If you take a look at some of the most popular packaging design blogs and publications, you’ll notice a large proportion of highlighted branding and package design is dedicated to product packaging that you simply never see in Walgreen’s or Ralph’s or any other store in which your customer shops.
This phenomenon isn’t unique to graphic or package design; clothing design enthusiasts drool over fashions that regular folk just don’t wear. The reason that fashion designers can get away with designing outrageous concepts is because they design for an elite category of shopper. Package designers get the occasional prestige project, but must make a living designing protective vessels for industrial ceiling mount lighting fixtures and other depressingly unstylish products.
We don’t want to discount the achievements of other designers who have really interesting, bold and brave concepts floating around – we want to encourage innovation. But the consumer essentially wants familiarity with only a trace of novelty. How can we as designers give the customer what he/she wants while satisfying our innate desire to create something new and beautiful? The answer is: Serve our egos with divorce papers.
It’s the Market, Stupid
We’re not designing for ourselves; we’re designing for the consumer. It’s okay if we’re not the sort of people that would ever buy a calking gun or industrial coolant, but we must nonetheless come up with a packaging concept that would appeal to the sorts of people who would buy those items. Hint: The concept does not involve the Aphrodite Slim Pro font.
Our packaging design ideas and tastes, while brilliant, don’t serve everyone equally. Designs that cause excitement and win awards might not really work in the market place, plain and simple. Customers don’t need a packaging concept to make a product alluring – just because we can unfold a package like a piece of origami doesn’t mean that the drill bits inside are going to be more effective.
The package designs that are the most celebrated are typically for luxury products – products that are already largely for the purpose of fun. So, we can design a feisty cookie box, or sports drink bottle or styling gel and be reasonably certain that the market will support the branding and package design choice. But if we go out on a limb with items of utility; items that we need rather than want, then we’re in danger of rubbing the consumer the wrong way and diminishing the product’s image. No one trusts a gimmicky infrared temperature gun.
If we only accepted projects that thrilled us, then most graphic designers would starve and die. We love designing wine and liquor bottles, packages for gourmet chocolates and containers for the latest incredibly expensive handheld media devices, but those projects are few and far between. We may have to earn our keep designing boxes for fruit fly traps.
The first step in creating a branding and package design triumph is self knowledge. We must admit that we don’t know everything about every market and then make the specific effort to learn. If we’re unfamiliar with the needs and habits of the kinds of people who buy durable Foundry siding, then we have to take time to actually familiarize ourselves with who does – duh.
Consultancies for different industries will help you understand what the public will respond to. Get different perspectives and opinions about what works and what doesn’t. When we are focused on designing, we often lose the ability to see our work from another point of view; outside opinions will jerk ourselves out of our own heads.
So, what have we learned today? We learned that we can’t always design for the purpose of exciting ourselves about a product – we must excite the client and the public first. We learned that just because we might not be intrepid do-it-ourselfers, we can still acquire the necessary tools to design for that market. Most importantly, we learned that the world of design is a world of compromise – not every single project is going to be coated in glamour. Oh, do you need a package designer for your 50-count interior wood screws? Come right this way!