Lawrence Barnett, Wonderland Design: “The new retail environment”

19 January 2022, 07:50 AM
  • The rise of online shopping brings new challenges for packaging design, says Lawrence Barnett, owner and managing director of Wonderland Design
Lawrence Barnett, Wonderland Design: “The new retail environment”

Before the days of online shopping, the most influential designers claimed that packaging design was easy. All you needed to make the case to consumers was a brutally simple idea that drew upon the brand’s visual strengths. And, hey presto, a beautifully simple pack design that presented the brand and its product benefits to brilliant effect.

In the years since, we’ve seen so much change. Not least, a revolution in food; huge shifts in consumer lifestyles; tighter regulation; ever increasing environmental issues and less dependence on advertising as a main broadcast medium. All of which has heaped greater pressure on the pack to do and say more.

And as the food revolution grew, there has been even more to highlight – vegan, less salt, no added sugar, organic, gluten-free, yeast-free, added vitamins, no preservatives, natural ingredients etc… and that’s before you get to the humble product descriptor.

Consequently, designers have adapted to the demands of the pack using ever more creative ideas to protect the integrity of the brand and keep messaging hierarchies as clear as possible. However, there’s no denying that packs on our shelves today contain a huge amount of visual and verbal communication. But the explosion in online shopping – so vital to smaller and medium-sized brands in particular – has made packaging design even more challenging.

Standing out, presenting the brand and product offer on the physical shelf has always been the challenge. Now, packs have to work on a screen roughly the size of your palm. Not only brand and product information but also size, weight and pack format need to be integral part of the design so shoppers can easily choose the right product.

So, packaging designers have to adapt once more and embed another discipline into their skills armoury – the art of online packaging design. Or do they? That pack design simplicity from a few years ago, before the food revolution took hold, is a useful steer for how to be brutally simple with the use of branding and product information for online packaging design.

We are doing a lot of this kind of work. And it’s not just a case of enlarging everything. Consider your message hierarchy for online presentation so that you only work with what’s essential. Look at ‘short-handing’ any graphics or imagery that can clutter up valuable space – the pack still needs some clear space!

And perhaps your brand needs or should make use of navigation graphics to highlight key product functionality. Then there is the incorporation of size/weight and pack format into the design so shoppers don’t end up with a conditioner rather than a shampoo or a snack pack rather than a sharing pack.

Whilst it might seem daunting to get your physical pack to translate easily online, it can be quite a liberating exercise to explore how your pack can be optimised to work effectively on a mobile device. It might even give you some great ideas about how to improve your physical pack too.

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