The average supermarket has close to 40,000 items, and according to the Food Marketing Institute, this is a $600 billion industry. The most well-known contributors to this industry are consumers, distributors, and manufacturers but what most people do not realize is the role played by graphics designers.
Graphic designers are responsible for packaging which is an industry in its own right. There are several large design agencies like Landor and RT Agencies Vancouver that have a staff of designers dedicated to creating brands through the use of packaging. Product packaging is a fast growing field always looking for more designers to build their portfolios, and there are attributes required for packaging design.
1. Clarity and Simplicity
As you look at products on the shelf take note of the items; what are the items for and what is the brand behind them? We are automatically drawn to clear and highly distinctive designs. There are, however, many products that we cannot answer these questions for and given that consumers only look at a product for about four seconds, if it is not standing out, the product will not get bought.
Many items come with lists of wonderful attributes, but no clear brand and others look great and are eye catching but do not tell you what is included. It is not uncommon to find items that look like they are marketing something else entirely, such as a cleaning product that looks more like a juice drink. When the packaging is confusing and not clear, it has failed to help sell the product. Clarity is important to the consumer. Some mystery is acceptable for items like perfume, but when there is no product detail about content or usage, then the packaging has essentially failed.
When it comes to effective packaging design, you want to be clear about the item and clear about the brand.
Designers and clients both strive to develop packaging that depicts the product as perfectly as possible. You are getting a chocolate cookie, but the packaging will show a cookie with chocolate being poured over it. Most people are also familiar with the yogurt carton depicting fresh fruit, and the actual yogurt having next to none. When you show a product in this light, you are essentially advertising false information. A customer who is mislead will be disappointed which will impact future sales and brand image.
Regardless of the item tasting good, the packaging is important, and once misled, a consumer will not be happy with the purchase. Customers will be happy with simple products so long as they are accurately shown. They want to know what they are getting regardless of price, so it is important for packaging to be as honest as possible. A little up-sell will not hurt as long as the item is not drastically different from what you show.
Great brands are remembered for character, originality and of course design. With so many products out there competing for attention, design and memorability are important. Being different and authentic is the way to get your brand noticed. There is no structure when it comes to being authentic because this is a completely creative process; designers need to explore ideas to determine what fits for the item. There are so many brands out there that being truly authentic takes work and a lot of exploration.
Often more generic packaging is what works, so when this happened you can add style to the design with string ‘visual standards’. If your product is in a field that relies on photographic images, try using illustrations instead; if most layouts are horizontal then choose vertical. So long as you focus on quality, going retro will have its benefits. It is also a good idea to look at other categories because they might inspire you for a look that is different with your product.
4. Shelf Impact
Think about how items are arranged on a shelf; often a distance from the customer’s eyes and all lined up in rows and columns. Competing brands lined up next to each other, so all they see is different patterns and no real detail. Once a particular pattern catches their eye, then they take a closer look. This effect is known as ‘shelf impact’ and has a big impact on sales.
When designing packaging, you need to explore with shelf impact, testing your design when lined up in rows. Setting up your item in line with others on a shelf, and the more rows and columns you have the more accurate the test will be. Often the best designs disappear when tested this way, and more simple ones stick out and catch the eye.
The design of packaging should be easy enough to follow with extensions or product variations. For example, imagine designing a box for an apple pie and you come up with a design that only features apples. A few months later the client launches a cherry pie under the same brand; only it has the same apple logo as before. There is a mismatch for this new sub-product which is not going to appeal to customers. A good design will allow for variations to be included, so you need to think about the future. You want a design that can be easily changed to incorporate new products into he same line.
This goes beyond the wrap and label and deals with the shape, size and functionality of the container. Practicality and ease of use make a product more popular and sales increase. When Heinz turned ketchup bottle upside down, they sold like crazy; same logo same label but with a more practical container. This aspect of packaging is often overlooked because most designers think it is all on the label. When designing packaging think about what would make it easier to use because there is a lot of room for innovation when it comes to the container.
Packaging design is a demanding field and is constantly seeking new talent to deliver the next original product and increased sales performance. The package is the last thing a consumer sees before choosing an item, so you want to use all the factors mentioned above to ensure your product gets the final word.