April 11, 2013

Lack of Simplicity is Costing You Money

Lack of Simplicity is Costing You Money

Product packaging should be simple, functional and pleasing. That’s it. Anything more and you start to risk making your product and your brand murky.

Whenever anyone in our office becomes bogged down with the minutiae of unnecessary complexities, we ceremoniously smack them with the “Simple Stick” we keep mounted in my office. After the offender returns from the trauma unit, his designs and concepts are generally markedly improved. We got the idea from Steve Jobs, who did it to his employees so regularly that he had an ambulance shuttle service making hospital runs every 20 minutes (or so we are told).

Metaphorically speaking, we have our office sprayed for the pests of over complication on a regular basis. Overdone corporate jargon, graphic clutter, bells, whistles and the need to soothe fragile egos by pretending something is a good idea when it isn’t are blights that must be eliminated immediately if you don’t want to risk them breeding like rats and infesting your company culture.

Simplicity, either in the form of office interaction or in our packaging designs, is what works. Simple is understandable; simple is aesthetically pleasing and, quite frankly, simple is better in every respect.

Lack of Simplicity Is Costing You Money

Long meetings, ridiculously or vaguely worded emails, or a failure to point out the flaws in a proposal for fear of alienating superiors or colleagues is a huge waste of time and resources. Nevertheless, companies still indulge in the desire to act all business-y and issue random proclamations, revised editions of company manuals and schedule crowded and lengthy meetings in order to create the illusion of productivity. If you’ve ever worked for a company that has issued a memo with a statement like: “Our thought-leaders strive to utilize our core-competencies to provide solutions that deliver excellence and accountability to an ever-shifting business paradigm,” you have worked for a company that was managed by idiots.

Why idiots, you ask? Because that statement and others like it are designed to try to fool the reader into thinking that the use of buzzwords equals expertise when, in fact, it amounts to what Shakespeare would call, a lot of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Similarly, when such companies develop drafts or prototypes for new packaging designs for their products, their concepts are also busy, full of useless features and unpleasing graphic clusters; possibly due to the fear that if the concept isn’t incredibly complicated, then no one will think that enough work went into it. Because when you look at a package, what you really want to see is labor, lots and lots of labor.

No, it isn’t.

The time and energy used to develop a package burstin’ with an over-abundance of illustrations, useless design innovations equal time and energy completely wasted, especially when you consider that:

  •  It always takes way more time to design an overly complicated package than a simple, logical one;
  • You’ll have to begin the process again almost immediately when the product in the misguided packaging fails to sell.

Don’t Over-Think It

Packaging should be simple, functional and pleasing. That’s it. The desire to make your product stand out by introducing tassels or abundant illustrations only succeeds in making the intent of the product and the brand murky. This is especially true when someone has “thought outside the box,” and come up with a package that is just plain difficult, or antithetical to what the product actually is or how it should be used. Example:

  • Cleaning products that have the color schemes and shape of juice bottles. We hope that Fabuloso has shark-like lawyers on retainer when toddlers around the nation have to be rushed into intensive care after drinking caustic chemicals.
  • Anything that looks like food but isn’t, for that matter.
  • Individuating items unnecessarily. There is (or possibly was; this doesn’t seem like the sort of business that would last long) a company that does individual peanut butter slices. Really. Slices of peanut butter. To be coupled with slices of jelly and a nice, cold slice of milk.
  • Clamshell packaging of any kind. We’ve cut enough of our fingers on these nasty muthas to declare that we never want to see clamshell packaging again, ever.

So, what have we learned? We’ve learned that simple packaging design, as well as simple office management, is better, cheaper and more effective. We’ve learned that company manuals are a waste of time and paper. We’ve learned that peanut butter slices are moronic, no matter which way you slice it. (Ha!) We’ve learned that we occasionally enjoy a good office beating (kidding). And, most importantly, we’ve learned that anyone who comes at us with a light bulb encased in a plastic clamshell will be slapped, Three Musketeers style, with a leather glove. How DARE you, good sir!


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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