There it is. The blank slate. The untouched canvas.
You’ve been charged with redesigning the packaging for your product or brand. Now what?
As a qualitative researcher and packaging consultant speaking from the consumer perspective, you might expect me to say, “Start with the consumer!” After all, packaging should be designed for people, not products. And there are times when absolutely the consumer is the right place to start.
We look to consumers through conversation and observation to learn from and be inspired by their organic behaviors, their struggles, the unmet and unspoken needs. We learn how they compensate for shortcomings (knives and scissors) and how they do surprising things that would make brand owners cringe (closing a crumpled frozen food package with a hair band – yes, it happens).
Clearly, starting with the consumer can spur wildly creative as well as grounded and practical thinking, but there are other paths to design success. Sometimes we need to look first to the business case, the greater financial and strategic landscape within which the brand must thrive. Open ideation, that wonderful “blue sky” thinking is perfect for filling a pipeline but it can also leave teams overwhelmed and unfocused. The days of designing for the sake of design, it seems, were a luxury. Now, we must work quickly, efficiently, and in the end, even the best ideas, concepts that are heralded by consumers, go nowhere without the brand owner’s nod. As an alternative to flat out, wide open ideation, consider positioning that blank slate within an area of strategy. That strategy could be an existing mandate from the brand owner, or a new focus that you, as the design or innovation team, bring to the table. Just be prepared to present your case.
I often ask consumers to tell me not what the perfect packaging is (never ask them to be designers or engineers), but rather what would having the perfect packaging for the product mean to them. They could ____? They would not have to ______? Fill in the blanks and start with the benefit to define the features.
What do you want to achieve? Will you seek opportunity in “green” initiatives? Do you want to create a new usage occasion for your product or reach a new consumer segment? Is cost savings or logistical efficiencies on the agenda? Or maybe you determine that your strategic edge lies in disrupting the category or simply delighting the consumer through function and style.
Know that these buckets of opportunity are not mutually exclusive. As a rather elementary example, a smaller carton could mean cost savings on materials, fewer natural resources used, more efficient palletizing, less weight to transport, an additional shelf facing and a happy consumer who finds the smaller carton easier to handle and store. Does it get much better than that? Work backwards from any of those strategic wins and you could have easily arrived at the solution. Sometimes when you define the end game, the path emerges.
Clearly, any redesign must culminate with the conduct of consumer research. It is critical to get prototype packaging into consumers’ hands, in their homes, to explore form and function. And we must ask, explore and understand messaging, aesthetic appeal, and shelf pop. But those are further down the road, and you are just beginning.
So where will you start?
Kaylor Hildenbrand, Principal Consultant for PARK Research Partners and Publisher of PackageSPEAK(.com), is an experienced qualitative research consultant who believes in the process ASK, EXPLORE, UNDERSTAND. Since 2005, Kaylor has been active on the Consumer Insights side of the packaging industry and is a proponent of the “power of packaging.” She can be reached directly at Kaylor@PARKresearch.com.
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