The Value Of Effective Design

Here’s my recent Designer’s Den piece for Packaging Gazette, on the far-reaching value of effective design:

Whoever said, ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’, clearly wasn’t thinking about packaging design. Consumers always judge a product by its packaging, and take just 3–7 seconds to do so. But packaging that simply shouts ‘look at me’ isn’t enough, says Simon Forster, Creative Director of brand and packaging consultancy, Robot Food.

Imagine you’re launching a new product or addressing the design of an existing range, and want to make an immediate yet lasting impression. What do you do? Refresh the design with contemporary colours, fonts and a chatty, first person tone of voice that’s ‘a bit like Innocent’s’? No. That’s a common mistake, leading to a lack of unique brand expression. Before even considering the design, go back to the brand.

Your brand is your unique genetic code, your biggest differentiator and your anchor in the ruthlessly choppy seas of consumer society. So your brand blueprint – your mission statement, values, personality and tone of voice – is where all good packaging strategy should begin.

It might sound a bit belt-and-braces but a solid brand foundation is what separates the flash-in-the-pans from the serious contenders. When consumers love a product, they want authenticity and seek to connect with it beyond the packaging. So your packaging design needs to work hard, and as it’s often consumers’ first encounter with your product, there’s a lot riding on it. It’s got to be impactful, meaningful and different. It’s also got to be consistent, relevant, credible and compelling. It’s a fine balancing act.

Better get the branding and packaging experts in

Packaging that’s informed by the brand is more than just a pretty face. It also has purpose, context and direction. It provides ‘difference’ that’s rooted in your brand truths rather than in the latest packaging fad or trend.

So once someone’s picked your product off the shelf, the visual language has done its job and it’s then down to the messaging and tone of voice to further persuade them to make the purchase. That means the visual and the verbal language must work together as one.

Look at BEAR Nibbles’ award-winning design. The owners, a husband-and-wife team obsessed with fruit, know all about the importance of effective design. Selling their house to fund the launch of BEAR, they challenged a leading strategic design agency to create a family-focused dried fruit brand that made healthy snacking more desirable and accessible.

BEAR has become the fastest growing brand in healthy snacking. Its uncontrived, natural brand identity convinced supermarkets to place its products next to fresh produce, which has been instrumental in positioning dried fruit as one of shoppers’ 5 a day. In just three years, sales growth has soared from zero to £6.4million. The packaging is the basis of their brand expression, but their compelling and unique brand positioning runs through every touch point, right down to the ‘Grrrr’ they use to sign off emails.

There are plenty of similar challenger brand turned category busting success stories, of which thoughtful brand and packaging design play a huge part. Think Tea Pigs, Gü Puds, Jordans cereals, Absolute vodka, Steve’s Leaves, and of course Innocent.

Invest in good design for a long-term win

Effective design that’s aligned with the brand pays dividends. It’s simply better for business. Our client list at Robot Food includes three companies who chose to rebrand in order to achieve new objectives. After re-launching last year, Stoats, Beanies Flavour Co. and Bulk Powders have all since seen a minimum of 100% YOY growth.

Even if you’re doing well, reinvesting in design is all part of staying ahead of the game. Great design drives demand and helps grow sales volume, not to mention staff morale. It’s a virtuous circle. Remember, you’ve only got up to seven seconds to make your impact, so use them wisely.