Design for visibility

The efforts of two of Europe’s biggest chocolate brands, Cadbury and Toblerone, to trademark their colour and shape, respectively, is testament to the importance of these two elements in brand design. Shoppers navigate by colour and shape, and no matter how clever the design, or how emotionally-engaging the brand story behind it, it won’t sell if nobody sees it. It’s a shame, in our view, that so many designers ignore this basic fact.

Disruption is the current buzzword in marketing circles – we all want to be associated with the next Amazon or Uber by thinking about an opportunity differently. However, taking a disruptive approach to brand packaging design is much less likely to pay dividends. Shoppers learn how to recognise everyday brands and products using simple visual cues. Once these cues are lodged in the subconscious, experienced shoppers can identify packs that follow the rules rapidly and with a minimum of effort. A “disruptive” pack design will, by definition, break these visual rules. Such designs may perform extremely well in focus groups, where they are actively shown to respondents, however they are likely to fail in the real world as they are likely to be de-selected by shoppers on auto-pilot.

Disruptive design can have a role on larger scale POS – think about graphics showing a car crashing through a shop window. Such images are great for catching attention and shouting “look over here”, but they rarely convey a message, so are very blunt instruments.

Attention is a limited resource: the human eye is very good at finding what it’s looking for, and equally adept at screening out everything else! This is why it’s so crucial to understand, and manage, the instore environment at category level. Activation is critical – from packaging to POS, and other marketing channels.

All well and good, perhaps, for a big brand – like Cadbury or Toblerone – whose brand script is already well established in the shopper’s subconscious. How does a new brand on the block, or an established one entering a new category, embrace category cues and maximise visibility, whilst simultaneously communicating to shoppers that it is different?

There are two answers.

The first answer is: “It’s about getting the right balance between applying cognitive psychology (in design terms, visual cues that denote the brand’s membership of a category), and cues that communicate its difference.”

The balance, that is, between science and art.

The second answer? “That’s why you hire a great design agency.”