Steven Anderson discusses why the simple approach is often the most effective
Simplicity is certainly not an easy thing to achieve in a pack, but when done right it can be far more eye-catching than something complicated. I n the 1960s, the US military coined the famous KISS design principle: ‘Keep it simple, stupid’. Leonardo da Vinci, similarly, said: “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”. Packaging experts could do worse than follow the examples of the world’s largest military spender and the architect of the Renaissance. Just look at Apple – packaging as simple and clean as the products inside – no flashes, no array of promotional messaging, just the brand in its quintessence.
The issue is that many brands will want the packaging for something new to spell out everything about what’s inside: What makes it original, different and unique. But at the same time, packaging that’s too complex can interfere with the brand’s integrity. So if you want to do a new pack that’s 25% bigger or a new or limited edition, you need to create a system for adding those additional flashes and bits of information that are complementary to the existing packaging. Work alongside it rather than ruin what you’ve already built up with the core pack design.
At worst, new information can actually confuse shoppers who won’t know what they’re meant to be reading first. Wilkinson Sword’s Hydro 5 packaging is a perfect example of this. The pack has around 11 elements – from messages about the product being new, to details about the vibration technology and a see-through part of the pack that reveals the product within, as well as the brand logo, each demanding the consumer’s attention. too many messages You also have lots of people involved in the pack design process, all of whom may want to add things in such as product shots, promotional flashes, ingredients and so on. They can forget to look at the pack from the customers’ perspective.
Again, if it has 20 different things on it, what do people think they’re meant to read first? Simplicity in packaging means, foremost, a clear hierarchy of message for viewers to recognise – what it is and why I need it. Everything else is superfluous unless it’s actively supporting the brand, for example a particular graphic or colour scheme. Look and feel are the key elements, not multiple messages around calories or the fact it has 50% less of something or other – that’s what the back of the pack is for. For example, we used eye-tracking when we re-branded Warburtons, examining where people were looking over the pack. On the busy packs we had some incredible results with eyes spinning all over the place [see Warburtons image 1].
Whereas with the simpler designs, people looked at just three things backwards and forwards, concentrating on the brand mark (logo), product name and nutritional values [see Warburtons image 2]. Not to mention the issues of aisle navigation – something complicated visually is going to be lost in the chaos of everything else in the store. So packs actually stand out by being simpler to recognise. There’s a spoof video of what the packaging for an Apple iPod would look like (www.youtube.com/watch?v=EUXnJraKM3k” if it was done by Microsoft). Leaving aside the obvious anti-MS bias, it does highlight how tricky simplicity is to achieve and the temptation to over-complicate packs. So use some rules of thumb. It’s a good idea to stick to three or four elements on the pack at most. Think of a billboard on a dual carriageway: Realistically, how much information can someone take in in two seconds? Good packs are bold, simple and jump off the shelf – and bear in mind that if your client appears muddled by too many messages on-pack, the customer certainly will be.