Research on Packaging

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An introduction to packaging design

The term ‘brand’ originates from the days when farmers used to brand their cattle to register ownership of their herd. Before long the brand began to represent not just the owner but their values and quality of their product; it became a mark of security and trust. Packaging has always had a fundamental role to play in the way brands communicate these values.

From these relatively humble beginnings packaging design in the modern age has become one of the most sophisticated, holistic and powerful examples of the designer’s craft. The full life cycle of packaging now touches on all of the key issues facing business today and it is important to understand its impact from cradle to grave. From where the original product is sourced and the cost of materials used, to the transportation costs to store and the legacy issues surrounding its reuse or disposal designers today must consider the full impact of a pack’s design.

What is packaging design?

Packaging design can be viewed in four different ways:

  • a means of protecting the contents of a package
  • a contributor to the cost of the end product
  • a sales canvas on which to promote the product’s attributes and benefits
  • a part of the product experience itself

The role of packaging

Packaging plays many functional roles from protecting contents to helping the user employ the product but perhaps its main job is still seen as one to help sell the product at the point of purchase. Most products are meaningless (or at least undifferentiated) without their packaging – just take a look at any shampoo fixture and think about how you’d chose one from another. So, once functional considerations are completed the most important design consideration is how best to create and tell a story that stands out from the crowd.

From aesthetics…

In the 80s and 90s it could be argued that packaging designers concerned themselves mostly with how their craft could help add value in terms of improving aesthetic appeal, to then improve sales. The use of foil bags, embossed and etched bottles, textured papers and wax seals, latest print techniques and new materials were options endlessly considered as designers tried to enhance product perception and standout.

…To ethics

More recently there has been a marked shift in focus towards environmental issues and the role of packaging. Design pundits often quote the egg carton as being a design classic. It is somewhat ironic therefore that this simple eco–friendly, yet beautifully functional design is perhaps also a contemporary benchmark for environmentally sustainable packaging. While the repackaging of many grocery items in foil wrap may still be wholly appropriate in many instances to improve shelf life and product perception, the rise of the ‘savvy shopper’ in the last few years has forced packaging professionals to look at alternatives. The growth of retailer ‘basics’ brands and a growing awareness of the impact on the environment of excessive packaging have driven a desire for packs to be wholly recyclable.

The rise of green packaging

But ‘green’ packaging isn’t just about recycling. We now also live in the world of food miles where we measure the distance a product has to travel from source to point of purchase. Therefore truly green packaging needs to consider more issues than recyclability. We need to consider palette maximisation too. In other words how can we design our packs to minimise the amount of air that is shipped during transportation.

Companies like Tesco, Wal-Mart and Ikea can make savings of millions of pounds on fast moving consumer goods by maximising the number of products they can ship per pallet and thus saving greenhouse emissions too. So, in the modern day we need packaging to drive top line sales and drive down waste and bottom line cost.

A well designed pack must also address the needs of its life cycle. This life cycle runs from the moment it is used to wrap its product (whether this is by hand or in a factory), to the point of sale, to the point of use, and finally – with current tough environmental laws – to its after-use.

Standing out from the crowd

With around 40,000 different packs to choose from in the average supermarket, across food and non-food items, the challenge is to stand out from the crowd. Over 70% of purchase decisions are made at point of purchase. There are thousands of products competing for shoppers’ attention in store and, according to various research findings, a pack on a supermarket shelf has less than three seconds to grab that attention. This doesn’t mean that packaging necessarily needs to be loud or simple – but it must be clear to the audience for which it is intended.

Telling stories

In order for a pack to engage with a consumer and stand out in its category it really helps to have a great story that the consumer can buy into. For example Aesop, an Australian pharmaceutical company have created standout by crafting a great story for their brand that is all about the naural ingredients they use to create their unique cleansing products. This story is then told through their packaging which references the jars and bottles seen in traditional apothecaries. An example a little closer to home is Burt’s Chips from Devon. Their packs tell you who made your potato chips, a simple touch which reinforces the idea of them being hand made in a way no amount of fresh food photography could do.

