Freelancing for many years and for many agencies, I discovered that every agency has a different design process, which you have to quickly learn and understand in order to do a good job. With time, I started applying parts of this process to my own client work, and started developing a pretty solid recipe. Every case is different, of course, but applying the same fundamental steps has really made the process more organized and effective, and certainly less stressful.
The steps are not set in stone. I don’t think they should be. They have to keep changing in order to evolve and adapt to new trends, new competitors, and economic and cultural changes. However, the essence of the process, which is Positioning, Branding and Production, will continue to be the same for many years to come. I believe consumer packaged goods need this process because they are always surrounded by competitors, interacting directly with the consumer and hoping to get noticed in the few seconds it takes the consumer to make a choice.
Part 1: Positioning
The very first step of the process is to define the positioning of the product, product line or brand. The goal of positioning is to define the brand’s unique core values and it starts with extensive research. As I said, CPG products almost never live in a vacuum, they are surrounded by a Universe of products, constantly changing and interacting with each other. The category to analyze should be the one in which the client’s product will be living in, maybe a couple more if we see that new trends are emerging and are pertinent or could affect our product.
The research phase is both online and on the shelf. Reading Amazon reviews is a great way to learn what consumers are saying about a product, what they like and don’t like, but more importantly for positioning, how the product is perceived. This perception is usually delivered in a big way by the packaging design. To analyze the category on the shelf, which is personally my favorite part, I go to the store, sometimes several stores, depending on where my client’s product will be carried in. At the store I make notes about what products stand out more, take pictures, write down any callouts that are repeated throughout the category, I start identifying the leaders and the “me toos”, the emerging trends, noting if there is more use of photography vs illustration, color palettes vs the lack of color, busy vs minimal, types of materials and shapes of packaging, etc. In a nutshell, I try to understand the products surrounding Universe.
Once I collect the important data about the product’s Universe, I create my own assessment. This phase should be done with curiosity, asking questions like: Is this a new category or an established one? How many subcategories are there? What audience are they talking to? What is my client’s product’s audience? Where does it fit in? How can it stand out?
After this -in my opinion, fascinating process, we start talking about the opportunity for our product and what the brand’s core values should be in order to stand out and succeed. These values could be something like “authentic, smart, neutral gender, and indulgent” or “joyfully young, contradicting, innocent and bold”. These adjectives will define the positioning of our product. Ideally, the core values should be unique and very different from its competitors. The ultimate goal of this phase is to help consumers relate to the product and hopefully make them feel like they found exactly what they were looking for.
The final step of the positioning phase is to create a brief that will describe the product’s attributes and give a very clear direction that will have to be visually revealed by the design phase. Which is part 2 of this Packaging Design Process series coming soon!