Design Principles

Warming Trends: Package design gets in touch with its emotional side

Posted: November 6, 2011 by

Increased competition, higher costs, and challenging markets are enough to make any package designer emotional. But when designers talk about recent trends, it’s the customer’s emotions that are in the spotlight. Now more than ever, designers are focusing on how packaging can best create an emotional connection between products, brands, and customers, and then use these relationships to help their products stand out from the competition, move to better profit margins, and serve the changing U.S. marketplace.

Simplicity has dominated design for plenty of recent product launches and redesigns. It’s being used by boutique brands to put the focus on the product and by private-label brands, such as Walgreens Nice!, to create sophisticated packages that aim to attract consumers across several income levels.

Some package designers and strategists are beginning to question if the pursuit of simplification has been taken too far. “From my very subjective perspective, packages got overly stripped-down,” says Eric Ashworth, chief strategy officer for Anthem and its parent company, Schawk. “Everything went stark white with sans serif, lowercase type. I loved white when it first came out, but I’m sick of it now.” Adds Lor Gold, Schawk/Anthem’s global chief creative director, “Packaging was once incredibly emotive and wonderful. We can head down that path again, and packaging can be more emotive than it’s ever been!”

How are designers making the first moves toward bringing back that lovin’ feeling? “Color’s back,” Ashworth asserts, noting that this trend is especially evident in the new packs being introduced for gum.

Wrigley’s Orbit brand certainly couldn’t be accused of being insensate, with its Dirty Mouth commercials. The confectionary giant supports Orbit’s branding with vibrantly colored packs that are easily recognizable even from a distance. Gold calls this packaging attribute its “badge quality” and describes it as what lets products make a statement about the consumer using it.

Perhaps a more familiar context for “badge quality” comes from the fashion arena, where designer clothes are sought as an extension of the wearer’s personality. Gold asks, “Why can’t package designers take what works in fashion and marry that to package design?”

The practice of using design to transform a packaged commodity into a desired object supports a larger consumer trend seen by Stephen R. Perry, creative director at Bailey Brand Consulting. “Consumers are looking for ways to get the feeling of indulging themselves without spending a whole lot of money,” he says. Instead, Perry suggests the time is ripe for smaller luxuries such as a beautiful pump bottle of hand soap. “For another dollar,” he says, “consumers can get a nice-looking container for their bathroom. They can feel good about that.”

Scott Jost, vice president of innovation and design at Studio One Eleven, a division of Berlin Packaging, sees the home playing an increasing role in package design—especially as more brand owners view the home as a marketplace. He sees this happening with a range of consumer packaged goods companies (CPGs), but notes that the most drastic change is in the attitudes of CPGs that aren’t sold at retail. “For years, one of the arguments that we would hear from direct marketers is that a product is not going to be on the shelf next to a Tide, so we don’t have to worry about making an investment in the package,” Jost says. Increasingly, though, his direct-marketing customers are recognizing that a well-designed package can prompt repeat sales, attract the consumer’s friends and family as prospective customers, and strengthen brand loyalty. This, Jost contends, is also one of the reasons why the growth of Internet sales hasn’t reduced packaging to its most fundamental components.

Net connections
Still, say the designers at Wallace Church, the Internet is definitely changing the way packages are designed. The group sees more package designers using links to the Internet to create deeper relationships between brands and consumers. Sometimes the device is as simple as a text link to a blog and other times it’s as sophisticated as a QR code.

The Internet is also being used to deliver packaged product information in additional languages. Traditionally, second- and third-language copy would have been carried on pack or on devices such as extended labeling. Both of these practices, if not done correctly, can result in a cluttered design and reduce the ability of the package to sell on shelf.

A growing number of packages, Wallace Church observes, have removed this copy from the packaging and put it online. In its place on the label are instructions on how the consumer can retrieve that data.

They also see more designers using pictures and icons. This is certainly a device Kevin L. Southwick, Xpedx’s group design manager for the Mid-Atlantic and metro New York groups, is using more often. His group has seen an acceleration of projects requiring copy in English, French, and Spanish. Using graphics and a very minimalist approach to copy delivers key assertions to consumers in just a few seconds. This can help brands penetrate the complete North American market or simply address an increasingly ethnically diverse U.S.

Packaging happier times
Not only is the U.S. consumer population becoming more diverse, but it’s also getting older. The next trend takes full advantage of this by reminding consumers of more carefree times. “Throwback packaging is everywhere,” says Bailey Brand’s Perry.

Earlier this year, Hostess unveiled retro packaging for Chocolate CupCakes, Ding Dongs, Ho Hos, and Twinkies. The limited-edition packages kicked up the nostalgic vibe by featuring Hostess brand characters from the 1970s— Captain CupCake, King Ding Dong, Twinkie the Kid, and Happy
Ho Ho. Additionally, the Twinkies were made using the original banana filling recipe—creating a connection with consumers with both look and taste.
All of these packaging trends—from retro packs to the return of color and from consumer engagement to commodity transformation—hold the promise to take the chill off packaged goods markets. And that would give all package design stakeholders,from brand owners to designers,
something to smile about.

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