Categorized | design

More stuff on packaging — or, more properly, less stuff on packaging

Okay, so I’m on a packaging roll. My default mode as a designer — you might say it’s the hand I catch with as a designer — is minimalism. Because I have a pretty hefty background in cognitive science, I’m absolutely certain that “focus” is better than “lots of stuff.” Again, one of the challenges of designing a package is simply all the stuff that has to go on a package. But the last decade has seen more and more minimalist design — even in traditionally gaudy packages like soda pop — and that trend is accelerating because of the enormously high shelf appeal of “blank” packages.

Now, I’ve worked with literally hundreds of entrepreneurs as they’ve struggled to put a product in a package of some sorts. While my natural default mode is minimalist, most people’s natural mode is “lots of stuff” — words, phrases, sparkles, pictures, bric-a-brac.

Remembering that a significant part of developing a product is coming up with a good shelf presentation, it behooves you to seriously consider the increasing tendency towards minimalist packaging.

What brought this on? Well, as I’m sitting here typing, I’m enjoying the new design that Pepsi has slapped on their soda cans. And nothing illustrates how the minimalist trend is moving into the mainstream than soda cans — and these redesigns prove every strategic argument I’ve been making to clients about why they should at least consider minimalist designs at some stage in designing their packaging.

This is the first time in my experience that a major brand has switched to a minimalist design. You see minimalist design employed by second and third rank brands, particularly premium brands, to try to differentiate themselves, but it’s an enormous risk for an established brand to go the minimalist route.

Pepsi, who used the Arnell Group to redesign their logo and packaging, can get away such a radical minimalist redesign because the Pepsi logo is instantly recognizable, even in redesigned form.

But the new Pepsi packaging illustrates exactly what minimalist design is all about. In essence, minmalism is about reducing everything on a package to the product’s or brand’s essence. Here, the essence is the logo, the name of the product, and the number of calories. They’ve taken out everything else.

Minimalism operates under a principle that I call the “Keats principle,” because it’s taken from one of the most famous lines from his poetry: “that is all you know and all you need to know.”‘

What do you know from the new Diet Pepsi packaging? That it’s Diet Pepsi and has 0 calories. That’s all you need to know.

Most packaging employs what I call the “anxiety” principle. Everyone involved –the VP of marketing, the designer, the ad agency, everyone — worries and frets that the package does not have enough stuff. “What if the customer doesn’t know “x” about the product? We should put that here in the bottom right.” “Oh, by “y” is really important. Stick that over here.” And nothing provokes more anxiety in the package development process than an empty spot on the package. “Wait, here’s an empty spot — let’s put a blue triangle and some rivets to fill it up.” I’ve designed dozens of packages for companies small to gigantic, and, believe me, the “anxiety” mode is exactly how everyone approaches packages. It’s a wonder that all the packages you see stuffed with stuff don’t have ten times as much stuff stuffed on them.

But Pepsi has opted to trust their customers and produce a genuinely pleasing aesthetic experience. That makes them look startlingly different from every other competitor on the shelf.

Pepsi new design and logo can

Just to see the difference between “Keats” design (“all you know and all you need to know”) and “anxiety” design, here’s a side-by-side comparison of the old packaging and the new from the Before and After magazine:

Pepsi's new design and old design

Just look at the sheer amount of stuff on the old 12-can packaging. All the writing, the bar code, the number of cans (“12 cans”), all sorts of chatter and gossip on the right of the package. On the redesign, they’ve distilled everything to its essence, to the “all you need to know”: name, logo, zero calories. Look at all the stuff they don’t say: the new package doesn’t have big bold letters proclaiming “12 Cans.” This is a gigantic leap, something that would keep most corporate marketing zombie aliens awake at night. “If you don’t tell the customer how many cans are in the 12-pack, how are they going to know?”

But Arnell and Pepsi have assumed — rightly — that 12-packs have been with us long enough that us poor stupid folk who buy the crap know that they contain 12 soda cans. The package on the left, on the other hand, is positively neurotic about telling you every little thing you may ever want to know and obsessed with filling every empty space with something, anything, just something.

More show and tell after the break . . .

Pepsi is merely following the same principle that Izze’s has been using for years:

Izze Soda

Izze, however, is a premium soda sold mainly in Starbucks, restaurants, and middlebrow to high-end grocery stores. They are not a mainstream brand but a specialty brand that you purchase at a premium price. As such, they have the luxury to use quirky packaging — they are purposely differentiating themselves from the mainstream sodas.

