In any profession, there are misconceptions, false ideas and misunderstandings. I meet them quite often in my daily work with marketing/brand managers or package designers. Here are my opinions on ten issues chosen at random:
Red is warm, blue is cold
I hear often that certain colours cannot be used for certain products/packages. It must be green, white and blue for a milk product and it cannot be red if you wish to express freshness. No doubt there are so-called warm or cold colour tones, but as you cannot judge a part of a design in isolation, I would say that “anything goes” as Cole Porter composed for his musical 1934! The blue gas flame is very hot and the red Coca-Cola colour quite refreshing when water droplets are added.
Cutting trees for packaging or other paper products is seen negatively
Well, if you are of this opinion, you couldn’t be more wrong! There have never been, to this day, so many trees in the Northern Hemisphere (where cardboard and paper come from). For every tree chopped down by a forest company, 2 or 3 new ones are planted. Moreover, young trees absorb CO2 far better than old ones. So let’s cut down old trees, make cardboard or paperof them and plant more young trees!
Don’t play with the food!
This is what my parents told me when I grew up and how right they were! Apart from some exceptions as for instance kids’ sweets, a food product cannot be presented as a joke. It is not liked in any culture, it is not appetising and it tells the wrong story. Food, be it pleasurable as chocolate or nutritious as a yoghurt, is serious matter and must be presented as attractive as possible. You may read about food styling in my book or elsewhere on this site.
Aluminium gives confidence, trust and freshness
So do glass and cardboard. Also, a chilled aluminium can will feel colder in your hand than any other material. On the other hand, plastic has a greater problem to be taken seriously. Would you offer wine in plastic?
Now what about tinplate? It has basically the same image and is excellent to recycle as it is magnetic. However, it is heavier, less used today and has become oldfashioned compared with aluminium. And just think of the aluminium foil you use in the kitchen to keep products fresh!
The corporate brand must be in the upper lefthand corner of the front panel
If you work for Unilever, Nestlé, Kraft or other companies that use both a product and a corporate brand (not as Mars or Procter & Gamble who use only a product brand), you will often hear that management wants to see the small corporate brand on top. Why? Because many top managers I’ve met believe that you look at a pack in the way you read a book or a newspaper. How wrong can they be… The corporate brand, if used to say “here I am, look at me”, is best placed in close proximity to the product brand. It should be a disturbing design element in order to be noticed and this can be in the middle, below, or even partly hidden to give a 3-D effect.
Food packages need a GDA (Guideline Daily Amounts)
If I am not wrong, it was in 1998 that the British Institute of Grocery Distribution supervised a project launched by the UK government, the food industry and consumer organisations to highlight the nutritional values of products. It was to appear as a table on the back of the package, with a special reference on the front. I believe it is Tesco that started it, immediately followed by other companies, for good or bad.
As it is a duplication of data you find on the back, I feel it has little extra value. Moreover, most consumers don’t have a clue what for instance 8% of their daily requirements represent. It would be far better if, on the back, with big letters, the brand explained what is good with the product in question!
Julius Maggi said it very well on his famous liquid seasoning bottle: “the product is very rich. Use it sparingly. It is unnecessary to season every soup or dish; only neutral-tasting soups and dishes need seasoning and this merely to enhance their own flavour. It is impossible to fix the necessary quantity to be added beforehand, simply sample it several times.” I call this pure common sense. To tell the consumer that a few drops of the product make up x% of the daily requirement of salt is sheer nonsense! Last, but not least, there is no legislation on GDA information!
Constant change to the design reduces brand identity
Dear reader, please tell that to Google and they will laugh at you! Constant change is a way of staying top-of-mind. I am not saying that the front panel of a pack should change all the time, but special editions, new layouts and constantly better illustrations will help your brand to be in the forefront and be referred to as a ‘living brand’.
And what about the back/service panel? At each new printing, it has to give new information about the product or the company. I say company and not brand, as most consumers today want to know who is behind a brand. The brand tells us a different story, such as taste, convenience or pleasure, whereas the company expresses quality and trust.
We need more packages, not less
Do you know how much food gets lost, i.e. destroyed in the world due to a lack of proper packaging? Tons! Proper packaging (and we still have a lot to learn, thus this site) is a goal we should strive for both in developed and developing markets. Great packaging is economy and ecology. It’s about perfect protection, easy distribution, valuable and understandable information. The materials get thinner and thinner (less weight), some standardisation contributes to a better use of space during distribution, etc. Correct packaging is more packages in certain categories and less in others.
Also, we need to buy our fresh produce as close to the growing/production areas as possible and this is one of many positive trends.
Pack design should cost as little as possible
During the last 3-5 years, I have noticed that more and more of the big companies buy design through their purchasing department in the manner of raw materials, machines, etc. That is to say they obtain 3-4 quotations and take the cheapest one if it offers the same quality which, in the case of raw materials, is measurable.
However, great creativity, brain thinking and superb execution is something only a knowledgeable marketing person can judge and evaluate. Pitching for design jobs should, in my opinion, be forbidden. A long-term relationship ‘client-design agency’ is common sense.
Shippers are not seen by the consumer, thus they need no design
How wrong can one be! Just back from Guangdong, a province as large as France and UK together, I did my usual store-checking and found, as in Europe, that the shippers/outer cartons are very often piled up above the supermarket shelves. Why are beer companies spending money in printing messages/call-to-action on these secondary packages and not companies like Unilever, Nestlé or Krafft?
When these shippers travel on trucks from a warehouse to a supermarket, they are seen and, if well designed, they get a second life, as the Chiquita box!
It is the cheapest advertising space you have for your brand, as the carton anyhow has to be printed with article number, origin, etc.
Last, but not least, it is great fun to have a bigger surface to work on than a retail package. And with such constraints as for instance the use of two colours only, it is an interesting problem to solve!
I hope the above comments are of some help to a younger generation of designers!