Block merchandising

One technique to ensure standout is known as block merchandising. It works by creating a visual illusion that the individual pack is bigger than the reality by having multiple facings which create a bigger picture like a jigsaw. This is a difficult concept to get across in print, but next time you’re in a supermarket take a look at a display of Oxo packs and it will become clear.

Look at me!

Another key factor in aiding standout is having recognisable, simple icons – things that stand out even without looking directly at them. These icons can be called ‘visual equities’. There are a number of tools you can use to create visual equity and thereby improve standout:

  • Shape: e.g. the Perrier bottle (designed to echo a droplet of water), an iPod or a bottle of Chanel no. 5
  • Colour: e.g. Levi’s Red thread, Kodak yellow or the black and cream of Guinness
  • Illustration: e.g. the Fox’s glacier mints polar bear, the Nike Swoosh or the Kellogg’s cockerel
  • Name: e.g. ‘I can’t believe it’s not butter’.

Once you have attracted the consumers attention the pack then has to stand closer scrutiny. At this level it is important to consider the hierarchy and digestibility of information.

  1. Firstly, and most importantly, does the pack communicate its key benefit quickly – be it price (i.e. this is the cheapest on display), appetite appeal (i.e. this will taste great), or functional benefits such as size?
  2. Beyond this, the designer needs to consider the order of secondary information, such as performance criteria or foodstuff ingredients. Getting this hierarchy right is key to creating user-friendly packaging.
  3. Lastly, you need to consider how the packs themselves work as part of the product proposition. Perhaps one of the best early examples of this is the wine box.

All these points are largely about how the pack works on a rational level, however today’s consumer also requires products to have an emotional dimension. Therefore thought also needs to be given to aspects of the product’s social responsibility and how this standpoint can be communicated in a relevant way.

Today the after-use is a main consideration for all packaged goods. For instance, meat packaging that changes colour if the product has been exposed to temperatures likely to lead to contamination, packaging for sunglasses that can be used for storage, new toothpaste dispensers that ensure all the toothpaste can be used, re-sealable bags for peanuts and rice, widgets in beer cans, and so on.

This is just a basic overview. The focus here is largely on examples from the food retailing sector. This is where competition is at its most fierce and therefore also where innovation is often most valuable. The principles, however, are sound whatever the sector.

The real point here is that the packaging can often end up becoming the thing of real value above and beyond the actual product itself – the packaging becomes the brand. Just think about a Cadbury’s Dairy Milk chocolate bar and a supermarket own brand equivalent. If both are unwrapped how would you tell the difference? The purple wrap of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk is the emotional reason why you’d pay more although there may be seemingly little difference in product delivery.

Embodying the brand

As the pack becomes the embodiment of the brand, business needs to remember that brands require tender loving care. This means treating your brand and its every touch point as a representation of your business to the consumer. Apple is a good example of a company whose brand is executed with precision at every touch point. Unlike most technology brands the packaging has been considered just as much as the product it contains.

Ultimately, you can’t fool the consumer – his or her value of a brand is based on how they find them. As Gerald Ratner learned to his cost, brands don’t kill brands, people do. Respect your brand and it will deliver results.

Fending off competition

We live in a world of infinite consumer choice. A strongly packaged brand should offer protection and carve out for you a point of difference that can protect you against competitor activity through trade marking. But perhaps even more significantly, a strong pack can provide the key to unlocking higher margins as you drive an emotional point of difference in addition to a rational one.

Avoiding pitfallls

There are also numerous pitfalls that businesses need to be aware of. For example, the desire to over-design packaging and over-promise can lead to a customer backlash. It does not matter how pretty it looks if what you are selling on the outside is not matched on the inside. Even if they are fooled once, your customers will simply buy something else next time around.

You should also try to zig if everyone else is zagging. Following the category cues or the style of the brand leader could lead to trade mark infringement and costly legal action and will most certainly lead to consumers overlooking your product.

