‘Cleaning Up Cleaning Products’
Late last year I was invited to an Industry Preview Evening at Brunel University, meeting with Masters students on the MA Design & Branding Strategy course and giving advice on approaches to their projects. One such student was Lia Quijano, with her packaging design project ‘Cleaning Up Cleaning Products’, looking at how visual and information design can influence brand communication and increase clarity for consumers in the category of cleaning products. Lia got in touch again recently with a few questions regarding the influence of design on brand. This post shares the answers to those questions.
Q1. Do you have any experience in packaging design?
NC. Yes. In previous roles I’ve designed structural packaging for consumer goods, card-based packaging for kitchenware items and also soft goods packaging for the outdoor industry.
Right now I work at IDC, a full service product development agency where the projects are incredibly varied. Sometimes they require packaging design as part of the scope, but most of the time they don’t. Sometimes it’s also difficult to define the line between product and packaging. For example, we’ve developed ‘packaging’ for sutures to improve the suturing process carried out by surgeons. It houses the thread but also improves the process by reducing the likelihood of tangling while they hold it. Just an example of where packaging and product are entwined.
Q2. How strongly can you say design influences a brand?
NC. Very strongly.
A large part of a brand comes down to how people feel about it. The way others feel about you comes down to what you do and say over time.
If your products are unreliable, function poorly, don’t address a need, are difficult to use and understand, are not ergonomic, are unattractive, too expensive, etc – it creates a negative experience for customers and, more likely; lead to poor sales. This is what bad design leads to.
Good design leads to a positive experience. It solves a problem. Addresses a need. Works beautifully. Offers great value for money. This all reflects on the brand.
It’s important because the interactions customers have with your brand had to be DESIGNED. The products. The retail spaces. The packaging. The website. The app. Mass produced products, whether physical or digital, are DESIGNED. Many of these interactions are happening between a customer and an object or system (not a member of staff). Therefore, good design influences your brand at SCALE.
I wouldn’t say design is the ONLY influence on brand though. If Richard Branson goes on a talk show tomorrow and everyone loves him, it’s good for the Virgin brand. But it wasn’t design. So, design is incredibly important as an influence on brand – but there are other influences to be aware of.
Q3. Would you say that packaging design is one of the more important touchpoints of a brand, if not THE most?
NC. It depends on the product.
Some products require greater visual distinction and effective communication on the shelf. For some products, the packaging is actually making the sale to the end user – but this isn’t the case for online purchases and many product categories.
For example, packaging is an incredibly important touchpoint for perfume, a box of tissues, chocolate bars, medicine and detergent. Products where there can be an element of risk or if it’s difficult to differentiate, or something important needs to be communicated.
Packaging is less important for brands that sell personal computers, baby strollers and office chairs. The packaging is important for effective transportation and protection of goods – but has little influence on the decision to purchase.
I would also say that packaging is very important in making the FIRST purchase, but the product itself is more important for REPEAT purchases. E.g., great packaging design may have heavy influence on cereal bars and cleaning products – but if the actual food itself doesn’t taste nice or the detergent is not effective in removing stains, you won’t be buying it again.
Q4. How would you define good packaging design?
NC. Packaging that serves it’s purpose extremely well for that particular product. It’s all about context. As stated in Q2, it’s dependent on product. If the key requirement is to be visually distinctive, then that is the measure of good design for that particular product. The measure of good design will change given the parameters and requirements of each project, but potential measures could be:
- Visually distinctive whilst capturing the brand
- Improved user experience
- Offer other value / benefit
- Protect the product
- Space efficient
- Not harmful to the environment
- Communicates clearly what needs to be communicated
- Cost effective / improved profit margin
- Increased sales revenue
Q5. What do you think are the most important elements for packaging design? Is it typography, colour or…?
NC. For me, it’s the overall concept. The actual format and architecture of the whole thing. Sure, there’s a ton of stuff that’s important:
- Appropriate typography
- Effective copywriting
- The brand logo itself
- Quality of artwork
- Surface finish
However, I’d say the overall format of the actual packaging itself is the most important. E.g., swing tag vs box vs plastic sleeve vs fabric bag vs something new and innovative that improves on elements listed in Q3.
For example, ‘Clever Little Bag‘ that Fuseproject designed for Puma was a very good piece of design. Now, that would still have been great design even if the colour was different, the logo was different, the copy was changed and a slightly different material was used for the bag. It’s the overall concept that sets it apart.
