Updated: Jun 19, 2018
We share so much online. Images, ideas, thoughts, recipes... and Google has cataloged the lot. We can see anything we want - just Google.
This is particularly a treasure trove for brand owners given that the web is awash with images of other people’s amazing pack designs. And if you refine your search a little more, then you can find out what the emerging design trends are. Dig a little deeper and you can also find out what the latest trends are in colours, lettering or pack formats.
It’s so easy. What can go wrong if you’re looking for inspiration for your new pack design?
Lifestyle, trends and fads
One of our clients, Planet Organic, has a small army of dedicated researches scouring the globe for new food ingredients and formats. I’ve always remembered a conversation with a Planet Organic director who explained her company's strength was the ability to filter out a food trend form a food fad. A food trend was commercially valuable - a food fad, much less so.
The difference is that a trend is in synch with a lifestyle choice. This forms a virtual circle which ensures its longevity. And interestingly we find little evidence of genuine trends via Google searches.
The optics of ‘design’ are easy to track down. Pinterest, Instagram, Shutterstock, Dieline etc. All offer pretty much a ready-made design solution. Finding someone skilful at re- creating and adapting your favourite 'discovered design' becomes the only task.
Except… How does a brand owner distinguish between a design fad - a neat gimmick that will soon be dull and ubiquitous - and a design trend that will help ensure their brand synchs with their consumers’ lifestyle?
Our view is that lifestyle helps inform a packaging design solution. Lifestyle is how we choose to live. What we can agree to accept, what we believe in, what makes use happy (or sad) and is THE driver for how we choose to spend our money.
For instance, the ease and immediacy of online shopping has offered a change in consumers’ lifestyle. Look at what’s happened to the high street to those brands who didn’t or couldn’t adapt to this change.And of course packaging design needs to respond to this change too.
Recently we were introduced to a significant piece of research undertaken by Cambridge University, who analysed how branded packs should best appear in an online environment. Thumbnail images of the on-self packs failed to help online shoppers distinguish variants, formats, sizes even brands. Image optimised packs changes this to create an more positive experience of shopping online.
Another lifestyle trend has been the rise of Instagram as the ‘go to’ social feed. This now means brand owners need to be confident their branding and packs are ‘Instagramable’.
This requires beautiful images, amazing typographics and the clever use of stock imagery.
What does Lifestyle look like?
Back to the Google search… If you can recognise a lifestyle and have a Google search of the ‘design trends for 2018 - is the future of your brand secured?
We’d argue probably not. And this is because these curated ‘design trends’ are always trapped in their own bubble. Hermetically sealed off from what happens in real life.
For example I read that a design trend of 2018 is ‘less is more’. This might be true, but it was also the design trend used by Innocent drink in 1998 - 20 years ago! So how helpful is this trend if I’m launching a new heathy drink on 2018?
And how come it wasn’t the design trend adopted by Ugly drinks when they launched two years ago? Where did bubble gum lettering and eccentric emojis come from? (Check for yourself - this design trend is not mentioned in Google search for ‘Design Trends’ for 2016 or 2017.)
We’d argue that design trends are only useful if considered in the context of consumer lifestyles.
In reality there are multiple ‘lifestyle choices’. The role of packaging design is to respond to the insights surrounding these lifestyles. And create a pack that people can identify with as fitting with their own values.
So, if your lifestyle means a desire to to eat naturally you will be drawn to pack designs which exude ‘naturalness’. And of course this can be done in many ways and it's unlikely Google will help you identify which will be the more successful. That’s the job of your design agency - to show you ways to present your brand in a certain way. And, of course, in doing so they can ,of course, draw upon design trends to do this - but they’ll be using them with a specific purpose in mind.
So skill and judgement are needed to translate a key facet of that lifestyle into a piece of vibrant and attention grabbing pack design.
To be certain that the design choices are optimised means having a clear understanding of the lifestyles of your consumers. And then exploring what that looks like.
Alas, it’s not a formula. And the answer is unlikely to be on a Google search!