Art and commerce collide powerfully in the grocery store, and half the time we're not even aware of the mix. Product labels go a long way to selling products, and they aim to catch our attention and interest instantly. Colors, wording, psychology, design, "feel" -- they all have their place in persuading us to purchase a particular product.
So what's involved in designing product labels and creating a brand image? We caught up with designer Ashley Flanagan, who has worked on a number of successful food and drink campaigns. She told us how she finds her inspiration, how bottle size and shelf position influence product design, and which iconic brands will outlive us all.
What's your thought process when you're designing a food or drink label?
My first thought is to design something that stands out. All the aisles and aisles of products are pretty overwhelming. I find that trends have a lot to do with retail packaging, and there is a lot of piggybacking on other brands. It tends to be sort of a rat race. If you can find a sweet spot, where you are the first to be doing something in your category, then it's a big win. There is a balance between being "out-there " and doing the right thing for the brand. Trying to find that balance is the most important part to a successful design.
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What messages do you want to convey in a label?
We start with a brand strategy and establish a hierarchy. Some brands want to be more in-your-face than others. The most important thing is that your label communicates well. Anyone can design a pretty package, but there has to be a story there, and of course appetite appeal, shelf presence, and so on. All these things add up to a successful package. Oh, and of course the product has to be good.
Do you eat or drink the item to get the real, er, flavor of it?
Yes! When we were working on Evolution Fresh, the whole Hornall Anderson team started juicing for weeks. Everyone was into it, and it was a lot of fun.
You have to really believe in your product in order to brand it successfully, I think. It's really important to live and breath it from beginning to end. You want to put yourself in the shoes of the audience, make choices that they would, and mimic a lifestyle that they would. That is when the final product really shines on shelf. Our core team for Evolution is still talking about how amazing the experience was, a product we loved and were able to visualize the way we intended.
What's the label that you're happiest with?
I would have to say the Quaker Oats rebrand was one of the most satisfying projects. The brand has such a history and is so iconic that it's a challenge when facing a rebrand that you don't want to lose sight of it. When the brand was finally approved we all were so thrilled. It was a long process that myself and the whole team pushed to keep simple and true. When designing the iconic cylinder package, I fought hard to keep it simple and to just be a version of the logo. We went through months and months of design, and ultimately came back to the very first one.
Any designs you admire and wish you'd done?
Anything by Pearlfisher. They do extraordinary work, and keep pushing the bar. I love their use of bold colors, and you can tell there is a huge sense of trust between them and their clients. Most clients I've worked with would be scared to take such bold risks with packaging. They're doing something definitely right. And I admire that tremendously.
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Do you consider shelf placement, bottle size, etc., when designing?
The placement of the package is a huge consideration. When designing a bottle you have to think whether the package is going to be sitting in a refrigerator, which means the bottom will most likely be cut off, or really low on the shelf. When concepting package designs, we always show a shelf set, and use our new package against what's already on the shelf. You want it to stand out and make a huge impact. Brand blocking is the most important to do that. My favorite is when packages "connect" on shelf. They are designed to fit together and live on their own.
Oh, yes. That's a huge thing to consider when designing. You want to keep in mind that trends change all the time, and that you want to design a package that will stand the test of time. Anyone can just mimic a certain style to make it look good, but if there is no idea behind it then it fails. It's a big struggle with designers. You want to create something ownable yet you are bombarded by so much of what's out there. Trends are engrained in our minds, even if we don't realize we're doing it. I find myself overcoming this by trying to push apart the design and see how many different ways it could look and feel. Then ultimately I will pull different ideas from all of those and end up with something I like.
Is there a classic food label that you don't think will ever change, like Heinz, perhaps?
I feel there are classic companies that always try too hard to keep their brands current, and there are companies that don't have to at all. In my experience consumers tend to stick with the classic brand that is most proud of who they are. These days especially with a younger generation they will see right through a company that is trying too hard. People want a brand that they believe in, and that will grow with them. They also want a brand to fit into their lifestyle. Coca-Cola is a great example of just that.