It is also important to remember that the world is full of cultural and linguistic difference. What works in one market doesn’t always work in another. For example Gerber, the name of the famous baby food maker, means ‘to vomit’ in French slang. Be also aware of cultural sensitivities – for example in the Middle East you can’t show people’s eyes or the soles of someone’s feet as this is deemed culturally unacceptable.

A strategic weapon

The bottom line for business is that packaging design will almost always have an effect on a company’s profit and loss. Treated as a cost and nothing more than a cosmetic makeover, the effect on the bottom line is likely to be the wrong one. Treated as an investment and handled with care as a strategic weapon, the result can often be huge dividends.

A healthy message

In hospitals and healthcare generally, packaging design has a huge role to play in helping to communicate a whole host of vitally important messages to both doctor/nurse and patient. They range from facts about dosage to imagery designed to offer comfort and confidence and boost self esteem. Intelligent packaging can also aid in the dispensing of medicines and ease of use for elderly or disabled patients.

It is also important to remember that packaging is a medium that invades our homes. It is something we see perhaps many times over long periods. It can therefore be a good medium to promote information about a whole host of issues from positive, general wellbeing messages about healthy eating, to warnings about smoking.

Especially noteworthy is some of the own-brand work done by Boots, Asda, Superdrug and Marks & Spencer. With these retailers’ ranges you will see the designer’s craft at its most creative. Many packs use wit to arrest attention through clever use of illustration and typography. Marks & Spencer is also driving innovation with packs that aid the cooking experience – such as its steam cuisine range – and promoting the provenance of its food by putting farmers and chefs on the pack.

Finally, there are two simple questions you can ask yourself to judge whether packaging design is great:

  • Is it different?
  • Is it relevant?

The neck design of Toilet Duck and the tiger-skin graphics of Wild Brew are both great examples of packs that pass these two simple tests.

The packaging design examples given here also answer these two questions well. And although most are food and drink examples, the lessons are transferable to other retail sectors.

Project: This Water
Client: Innocent
Designer: Pearlfisher
Year: 2007

Pearlfisher has been helping Innocent manage its phenomenal impact on the smoothie sector over the past few years.

Three bottles of 'This Water' design by PearlfisherRecent work has involved rebranding Innocent’s Juicy Water range – a product that owes more to water than fruit which consequently felt awkward under the innocent name. The new brand – This Water – focuses on the ubiquity and versatility of water, and features a hand-scribbled observation and image on each pack. Its fresh and charming personality clearly references Innocent but also has the strength and versatility to move forward as its very own brand.

Project: Bournville dark chocolate
Client: Cadbury Bournville
Designer: Design Bridge
Year: 2006

Cadbury's Bourneville chocolate packaging redesigned by Design BridgeEncouraged by antioxidant health claims and its sophisticated adult perception, many more consumers are embracing dark chocolate. With major confectionery players extending their countlines to include a dark variant, research published in 2006 estimated that the UK dark chocolate market will double in size by 2010. To tap into the market’s growth and profitability, Cadbury briefed Design Bridge to maximise the potential of its 100-year-old Bournville brand: stable, familiar and trusted but dated and with an older consumer base.

The contemporary solution includes a spontaneous chocolate-coloured splash on Bournville’s trademark red. Bournville’s stylishly extrovert personality is reinforced by the new Deeply Dark sub-brand, which connects with younger consumers. Design Bridge has managed to reinvent our grandparents’ favourite brand whilst reinforcing its ability to meet today’s lifestyle choices, a century since entering the market.

Project: Keeping an old brand fresh
Client: Perrier
Designer: Dragon Rouge
Year: 2001-02

Perrier packaging by Dragon RougeIt may be odd to include Perrier as a modern example of packaging best practice, given that the design of the bottle originated 100 years ago. But French consultancy Dragon Rouge has kept the design fresh in an instructive fashion. The classic bottle shape and bow-tie label are perhaps untouchable. However, by introducing seasonal special designs to celebrate Christmas and the party season the brand has kept pace with modern times.

In 2001, Perrier introduced its first plastic line variant but the iconic shape remained. In 2002, Dragon Rouge won the top prize at the ‘grand prix strategies du design’ for its flavoured sub-brand Perrier Fluo. Again it combined the familiar classic iconography of the core brand alongside new graphics and colours, helping Perrier to develop new products in new markets without damaging its heritage.

