In this second paper on the role of packaging design in the branding process, I continue to explore what would happen if the packaging designer was given a more important role in design development, and rather than being treated simply as an outside supplier, and instead, was asked to be a part of the total process from the very beginning.

In first paper, I discussed; how package designers can help brand owners prepare for the design process, though understanding their brands, their consumers and effectively managing the equity elements. I also gave some advice on how to prepare for the design process that follows, by creating and effective brief and choosing the right studio to work with. In this paper I want to move on, to another level of understanding that the packaging designer can bring, and discuss how and why packaging design is such an essential brand communicator.


As a brand designer, who has worked on many major brands throughout Europe and Eastern Europe for the past four decades, I have always been aware about how important it is to understand the selling environment, or the place where my work has had to perform, and as a result, I have spent many hours of my life in supermarkets, observing, recording, and following trends in design, communication and packaging across all categories.Selling environment


Most true packaging designers, unlike many Brand Managers spend a considerable amount of time in supermarkets, mainly because we believe that truly effective design cannot be created by remaining in an office, or sitting at the computer. The selling environment found in a supermarket is a dynamic and ever changing world, which any Designer or Brand Manager ignores at their peril; it’s also an Aladdin’s cave of inspiration, innovation and learning. All those lovely brand books and ‘best of’ website’s, to me are boring in comparison, because they are telling you what ‘has’ happened rather that what ‘is’ happening right now in the market place!

However, I can understand that one of the problems with being a brand owner is that you follow your product from conception to reality, it becomes, ‘your baby’, and like any parent, you are rightly proud of it! So, when you go to see your product on shelf, you, of course, see, ‘your product’ and next to it, you see the ‘competition’. The problem is that the effect of this perspective can lead to a tunnel vision, a view restricted only to your brand and your category and, as a result, you will tend draw conclusions about what you see, from what we might we might term, the ‘brand owner’s perspective’.

Whereas, shoppers, within the same environment, see ‘choice’, which is OK, except, when you remember, that with 20,000 to 40,000 products in an average supermarket (and many more in larger supermarkets and hypermarkets). The poor shopper has an extremely difficult time trying to make a ‘choice’ and especially the choice you would like them to make, because they are constantly under attack, being bombarded by brands, logos, colours and claims, etc…

This almost certainly explains why around 80% of new ‘product’ launches fail, and of the remaining 20%, only about 5% achieve any real financial success. What is clear therefore, is that if a product is to have any chance of success, it needs to stand out and communicate effectively in the supermarket environment! To do this, it needs the expertise of people who spend their entire working career trying to understand how successful packaging works in the market environment, and who follow the constant changes that occur. One of these professionals is of course, the Packaging Designer!

This is where a package designer’s perspective will add value to the process, because the designer, in the main, will have a ‘broader outlook’, seeing the package, not as just a container of a product that needs to say simply, who made it and what it is, but who goes much deeper, by understanding why consumers re-act as they do, what visual cues stimulate, titillate and communicate the message that has to be put across and what drives consumer purchase decisions!


To understand the how and why consumers behave in the way they do, we need to go back all the way to the very beginnings of life, where I believe it all starts, at the moment we begin to grow inside our mother’s womb and are finally born into this world. As we grow, and our nervous system begins to form, we quickly recognise shapes, textures, odours, colours and sounds… the face and smell of our mother, the bright colours of our first toys, all serve to reassure us that, all is well.

When we do find something we do not like (or at least we are not sure of), we similarly begin to associate the forms, texture, odours, colours and sound with these negative experiences. We lodge all this information in our memory banks, in our sub-conscious and un-conscious minds. It is the beginnings of communication, and it’s so essential, that nature makes sure that we do not need to be taught how to do this, but learn to do it instinctively.

The learning of numbers and letters, of course is also part of the way we communicate, but these come later and have to be taught to us, as we grow older, and in fact, I’m told, are even processed by a different area of our brain. Therefore, it’s not surprising; if we look back to the beginnings of writing, that we find initially, that writing too, evolved by using only images. First, in the time of the cave man as painting on walls, and later as visual symbols and drawings in the time of the Mayans or the Egyptian Pharaohs and other civilisations.VISUAL SYMBOLS


The realisation of this fundamental way in which we assess what we are seeing is of course important to packaging design, as it allows designers, to address shoppers directly, sometimes even without words, so that information is transmitted in seconds. For example, the symbol of a skull and cross bones, which we instantly associate with poison, danger of death, communicates its message far quicker than the words can ever do and in addition, can be understood more or less internationally.

Typefaces can be used to express serious sophistication or friendly fun and many other moods, as they can also be consistently used to link a group of products or units in a brand’s offer.

Colours too are can be effective communicators, for example, the colour green might transmit that a product has some roots with nature, whereas the colour red might indicate that we should pay attention, because of its connotations with fire, love, danger or passion.

When copy is used, I believe it should be simple and relevant to the person it is addressing, that is to say, not cold and factual, but rather, intimate and personal, written in a way that it connects with the reader and expresses the brand USP, it’s character and ultimately the reason to believe.

Packaging designers understand and exploit shape, colour, texture as essential communicators. These communication tools, coupled with great copy, help designers to build brand recognition and product communication, by creating an instant visual and verbal dialog with consumers.

According to Elliot Young of Perception Research Services USA, consumers recall…”Firstly, the colour of your pack, Secondly, the shape of your pack and thirdly, the logo style”. To me it’s no surprise that his research find this to be true, or that it singles out, “the logo style”, as opposed to the logo itself, because I believe, it really is the visual style of the logo that we recognise, often much more that the actual letters.Logo style


There is no doubt, that drawing from the understanding that package designers have concerning the power of communicating via forms, texture, typefaces and colours, coupled with great copy… will allow brands to create ways to stand out from all the other packs. Well used, it will also allow brands to create real differentiation. In packaging design, because this is how we communicate.


Rowland Heming©
 December 2012/June 2014*

*If you would like this presentation or any presentation on this site to be made to your company, university or organisation, please contact me on rh.pkga@gmail.com


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s