February 16, 2014

4 Ideas for Barcode Labels You Haven’t Thought Of

4 Ideas for Barcode Labels You Haven’t Thought Of

No component of standard product packaging is as ubiquitous as those stripy black-and-white boxes we call barcodes. Not only are they irritatingly everywhere, but they’re also incredibly boring. Slapped onto every product and designed to speed up the checkout process at the point of sale, barcodes are both familiar and tiresome. There’s no getting around barcodes; we definitely need them.

Making the Best of a Bad Barcode

As package designers, it irks us that we’re forced to accept this plain vanilla nonsense on our fancy end product. After designing a visually interesting, consumer-stimulating masterpiece, it hurts us in our creative cores to have to add the standard run-of-the-mill barcode labels that are undeniably necessary for efficient checkout and inventory.

Well, we’ve had it with boring black-and-white boxes. We demand creativity across the entire package design process, and barcode labels are no longer exempt. The valuable real estate occupied by barcodes should be part of a cohesive concept; it’s against our design dogma to allow for this totally wasted marketing opportunity!

We’re taking a page from Nancy Regan (never thought we’d say that, did you?): just say “no” to boring barcodes. Here are some great ideas for creative barcode designs that just might get the customers to check out the barcode first.

1. Barcodes as Collectors’ Items

Is there any more enduring marketing method than collectible commerce? Have you ever gawked at the lengths some people will go to in order to get their hands on that rare, mint condition Beanie Baby? What if consumers chased after your products because of limited edition barcodes introduced in a series of must-have designs? What if consumers were lining up outside retailers to get their hands on the latest Whosit or Whatsit bearing the oh-so-rare barcode label they haven’t yet added to their collections? We see exciting potential for creating consumer demand built entirely around the once-lowly barcode.

2. Barcodes as Design Elements

Among the many virtues of Japanese design aesthetics is a penchant for incorporating artistic barcodes into product packaging. These examples of inventive barcode labels from Japanese packaging designers are clever without being arbitrary and are seamlessly integrated into the fuller packaging layout. We vote for hijacking this brilliant concept and bringing it stateside in the near future.

3. Barcode Branding

While package designers focus on smaller scale elements of design, what about the branding potential of this barcode building? Sure, it’s a little boxy (Eastern bloc-y, you might say… er, sorry…) but it definitely got our designer brains thinking outside the box. The branding possibilities drum up visions of fascinating barcode designs into other elements of a product’s branding: barcodes on t-shirts, bumper stickers, and reusable shopping bags, just to name a few. Think about new ways to work those basic, burdensome blocks of lines into marketing and branding initiatives.

4. Thematic Barcodes

What if companies actually integrated elements of their brands into the design of their barcode labels? Imagine financial products with barcodes shaped like the Federal Reserve, with columns built from barcode lines. What if Crayola created theirs in the shape of boxes bursting with barcode-line crayons? Themed packaging that extends even to barcodes is such a small step to take, yet it adds a disproportionately awesome touch of class.

Think Big. Barcode-Big.

Once you start thinking about barcodes as design elements rather than a necessary evil, it’s not hard to squeeze some fun into them. By sticking with the basics, companies are missing valuable marketing tie-ins, plus the opportunity to get really creative about their branding. Ditch the dull barcode labels of yore, and let’s all evolve instead to a more inventive package design that’s blissfully unencumbered by obligatory, old-school unoriginality.


by Kevin Smith
SmashBrand helps brands create, optimize, and launch successful products, services, and customer experiences. Our data-driven process is the key to accelerating sales and minimizing risks.

We use a strategic combination of market research, design, and consumer testing to solve complex brand problems more effectively, create differentiation, and forge more meaningful connections with customers.

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