Project: Revamping a 60 year old brand
Client: Dylon
Designer: Coley Porter Bell
Year: 2007

Bottle of Dylon 'Colour, Protect & Wash' designed by Coley Porter BellColey Porter Bell has been working with dyeing faithfuls Dylon to completely revamp their brand for the first time in 60 years. Famous for their round disk dyes Dylon are the only consumer dyes manufacturer in the UK and distribute to over 70 countries. Despite a good level of awareness the brand was losing relevance with today’s consumer.

At the heart of the re-brand is the positioning of Dylon as ‘experts in colour’ which better reflects their many decades of experience. The first new design is an innovative laundry product called ‘Colour Protect & Wash’ which is the only one on the market to protect colour and prevent runs – darks, lights and stripes can all be washed together. Using dramatic black packaging, this is a radical move for the laundry sector.

Project: Sainsbury’s SO organic range
Client: Sainsbury’s
Designer: Williams Murray Hamm
Year: 2005

In 2005 Williams Murray Hamm (WMH) created a radical new design for Sainsbury’s organic own brand range to help reclaim its historical No.1 slot, lost to Tesco.

2 tins of Sainsbury's SO organic soup designed by WMHRenamed ‘Sainsbury’s SO organic’ by WMH, the design idea was simple: be ruthlessly honest and organic consumers would respond positively. The packaging should celebrate raw organic produce as nature intended, roots and all. The ‘Goodness unearthed’ theme was inspired by botanical bookplates. Each package shows a beautiful sapling (usually the key ingredient) and annotations around the plant help tell the story of the product.

The brand went on to overtake Tesco as the UK’s No1 own label organic food brand. Within only a week of trading the re-design had paid for itself.

Project: Kotex
Client: Kimberley-Clark
Designer: Coley Porter Bell
Year: 2003

Coley Porter Bell’s revamp of Kimberley Clark’s sanitary protection brand Kotex is another story of how packaging design can lift a brand in decline without any other marketing spend.

Kotex rebranded packaging by Coley Porter BellKotex was a weak brand with declining sales, it needed to revitalise its brand and overhaul its image to compete with brand leaders such as ‘Always’ and appeal to younger women. Coley Porter Bell’s strategy was to reposition the product, moving it away from the sanitary protection market and shifting it towards the personal care category. Coley Porter Bell had to make a discreet product stand out.

Research revealed that female consumers wanted to be empowered and proud of their womanliness, rather than hiding it coyly. Acting on this information, Coley Porter Bell went all out on the colour red, using assertive feminine objects like lipsticks, hearts and spiked heels for the package covers.

Following launch of the new packaging brand identification soared by 780% in Western European markets and in Central Europe. Perception of Kotex as a ‘feminine brand’ has likewise increased by 144%. Kotex is now in a far stronger market position. The company has increased sales in Eastern Europe in particular, especially in countries such as the Czech Republic, where it previously had no presence, and has won the admiration and respect of its customers.

Project: President’s Choice own label range
Client: Loblaw’s supermarkets, Canada
Year: 1984 to present day

President's Choice own label range of 7 Grain Rosemary and Onion crackersThis brand was probably one of the first true premium own-label brands in the world. Unlike many premium own brands it does not use obvious premium cues, such as the use of gold foil or names such as ‘best’ or ‘finest’. The brand has been built on the premise that ‘the president’ of Loblaw searches the world for special products. The back-of-pack text always talks passionately about the unique qualities of each particular ‘find’.


More pages in the website to read.


Futuristic packaging


Related topics: Packaging

Food packaging is set to become even more functional in the future. If current prototypes are anything to go by it might not be long before packaging is edible or that it is able to warn us when it needs refrigerating, claims a report in the Seattle Times.

To many, packaging is just the annoying bit that you have to often tussle with before you can begin your feast. Nonetheless the science of food packaging hides a host of considerations essential to convenience, food safety, freshness and all-important taste.

