Package Design on a Smarter Planet

Increasingly brands are about people not products, and about lifestyle not just consumption. And these days interests and lifestyle choices change quickly, so shouldn’t package design be able to anticipate and respond, with intelligence and speed, to these changes.

Today, brands are trying to build a loyal group of smart, engaged, influential consumers, and then finding a way for these smart, engaged, influential folks to have a conversation with marketers and retailers, and their friends, about what they want from their brand (yes their brand not yours).

This should be having a profound impact on the process of creating and managing brand identity and package design, but I don’t see it yet.

At their website called a smarter planet, IBM talks about this disconnect between today’s retail model and the possibilities of a future with an instrumented, interconnected and intelligent consumer. They describe the existing retail system as,

“a linear, push-based process where products are manufactured in isolation and put into market en masse from factory to truck to store  .  .  .  lead times as long as 6 to 10 months, forcing vendors to make significant bets on inventory, consumer trends and distribution methods.”

They go on to talk about what should be happening, and this is what got my attention.

“To do business with shoppers on a smarter planet, retailers and manufacturers need a smarter system  .  .  .  It needs to be interconnected, so the system can be fed by customer insight at every point in the process – all the way from design to distribution.

Imagine a retail system that has access to consumer insight in real time, and can make brand and package design decisions based on this insight that will show up on the shelves in days, not weeks or months.

To the extent that consumers have any influence today, it is still being largely driven by the traditional tools of focus groups, eye tracking, mall intercepts, and maybe some quick online research. And these tools are usually used up-front and have no way to adjust quickly to market conditions or consumer trends. In a smarter planet, brands should have the ability to adapt quickly, and make design decisions not just at the beginning of the brand development process, but at other strategic times during the life of a brand; to react to an unanticipated consumer trend, to support a promotion, to celebrate a holiday, or react to competition.

In a smarter world with instant retailer scanning data, digital package printing, overnight and/or just-in-time delivery, and a connected consumer, package design changes should happen in days not weeks or months, and the interests of the consumer as reflected in shopping patterns should have more input. As IBM says “ Going forward, the watchword of commerce may no longer be caveat emptor – ‘let the buyer beware.’ In a smarter retail system, it is the seller who must be  – and can be – vastly more attentive and responsive.”

Shouldn’t we be headed toward a smarter world where crowd-sourced design is not a dirty word, and where the term comes to be defined as the positive influence of informed and timely consumer insight at retail. A world where marketer and retailer provide the fundamental brand platform and promise for the consumer, then is able to steer the brand with the tools and insights provided by a smarter world.

In the examples section of this website IBM talks about smarter supply chains, smarter shopping, and smarter operations, but nothing, yet, about smarter design. The tools to allow for smarter design must be out there, and I will begin looking for these tools in my own practice. If you have any ideas, it would be great to hear about them.

Acknowledgments, The image above comes from the IBM site.


About Richard Shear

designer, husband, teacher, blogger, father, athlete, author, historian Richard has over 25 years of brand identity and package design experience, with a wide range of clients such as Ahold, Coca-Cola, Hasbro, IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Pernod Ricard and Procter & Gamble. He began his career working with the legendary advertising art director, and AIGA Medalist, George Lois and the British design manager Clive Chajet. In his next design management position at Lippincott & Margulies, he worked with Walter Margulies learning the complex skills of global corporate identity. He then became Creative Director and Partner at Peterson & Blyth, one of the premier brand identity and package design firms of the time. He is a founding faculty member of the Masters in Branding Program at New York’s School of Visual Arts. He publishes the blog The Package Unseen, and has been a guest lecturer at colleges including FIT, Trinity College and Tyler School of Art. He is a graduate of the Tyler School of Art at Temple University. Richard is a Board member of the AIGA MetroNorth Chapter, past President of AIGA‘s Brand Design Association, President of the Package Design Council and a member of its Board of Directors. He is a member of USA Cycling and US Rowing, a nationally ranked masters bicycle racer, and a member of The Saugatuck Rowing Club, the 2010 Masters Club National Champion.
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One Response to Package Design on a Smarter Planet

  1. Pingback: Lessons from Lessins « The Package Unseen

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