The End of Perfectionism (Back to Basics — Social Change)

Ashley Robertson
5 min readApr 7, 2021

Published: June 4, 2019

It’s time to get messy.

I spy a fizzling out of perfect, curated content and foresee a change of bringing back imperfection, nostalgia, and overall humanity in many aspects of the word.

I was recently standing in line at my local Subway when I noticed that the menus have changed. The first thing that caught my eye was the substitution of their past white background for a new dark grey and a green. It immediately reminded me of a blackboard/chalkboard and brought me back to learning in elementary school. I continued to scan the menu and next I spotted some crumbs. My initial reaction as a designer was, “Hmm, I wonder why they didn’t touch that up and remove them?” as there weren’t so many for it to stand out as intentional. That was until I found more photos with the same untidy touch.

There were breadcrumbs beside the subs, cookies surrounded by sugar grains, and a honey dipper (not lifted with honey drizzling down — but directly planted on the countertop). This isn’t necessarily innovative as, of course, there are always those sloppy food pictures that get your mouth watering like a famous cheese-pull from a poutine or pizza. However, it’s a step away from the direction of keeping things perfect and clean that we’ve been really focusing on in the media for the last few years (minimalism, bright/white cleanliness, and staged photos resembling stock images). For a society that loves our “So Satisfying” compilations, I can’t help but think people are looking at that honey dipper and imagining how sticky and annoying that would be to clean after. A notion that could consider this ad as bringing negative feelings and keep marketers/designers from using it. But as I waited, I began to like it more and more.

This shift in change is exciting for me. Coming back to the idea of the blackboard/chalkboard school feeling, I associated Subway with learning. And as a brand, I think that’s exactly what they’ve been doing. Subway has had its fair share of exploitations. They’ve been targeted for their use of chemicals and genetically modified ingredients, their spokesperson Jared went to prison, and possibly more (but I’m no sandwich shop expert).

Since those incidents, Subway has been moving forward and in a positive direction of change. In 2017, they committed to removing artificial colours, flavours, and preservatives from their items. They’ve started using 100% Canadian ingredients (including homegrown produce and Canadian-raised animals), and they have partnered with Food Banks Canada— donating 1 million meals during World Sandwich Day.

Being receptive to change and open about where you’re implementing it is one of the many steps forward as individuals and as brands.

I love that with the “messy” design in their photos, Subway is embracing that they may not be flawless but they’ll always be “real” (or about as real as we can expect with how much is shown). Personal social media pages have been regarded as “Highlight Reels” to our lives and, by the looks of it, Subway is choosing to show a hint of reality instead. They are humanizing their brand instead of manipulating it to fit our standards of perfection. While I’m not trying to praise them entirely, I don’t truly know what’s behind close doors, but it’s clear that there is some effort behind their latest moves.

As more and more of us become aware of social responsibility, we are all starting to do our part in protecting the environment and evolving into best practices as members of our communities. It’s refreshing not to be preached with the right way to do things but to see an example of where and how you can start.

With these ideas in mind; I think we are going to start to see personal social media pages become less staged & more real, less photo manipulation & more natural beauty, less artificial products & more environmentally friendly, etc.. It’s very interesting to see how a social change (environmental movements) can bring about a commercial change (to more natural products and advertising).

I think we will continue to see brands strip more and more to be bare, real, and raw to the public. We’ve become so wary of life, pushing to keep its essence. We’re reclaiming what it means to live and what’s really essential in our day-to-day. This is another reason why we’ve seen a lot of nostalgia in vintage filters, embarrassing throwback photos, and old clothing styles coming back. We are holding onto a time where life was less designed and more experienced. A time filled with connection and emotion face-to-face that would only result in photographic keepsakes after the fact.

Thinking back, it’s funny that a crumb on a photo unravelled all of these thoughts. It goes to show that advertising is more than what meets the eye but can be psychological too. I look forward to seeing how brands approach this idea and implement an unfiltered change.



Ashley Robertson

A creative who dips her toes in an assortment of mediums. (Usually a medium hot chocolate, but this will do).