I recently wrote a blog post about where designers and other creatives look for inspiration. In the process of writing that post, I was struck by how much of my inspiration comes from a slightly unexpected place—the grocery store.
More specifically, the package design at the grocery store. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised—package design has come a long way from some of the monstrosities I can recall from my childhood. (I’m thinking about things like garish generic soda can “art,” near-neon orange Wacky Mac macaroni and cheese and not-so-appetizing boxes of Hamburger Helper.) As a designer, even when I go grocery shopping, I can’t help but judge a box by its cover, and I will admit that it influences my purchase decisions.
It’s refreshing to see how package design has been elevated to a much higher level in recent years. It seems that in general, many companies have taken a more sophisticated, less-is-more approach. I think that a lot of credit for taking package design in a more artful direction can be given to one very large, very influential company—Target. When Target launched their private brand label “Archer Farms,” they made sure that their packaging sent a very clear message—that Archer Farms is a superior product for a consumer with superior taste.
Archer Farms does not look like the ugly stepchild of its parent brand like so many typical generic products of the past. Instead, Target created an ownable brand design anchored by an oval logo, rich, green textured background and color bars in complementary colors that simplify product selection, all supported with professional photography that reinforces the buying decision. The name, Archer Farms, is a playful nod to the Target Bullseye while leveraging “Farms” to create relevance in the category.
Another example of how good design and a consistent brand identity can lead to success is the Trader Joe’s generic line. Their packaging exudes a playful, laid-back personality that adds to the overall shopping experience. I admit that I often shop there without a list or any real purpose—it’s fun just to browse the shelves.
Images via Show Me Ur Package
Of course grocery stores are not the only place I catch myself admiring sophisticated packaging. Almost any time I go out to buy a bottle of wine I end up buying three bottles because of their frame-worthy label art. Whether it’s custom illustrations with a surprising color palette or beautifully hand-rendered typography, some of these wine labels are truly works of art.
In fact, I think that one of the reasons I appreciate package design so much is because it is such a specific canvas. It’s a great challenge to design something on such a modest scale—and often, with so much required information—that is still aesthetically pleasing.
What it comes down to is that the consumers of today not only want but expect an appealing, more “designed” experience (whether they realize it or not). No detail is too small, and in fact, those details are where a brand can make the biggest impact. Package design is not only a source of inspiration but also a fulfilling challenge for any worthy designer.
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