Making Sure Packaging Design Is About the BRAND

10 April 2017

Making Sure Packaging Design Is About the BRAND

Making Sure Packaging Design Is About the BRAND

Simon Thorneycroft is the founder/CEO of Perspective: Branding, an independent, branding & packaging design firm based in the San Francisco Bay Area with a proven record of success working with snack food & beverage brands. They deliver brand strategy through commercially successful brand packaging design that challenges the category. In this article he discusses the importance of relevance when designing packaging.


With my ear to the ground, hovering around discussion groups at conferences, listening to debates amongst my peers, and of course checking the inevitable news feeds, the conversation and energy around designing packaging that specifically works in the digital retail arena is becoming a hot topic -- and fast.

Digital commerce, or e-commerce, is becoming more prominent. More consumers, especially Millennials, are purchasing online, making a purchase decision in an environment that is very different from a traditional store. They may only see a snapshot of an image on a small screen or an icon that represents the brand before making a purchase decision. This is contrary to the store experience where your customer is influenced by the sights and sounds around them as well as what the competitor’s set, positioned on the shelf next to your product, might look like. Not to mention physical issues at the store, like shelf talkers obstructing your logo. Add to that the idea that the location of where the digital purchase decision is taking place is not fixed and your buyer might be on a bus on the way to work or at the beach.

Whether it is a mobile app or a webpage, the tool your customer is using to view the product changes how you need to do packaging. And the set of rules around design seems to shift.

That’s good, right? We should, of course, be designing for the environment that our designs live in; cleaning up and simplifying needlessly indulgent messaging or visual components that might be shoved in because it was included in the creative brief. Designing for digital will create simpler, clearer more powerful packaging – won’t it?

Yes and no. We need to still consider the customer and how they make their purchase decision. In the digital environment, that means one thing: simplify. But be very careful that simplification does not make your brand look the same as everyone else’s. We do not want all packaging to look like an app! Design can be stripped down and simple without losing the personality of the brand or making the brand look weird or cheap if, in addition to digital, it is positioned on a retail shelf. But if we strip away too much and, importantly, let style dictate the idea, then we are at risk of just creating pictures fit for a gallery and not really building brands at all. Worse yet, brands will look more like a simple label. Pretty, but lacking any brand narrative.

When designing a package for e-commerce and to escape the look-alike trap, I would urge any designer to ask the following questions:

Is it Visible?
A brand must stand out from its competitive set and have stopping power. It doesn’t matter whether it is an airline or a bag of chips; if it’s not visible, it won’t last.

Is it Visceral?
We have to create a positive emotional reaction; one that results in a preference. It’s the designer’s job to make people feel something, just as we do when we listen to music or go to the movies. Packaging that doesn’t move us emotionally is a missed opportunity and the brand will not become an important part of someone’s life.

Is it Memorable?
The design must pass the memory sketch test. When my wife and I go to the supermarket and she asks me to grab a product, the first question I ask is ‘what does it look like?’ Her answer starts with: “It’s the one with the….” Imagine asking a consumer to sketch a brand design with some colored pencils. The memorable visual that the consumer recalls should drive straight to the heart of that brand’s positioning - the big idea.

Is digital a rabbit hole that we are all staring down? Whether viewed online or in a store, packaging is one of our most human interactive experiences. And, like the recent uptick in people listening to analog vinyl records again, the supermarket may soon be a respite from the digital world. No matter where the packaging will appear, ask yourself if it meets the standard of Visible, Visceral, and Memorable.

Is there a necessity to rethink packaging in the current technological environment? Yes. But we mustn’t walk away from the fundamentals in brand design. Building a brand story must be the foundation to strengthen an existing brand’s equity. Limit risk by adhering to the standards of branding.

Or … we will see who is left standing!


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