A few thoughts for 2011

Yup, we too have fallen victim to making end of year predictions, so for your consideration here are seven thoughts on brand identity and package design themes that we think will be worth watching in the upcoming year.

1. Refillable and reusable will become the new recyclable
It began a couple years ago with concern about the amount of plastic being used for bottled water, then spread with the use of reusable shopping bags, and now has extended to detergents, baby wipes, cooking oils, paper products. Two Toms have begun to implement very different ways of doing this; Tom’s of Maine with reusable shipping cases, and Tom Ford with refillable atomizers for his Black Orchid fragrance. And you know something has gone mainstream when there is a trade organization called the Reusable Packaging Association.

2. Front panel will become the new back panel
Traditionally you turned the package around to search for nutrition details, but most of our food clients have begun to put more and more information about product ingredients, nutrition information, and health claims on the front panel. Their research seems to suggest that consumers like the greater transparency and access to more information presented in clear concise ways. Stop & Shop for instance has a series of icons that they use for their Nature’s Promise and everyday private brand products. The FDA has caught on and is investigating the use of new regulations for front panel information, something perhaps similar to the British Food Standards Agency’s traffic light label approach.

3. Private Brands will continue to thrive
The recession has certainly increased the consumption of private brands, recent Nielson information suggest that almost 1 in 4 products sold in food, drug and mass is a private brand product. But even with the strengthening of the economy, I’m not aware of anyone who thinks this trend will reverse. There is a great review of some of these trends in a recent post at the blog myprivatebrand.com

4. Products will get more concentrated
Its certainly not a new idea, Campbell’s has been doing it for over 100 years with condensed soups and Kool Aid has been around for 80. But the idea of concentrated products, from detergents to beverages is an old idea made more relevant by the interest in downsizing packaging. Its simply cheaper to ship, package, and display. And this is not a priority with just niche or boutique manufacturers, both Method and Procter & Gamble are innovating with concentrated products.

5. Communications technology on packages will become mainstream
After watching the technology mature for nearly 18 months, it is likely that 2011 will be the year that the package becomes an integrated part of the experience strategy for many consumer products. And as technologies such as 3-D bar codes offer ever more interesting and robust ideas like information access on the shelf, discount options at checkout, and usage recommendations at home, consumers will begin to see a new level of usefulness for the package.

6. White will lose its default status
For the last couple years white has been the go to color, if it can be considered one, for many brands. This year people began to realize that it is hard to build much equity using it, especially because the white idea occurred to everyone else sometime around the beginning of the recession. Even Walmart, who’s Great Value brand signaled the mass-market acceptance of white, is building color back into the brand’s packaging with the launch in 2011 of some updated packaging.

7. Procurement staffs will begin to get it
Every design firm you talk to these days is wondering about the changes taking place in our segment of the consumer product world, and what kind of business model makes sense to best serve the future needs of our clients.

And one of the reasons for this is the recent emergence of corporate procurement staffs driving decisions on design firm usage at many, maybe even most, medium to large consumer product companies. I won’t go into my thoughts on this, but suffice it to say that most of us think you can’t buy creative services, or any corporate services, the way you buy commodities.

My strong suspicion is that this is the year the marketing and creative services staffs, who have been affected by this threat, will begin to reestablish control of the brand identity process while at the same time reestablishing their influence on the selection of package design partners.

This change alone will make it a happier New Year for all of us.


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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