The design dilemma

16 June 2017

The design dilemma

The design dilemma

Companies today are opting for clean, minimalist branding - but consumers are increasingly looking for more information on the pack. Simon Thorneycroft, founder and CEO of Perspective: Branding, examines how to balance these competing design demands.


Over the last few years in the US, we have seen a dramatic change in the style of packaging design. The classic American design of the 90s – a bold and brash branding style – is gone. In its place is a more minimalist approach that used to represent private label packaging design.  

This clean package look now conveys quality and modernity and that aesthetic is creeping into creative briefs as part of the exploration “ask”. At the same time, we see the latest trends from consumer data suggesting that “more is more.”

At Perspective:Branding, we now deal with competing forces - company requests to design a clean package and consumer requests for more data points on the front of the pack. Removing superfluous messaging and taking design down to a bare minimum is a designer’s dream. But before you strip down your package design and messaging, there are a few elements to consider.


Just the facts

According the 2017 IRI Snacking Survey, 60% of food consumers want information about health benefits beyond nutrition, such as whether a product is gluten-free or non-GMO. This is an increase of 8 percentage points from 2016.  More than half of consumers (59%) also want snacks that contain vitamins and minerals, an increase of 2 percentage points from 2016. And they want the product to be certified organic, cage-free, and more. These benefits instill trust and can generate repeat purchases.


Minimalist packaging is acceptable when the consumer is not making the purchase decision based on the pack. It works for Apple and for other non-consumable goods.  But it doesn’t necessarily work for products where consumers rely on the package information to make the purchase decision. I am wary of looking to technology products or online-only brands as hallmarks of brand design - they do not have to play by the same rules.


In contrast to the design trend of “less is more,” 91% of consumers are still looking for packaging that suggests the food inside tastes good. This data, from the Hartman Group, indicates that your package must now communicate enough details to satisfy three primary consumer needs: that the food inside provides nourishment, optimization - such as energy or focus - and pleasure.


 Creating clean

So how do we create clean packages when consumers are selecting based on more, not less? Consider exactly what needs to be communicated on the pack:

  • The brand name and logo. Whilst this can be simple, its role is still to help the brand define a story to the consumer. And it is certainly a key way to create brand definition at the shelf and in the consumers’ mind.
  • The sub-line, if it is part of a product portfolio. Each product within the line should have a role. This allows the consumer and the retail buyer to understand why each product needs space on the shelf without cannibalisation.
  • Flavour descriptor. The more unusual and interesting the better, as the flavour is often connected to the ingredient source to build authenticity and trust. It also communicates another layer of benefits.
  • Appetite appeal. This connects the consumers to the product experience. What will it taste like when eaten, how will it make me feel? A picture of the product which shows the experience of the food or the ingredients or the source is often a good idea.
  • Product benefits and certifications. What makes these products better than the others, worth paying more for, worth taking a risk and switching brands for?

We are also seeing an increase in the number of brands placing recommended nutrition information, or guideline daily amounts on the pack front. While not yet mandated in the US, companies that put more nutrition info on the pack front are leading the charge on transparency. Now that doesn’t lend itself to simplicity to me - but it is possible to strike a balance.


 Good examples

There are a few brands that we feel are doing a good job of balancing these opposing forces.  Lean Cuisine is a complex portfolio of products made simple to shop, more appetizing to look at and with all the health benefits neatly organized for clear understanding. Lots of information is being communicated, but it clearly demonstrates that if done correctly, the pack can still look appetizing and somewhat clean

Califia Farms offers natural juices, nut milks and coffee drinks. What was a simple product offering has become quite a complex portfolio of sub-brands, but the design has retained its integrity. It is text heavy, but with a simple hierarchy and a great structure which makes it a pleasure to shop whilst packing a lot of information on the front.

Kashi snacks and cereals have an elegant design solution where the appetite appeal of the food is central to the communication. There is a cleverly designed system for identifying all the key nutritional benefits, giving the overall pack a clean look.

It is the role of the package designer to think more strategically in order to balance the demands of a clean pack design with consumer demands for more upfront information. That extra tidbit of information, such as “gluten-free” or “vegan”, can be the tipping point in a consumer’s purchase decision. Understand the opposing information and simplify at your own risk.









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