But you can see the “all you know and all you need to know” principle at work here. They use the Izze logo (an asterisk type thing) in a circle that is the color of the fruit in the drink (in this case, Kiwi), the brand name, and, in small type, the name of the drink. More importantly, they allow the drink itself to be the content of the package not merely by using clear glass but by using the color of the drink as the color of the packaging.

It’s not just Pepsi getting on the minimalist bandwagon. Here is Hansen’s (flavored water) new design that they just recently rolled out:

Hansen's new design packaging

The packaging has much the same appeal as the Pepsi can. White space is, well, white; type is narrow and unobtrusive, and the image, because it sits in such magnificent isolation in all that white space, is actually far more powerful and appealing than if the designer had placed it among a clutter of images and type. This is an immensely attention-getting and appealing packaging when set next to competing products on a shelf.

Because traditional beverage packaging defaults to highly image cluttered and type-filled, the designer has produced a package that stands out from everything else on the shelf while, at the same time, looking immensely high quality, higher quality than anything else on the shelf.

And, if you think Coca-Cola is out to lunch, in Brazil it markets a drink called Kuat which competes with the number one soft drink in Brazil, Guarana Antartica (made from guarana and mighty, mighty tasty). To start making better inroads on Guarana Antartica, Coca-Cola launched a new minimalist design just a couple months ago:

Kuat new packaging can bottle design

I said in a previous post that I collect packaging from all over the world — and you thought I was kidding.

And the bottle:

Kuat new design bottle

Again, the design breaks tons of rules. For one, guarana drink packaging is supposed to look tropical — lots of color. All guarana drink packages have some picture of the guarana fruit (which is red), as in the old version of the package:

Kuat old packaging

Again, this is “anxiety” packaging. They have to fill the can with everything they think you should know, including the word “Guarana” and a little picture of the fruit. And, of course, color, color, color. But when everyone else is doing color, color, color, it doesn’t stand out on the shelf or really say anything about the product.

But in the redesign, the guarana fruit reduced to a simple red spot. Here’s the cool thing: guarana drinks are gold in color (as you can see from the bottle). All other packages use red and green and yellow for colors, but Coca-Cola has opted for the color of the drink. They are, in short, changing the rules of packaging. By using the drink color, they are trying to make the content of the package the content of the packaging design.

That’s the direction the best minimalist design goes to: the content itself.

Again, when this is on the shelf it stands out from everything else. And, most importantly, the minimalist design makes it look classy.

And here’s a minimalist times ten design by Turnstyle Studios for a premium soda sold in high-end restaurants and premium grocery stores, Dry Soda:

Dry Soda by Turnstyle Design

The whole purpose of this design is to show the product — to make the product not just the content of the packaging but the content of the packaging design. What you can’t see in the image is that each bottle has the soda company’s owner’s signature to make the soda appear “crafted.”

So, a longish post on soda cans. What are the takeaways?

  • If you are marketing a product that will sit on retail shelves, packaging is one of the most important and vexing promotions issues you’re going to face. Getting it right translates into measurable and considerable revenue.
  • Among the goals of good packaging design, “differentiation” and “shelf appeal” are two of the most important. “Differentiation” separates your product from similar products on the shelf. “Shelf appeal” makes the product look appealing to the consumer — it is a combination of getting the customer’s attention and pleasing the customer, that is, having an aesthetic dimension.
  • You should seriously consider minimalist designs when your packaging is being comped out since minimalist design currently creates dramatic differentiation and high shelf appeal.
  • The minimalist strategy is to stand out on the shelf and have shelf appeal — the primary positioning message of minimalism is “high quality” or “premium quality” or “sophisticated.”
  • The primary principle of minimalism is “all you know and all you need to know.” Most packaging is anxiety-ridden — it worries about making sure as much stuff as possible gets on the package. Minimalist design leaves things unsaid that you can safely assume the consumer knows (such as there being 12 cans in a 12-pack). Minimalist design is primarily about aesthetic pleasure rather than information, which is the main goal of “anxiety” design.
  • Minimalism tends to make the product itself the content of the packaging design.

    And so ends a maximalist discussion of minimalism.

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