David Brooks had a great column last Friday in The New York Times on the stimulus package. Not the kind of package I’m used to designing, but in the article he used an analogy that has interesting applications in my world of package design. As he said,
“Psychologists have a saying that when a couple comes in for marriage therapy, there are three patients in the room — the husband, the wife and the marriage itself. The marriage is the living history of all the things that have happened between husband and wife. Once the patterns are set, the marriage itself begins to shape their individual behavior. Though it exists in the space between them, it has an influence all its own.”
A package obviously exists in the space between the product and consumer, and certainly has a strong influence in shaping the relationship between the two. In fact, I would argue it is the single most important long-term influence over the relationship. Advertising campaigns change, promotional programs adjust, POS programs come and go, but no other vehicle of brand identity has such a long term influence.
But the most intriguing thought in that quote is the idea of living history. A package is indeed living history. Tiffany certainly thinks its blue box is living history, Coke’s bottle with the script letter form is damn good living history, the Campbell’s Soup can, the Hershey bar, the Absolute bottle, a box of Tide, you get my point. All are icons that represent not just the living history of a brand but the marriage between the consumer and a product.
I think it was Duffy Design that once spoke eloquently on their web site about the firm, and the work they do, trying to influence and shape that moment of space between the product and the user.
At the risk of pushing the analogy too far, good designers are great therapists. They get to know the partners, they review the history of the relationship, help set future goals, and make very specific, sensitive recommendations on how adjustments to the marriage can help shape the relationship. I know, I know, I may have pushed it too far, but the next time someone suggests radical change to your package, be careful, and think of living history and the little blue box.
This image is copyrighted and from the Tiffany web site