‘The Bottled Walkman’ by Sony is another example. Waterproof earphones packaged in a bottle filled with water to prove their functionality. Now you could argue against the practicality, but the thing that makes that packaging design so remarkable was the overall format. Not the typography, colour or quality of artwork.
Q6. What should be the most prominent element on a product’s packaging? Is it brand name, purpose of the product or…?
NC. Dependent on brand and product I think.
If a supermarket are doing their own ‘malted wheats’ then I’d suggest the product name to be very clear. On the flip side, a brand that is synonymous with a particular product, i.e., Shreddies, should have the brand name most prominent.
Q7. The simpler the better. Do you agree?
NC. Yes, as long as it meets it’s requirements.
Q8. How can effective design, specifically for packaging, strengthen brand communication?
NC. Packaging can build an expectation of the product.
If there is misalignment between the expectation you get from the packaging, and the reality of the performance of the actual product – then this is poor communication from the brand and can create a negative perception of the brand because you feel let down after using the product.
It’s important to achieve congruency, so you don’t build false expectations and therefore a negative experience. Brand communication is strengthened when the message from the brand, the expectation by the consumer, and the actual performance of the product – are all in line with each other.
I.e., delivering on your promise.
Q9. Based on an exploratory survey, 73% of respondents stated that they perceived most cleaning products to look the same and had difficulty in choosing which brand to purchase. From a visual standpoint, would you say that most cleaning products are monotonous in design?
Q10. Why do you think they all look the same?
NC. Part of them ‘all looking the same’ isn’t all bad. Due to them all looking fairly similar, it means a consumer can identify that particular type of product very quickly. It may take longer to distinguish between brands, but it means identification of the actual product category and therefore, it’s function, is easy. If toilet cleaner looked like deodorant, it might be visually distinctive compared to other toilet cleaners, but it’s not necessarily a good thing.
When you break down the requirements, it’s not surprising they share characteristics:
- They have a spray which can be locked. This defines the fact there is something to actuate and a way of locking it.
- It needs to consider an ergonomic grip for spraying – this helps define the shape of the bottle. It also needs to be stable when standing up, so it’s shape defines weight distribution/centre of gravity.
- They sit on a shelf both in store and at home, which defines the flat bottom.
- Certain types of colours have different associations. This influences the colour.
- The size is defined by it not being too small so that you don’t get through it too quickly, and not too large so it’s not too heavy or so that it won’t actually fit on a shelf in a cupboard at home. The list goes on.
Being DIFFERENT is easy. Designers should never be designing just for the sake of difference. But rather, how to make something BETTER. All the elements listed above help make the product the most effective it can be for the context of it’s use. Difference is not the goal. If achieving visual difference means it becomes harder to actually realise what the product does, or becomes more difficult to use, then it’s not an improvement. It’s just poor design.
Q11. If you were to redesign cleaning products, where would you start and how would you do it?
NC. I would absorb myself in the context of their use.
I would visit homes of different people and observe how they store and use them.
I would actively seek the opinion of every single stakeholder.
I would map out a timeline of the product right from it’s manufacture to it’s disposal/recycling and look at every human interaction or opportunity for improvement.
E.g., is it possible that the current bottle shape could be improved for the process of filling, or packing, compactness for transportation, unpacking, stacking on shelves, carrying home in a plastic bag.
I would observe each interaction by each stakeholder with the aim of developing insights and latent user needs.
I would carry out interviews to discover pain points.
E.g., it could be a problem that the corner of the spray lever sometimes gets caught on a plastic bag while carrying home and it tears the bag. It’s this sort of level of detail I would be looking to develop insight – and then build a map of all areas for potential improvement.
I would make myself aware of all regulatory parameters.
I would look at which products are being used in conjunction with the product.
I would make myself aware of the most common manufacturing processes for these types of products.
This list is not exhaustive. Hard to think of every action I’d take in a quick answer, but it would definitely be absorbing myself in the context of use and drilling down to discover potential areas for improvement from the perspective of EVERY stakeholder, not just the end consumer.
Q12. If you were to advise a designer within the category based on your experience, would you agree that it is important to consider the different demographics who use cleaning products?
NC. Yes. You wouldn’t exclude certain demographics if you could avoid it.
That’s it. Cheers for reaching out with this Lia! If anyone has any differing views on any of the answers given I’d be keen to hear them so feel free to reach out or ask any questions.
You can check out some of Lia’s other work at annalouisequijano.com