April 1, 2014

The No. 1 Mistake in Minimalist Packaging Design

The No. 1 Mistake in Minimalist Packaging Design

Would your curiosity be piqued by a simple yet unclear packaging concept, or would you move on to products whose purpose was made evident by their elegant packaging designs? The biggest mistake in minimalist packaging design is designing as though consumers will immediately recognize what the product is and what/who it is for, even when the product and brand are essentially unknown. If Apple started out with its current logo and branding, the public would have assumed it was in the pre-masticated fruit business and continued to buy Tandy CoCos.

We realize we’ve written a handful of blogs extolling the virtues of minimalist design. Nevertheless, just like there is no single “right” way to design a package, there is no single “correct” concept of minimalism. While we do love well composed, elegant packaging designs, when your product is completely foreign to the public, a box with nothing but an indecipherable squiggle might not yield the frenzied interest you’d expected.

Just so we’re clear — when we say that minimal design might not be the way to go if your product/brand is completely new, we do not mean that you should compensate for your anonymity with lots and lots of colors, materials and seizure-inducing graphics. Your brand and packaging choices must be specific to the company you represent and the product you manufacture, without eye-exhausting conceptual clutter. Here are a few things to remember when you’re attempting to balance minimalism and elegant package designs with a sound brand identity.

Minimalism Doesn’t Mean Ambiguity

Just because you’ve embraced a clean and uncomplicated aesthetic doesn’t mean that your new product doesn’t need a sound introduction. Any unfamiliar product must have its virtues explained clearly via packaging and logo design, and if that package is a white box and the logo is a modified symbol for infinity, no one will have the slightest idea what it’s about.

Does minimalism give the wrong impression>?

Not that a convoluted packaging design solution is ever the correct choice, but could it be possible that the use of minimalism in itself can give the consumer the message that the brand lacks expertise, or is simply too new to be trusted?

For example, while the bottle and cap design for Jonah and the Whale Vodka is exquisite, the logo itself doesn’t scream “Premium Liquor;” it’s more the sort of thing you’d find on the cover of a Shel Silverstein poetry book. Once again, there are some liquor bottle designs that are greatly enhanced by a bit of whimsy, but combining childlike wonder and booze might be a bit unseemly to some consumers. Moreover, people want to think that their premium liquor is distilled by masters of the art with decades of experience and a rich family history of prohibition-era moonshine brewin’, not Hello Kitty fans.

Is the package design for a point-of-sale product?

It might be possible to get away with a minimalist-bordering-on-nebulous packaging design for a product that the customer previously researches, or is able to scrutinize on the aisle, but a product sold right at the checkout is a different story. The packaging that most needs to catch the eye is the packaging for products that are sitting right at the register, and if that energy shot, candy bar or pack of super-strong mints doesn’t delineate that product’s many uses and benefits, it’s just as likely to be purchased as a checkout line divider. Opaque yet elegant packaging designs do not seduce the average Walmart shopper.

Minimalism is thoroughly dandy at the right time and with the correct marketing strategy. We would all love to be able to package our products in aesthetically interesting and mildly mysterious ways, but customers don’t have time to decipher your packaging code. Once you’ve established your product’s superiority and firm standing in the market place, then you can go for an innovative and slightly weird concept. However, until you reach that glorious summit, go for what is clear, specific and (dare we say it?) familiar. Your revenue stream will thank you.


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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