We all see it every day. This box, that wrapper, those bottles, and jars, and cans. Food packaging is something that permeates our lives, yet most people never stop to think about how it actually affects the decisions we make when we buy our food.
From the moment you make your selection in the store to the moment you get your groceries at home and open them, our food packaging designers carefully design every step of your dining experience to make sure you make the right choices for you.
As designers, it is always worth thinking about how others in different parts of the design industry deal with their own problems and challenges. So today, we’ll be taking a “field trip” into the design process behind some of the industry’s most successful and effective food packaging designs.
Confidence is delicious
Here’s a little experiment to try the next time you’re shopping for food at the store: Choose a packaged item. Bread, cheese, yogurt – anything you want. Find a low-priced version of it, and keep it in your hands.
Examine the design and the quality of the materials used to make it. Make a mental note of how you feel to stick with it. Do you feel calm? starving? fascinated by? A little nauseous? Now put it back and do the same with the higher priced version. How are you feeling now? Is there a difference in your level of interaction with the product?
One of the most important things food packaging designers consider when creating a packaging design is how it will feel in your hands when you keep it in store. For many consumers, something that doesn’t feel right in their hands can mean the difference between making a purchase and leaving something on the shelf.
Barrelhead Foods by David Cole Creative
You want your users (in this case, food shoppers) to feel confident holding your packaging in their hands, because that sends the subconscious message that “this is a trustworthy food item that I can offer my family with confidence”.
If you’re a web or print designer, you can create the same sense of trust in your users with consistency and adherence to a uniform standard of quality across every aspect of your project.
Good design seems to be something most people recognize when they see it, even if they don’t know exactly why. When people buy something with a high-quality design, it sends a slightly subliminal message that they made a good decision, and actually increases their opinion of the product no matter how good it actually is.
You want to encourage the trust of your users by subtly telling them that buying your product (or consuming your content, in whatever form it may come in) is, in the words of Martha Stewart, a good thing. You can do this by adhering to the highest possible design standards.
Bushwick Tea X Black Seed Bagels from Salih Küçükağa
Laugh for the camera
I don’t know the exact ratio of food packaging that includes photography versus what doesn’t, but just from browsing the aisles of the store where I live in the US, I’d say photographic prints are in the minority.
However, there are benefits to this type of food packaging, which I personally believe some food packaging designers could make better use of. Obviously, the biggest benefit of embedding the image is that the consumer can see the actual product they are buying without opening the package.
Nowadays, this can be a tricky way to sell food, because people are more pessimistic than they used to be. You know, for example, that the food-style photography you see in TV commercials isn’t usually what you’ll get in the store or out a car window. So seeing a picture of perfectly designed food can actually lead to disappointment.
However, something interesting happens most of the time, which is why food designers are able to keep going. It’s partly about the feeling of confidence I mentioned earlier. When people see something of good quality, they are more likely to feel that they made a good decision, and – this is the important part – they are more likely to be honest in their opinion of the product they bought. Simply put, presentation is everything.
When I was in culinary school, our chef educators always used to stress how important it was to make our dishes look as delicious as possible, even if the food was mediocre. why? Because it’s known that the better something looks, the more positively people will respond – especially if they’re going to put it in their mouths.
In design school, I’ve heard and seen the same phenomenon – students who delivered “blah” ideas exceptionally well almost always outperformed those who presented great ideas poorly.
Of course, presenting a great idea well is ideal, but it is less important to make every pixel perfect. Placing a perfectly designed image on a food package (or in an advertisement) is a good proposition, and consumers generally respond with confidence.
When you’re doing a client-facing design project, you’re giving a presentation. You can directly control how most users respond to your product or content by presenting it well, even if it’s not perfect.
Nori Take Out Sushi by Maria Luisa Castro
The food gods have spoken
According to the very rigorous scientific research I’ve done, as I browse the grocery aisle, the vast majority of food packaging design does not use photography. Instead, they use graphic elements to hint at a specific set of values that strike a chord in consumers who are more likely to buy that item.
The Clif brand of energy bars, for example, includes several different types of packaging in its many types of products. Believe it or not, each of these different packages is designed to appeal to a slightly different sub-market to consumers. The majority of our line of energy bars don’t have photography on their opaque covers – just a simple design and vector illustrations of a man who is rock climbing or doing some other type of extreme sport.
This has nothing to do with the actual food item itself, but it does suggest to the customer what kind of lifestyle they can aspire to if they eat Clif bars. Builder’s line of protein bars features photography for a specific type of consumer who tends to be more practical and serious about living an active, health-conscious lifestyle. The people at Clif know this – they target specific segments of their market in different ways, in order to effectively attract all consumers.
When you connect with your target audience – when you really explore what they want and how to reach them, you can create their world with your designs. It kind of sounds like Lord, but it’s true. Creating products and content for a specific group of users allows you to maximize their likes and dislikes; Their hopes and fears.
With this information, you can engineer the experience they have with your content or product by catering directly to the type of person they are.
Once you know your users’ ideal lifestyle, you can then create it for them, suggesting whether they’re at the grocery store buying ingredients for dinner, or whether they’re reading an online e-book summary. Food packaging designers know this when they cater to the “lifestyle” of their target market.
Tomiris by Svetlana Nikolaeva
narrow it down
Everyone is different. Contrary to public opinion, there is no such thing as a “general public”. There are only different microcosms of people with many different tastes and preferences. Many designers think this makes their work more difficult, but in fact, if you learn to embrace it, it can make the design more meaningful.
It doesn’t have to be the easiest, but knowing your specific audience can take a lot of guesswork to figure out what they will sell. It takes a little work to determine your exact type of user, and what they really want (partly because people tend to be terrible at making it clear what they want Really want), but it’s definitely worth it.