warmth: bright colors, nature, and a script font.

Visit Sweden uses an “official” press briefing and dry humor. Notice their more subdued colors and lighting.

On VisitCostaRica.com, notice the differences between the Spanish-language version of the homepage and the English-language version. It’s important to know what visual language connects with your intended audience.

Costa Rica Oli!

Costa Rica’s Oli! convenience store uses bold colors and a 3D font that screams “FUN!”.

Sweden's 7-11 branding

Sweden’s 7-11 branding still uses bright colors, but the strong geometric pattern gives it much more structure. It feels more corporate.

Notice the differences between these two university logos. The University of Costa Rica logo feels hand-drawn and nature-centered. The font has some roundness and uniqueness to its serifs, too.

Stockholm University uses a symmetrical slab-serif font, and their iconography conveys strength and history.

University of Costa Rica logo
Stockholm University logo

Take a look at the national football leagues’ logos. What differences do you see between the two countries?

Costa Rica's national football logo history
Sweden's national football logo history

Here are two, very well-designed, bags of coffee with two, very different, approaches.

Costa Rica Bocanegra coffee bag

This Costa Rican bag has lots of design elements, incorporates nature, and draws parallels to Inca and Aztec design.

Swedish Drop Coffee bag

This Swedish coffee bag is minimal, bold, and only has the necessary information.

Spice Language and Design Language

Spices and design are different for every person, but generalizations can be made. The best advice I’ve ever gotten is: If you like the way a wine label looks, you’ll probably like the way it tastes. Designers (and businesses) spend a lot of time researching which design-style connects to which consumer. And they try their best to design for the consumer. So, if you like that wine label or that book cover, odds are, you’ll like what’s inside, too. This is the magical thing about good design: it’s used to convey on the outside what’s on the inside and who it’s for.

How’s your design doing? Is it connecting with your intended audience? Are you struggling to determine your personas in the first place? Feel free to reach out; Design It Please can help.

PS There’s a whole other meaning to “spicy design” that I haven’t touched on. I’ll end this post with my redesign of a romance book cover.

Original design

Bridge of the Wind original book cover


Bride of the Wind redesigned book cover