Even as they use them, most consumers don’t really understand packaging technology, said Bob Testin, a professor emeritus of packaging science at Clemson University, South Carolina.

For example, many people think the plastic bags that preserve salad greens “breathe” through holes. In fact, they’re made of a special film that creates a different atmosphere inside the bag, restricting the flow of oxygen in and carbon dioxide out.

This “modified atmosphere” packaging is also used with products such as packaged meat and fresh pasta. In fact many innovations repackage existing products to offer more convenience.

“Food on the go” that fits into car cup holders now includes snacks in upright containers and flavoured milk in slim plastic bottles.

Another packaging trend encourages materials that decompose, recycle easily or use up less landfill space.

“The first principle of environmentally friendly packaging is to use less stuff,” Testin said. “The ideal packaging weighs nothing and takes up zero volume.” The US Environmental Protection Agency says food packaging accounts for 1.8 million tons of waste dumped into landfills every year.

Companies such as EarthShell have developed biodegradable food packaging made primarily of limestone and potato starch. McDonald’s signed on to buy Big Mac sandwich containers made of the material and Wal-Mart sells EarthShell plates, for example.

Another innovation consumers can expect to see on future grocery shelves includes packaging that raises the alarm if conditions, such as too-warm temperatures over a period of time, have or could lead to premature spoilage of items such as seafood, dairy and meats.

Misuse could include anything from a refrigerator that should be cooler (most refrigerators aren’t kept at the recommended 38 to 40 degrees) to a product that is left out on the counter too long, Testin said.

“We can control conditions at the food plant and to some extent at the supermarket, but we can’t control what the consumer does,” said Testin, who expects the technology to be used on individual packaging within five years.

A further development would allow the combat of common meat-borne bacteria with anti-microbial plastic film that slows the growth of micro-organisms. Film developed by Clemson scientists contains lysozome and nisin, two natural proteins that inhibit bacterial growth.

Anti-microbial film could also extend the shelf life of other perishables such as shredded cheese, for example.

The Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio developed polymer films and coatings that generate a controlled amount of chlorine dioxide over time, inhibiting the growth of mould and bacteria in packaged foods.

Tara McHugh, a scientist with the US Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service in California created an edible film from pureed fruits and vegetables.

The film, which retains the colour and concentrated flavour of the fruit or vegetable, could be used to cover food, such as plastic wrap does now. A tomato film could go over a bowl of spaghetti, for example; after heating, the film could be stirred in as part of the sauce. Or a peach film around a ham could create a glaze when cooked.

McHugh says she hopes the edible wrap will help people meet nutritional guidelines for eating more fruits and veggies as well as reduce waste. She said a company is working on producing large rolls of film, which she expects to be ready for the market by autumn.

On the condiment aisle, shoppers can expect to see Heinz’s new upside-down ketchup bottle topped – or bottomed, rather – with a patented silicone valve and stay-clean cap this summer.

Meanwhile, French’s new patented mustard bottle, which hit shelves this spring, features a diaphragm at the top of the hour-glass bottle to allow even distribution. This cuts out that initial watery spurt and draws excess mustard back into the bottle.


Article about color

Klimchuk, Marianne R., and Sandra A. Krasovec. Packaging Design Successful Product Branding from Concept to Shelf. New York: Wiley, 2006. Print

Main aspects of packaging design

Klimchuk, Marianne R., and Sandra A. Krasovec. Packaging Design Successful Product Branding from Concept to Shelf. New York: Wiley, 2006. Print.

Klimchuk, Marianne R., and Sandra A. Krasovec. Packaging Design Successful Product Branding from Concept to Shelf. New York: Wiley, 2006. Print.

Some important aspects to think about when designing packaging.

Klimchuk, Marianne R., and Sandra A. Krasovec. Packaging Design Successful Product Branding from Concept to Shelf. New York: Wiley, 2006. Print.

An article on how to use typography when creating package design

Klimchuk, Marianne R., and Sandra A. Krasovec. Packaging Design Successful Product Branding from Concept to Shelf. New York: Wiley, 2006. Print.