How Less Can Often Be More
I recently went to the grocery store with my 7-year-old daughter for our weekly grocery shopping. I am trying to get her to become more autonomous and independent, so we had two shopping lists—a smaller one for her and the longer one for me. In terms of selection, I granted her the liberty to choose whatever product/brand she likes as long as she stuck to the list.
So she took her own cart and set off in a different direction, ticking off items (cookies, juice, sliced bread and bananas) on that little list as she shopped. A few minutes later, I noticed her from a distance, standing in front of the juice aisle, contemplating which one to add to her cart. She picked up one pack, looked at it, then took another, probably compared the two—or more—chose one to add to her basket.
Later, when we got back together, I curiously asked her why she had chosen the juice she selected out of all the others on the shelf. She said, “Well, the label was simple and I could read and understand it.” The pack she had chosen had a simple design, few words and a picture of a pineapple on a see-through bottle. Indeed, it was much simpler than many of the other packages in the juice aisle that feature cluttered designs.
This made me think about how sometimes less can be more in the context of pack design. My daughter expressed something that I always do subconsciously as a shopper: seek simplicity. And I suspect many shoppers do the same. We buy what we understand—at least in the context of fast moving consumer goods. Arts and antiques, however, would be a completely different story.
Marketers often think about how important it is to communicate all of a product’s key benefits to their consumers directly on the pack—using images, colors, logos, words, typography, etc. But very often, this overload of information makes the design extremely complex and difficult to understand. That’s why it’s important for brands to remember that shoppers make their decisions at the shelf rather quickly. Using a message and story that’s easy and simple will ensure that consumers can digest it in a couple of seconds. If your design fails to do that, the product may remain on the shelf instead of being placed in the cart.
In addition to simplifying your proposition, “minimalism” in pack design can pose several interesting advantages:
- First, a minimalistic approach can make your design stand out on a crowded shelf with cluttered designs. Look at the juice aisle example: Most packs feature visuals of fruit that cover over 50% of the pack real estate, with product descriptions, benefits, ingredients and claims covering the remaining 50%. In that clutter, a relatively plain and simple pack with a fruit visual that covers just 30% of the estate, complemented by simplified, minimal text can certainly add to the standout ability of the pack.
- The premise of minimalism can also be applied to the amount of packaging material used to make the pack, which is also a way to make packs more environmentally friendly. This approach could pay off among eco-friendly consumers, who would appreciate the effort and could reward you by staying loyal to your brand. We know through research, for example, that Millennial consumers are willing to pay a price premium for packs that are eco-friendly.
- Minimalism can also reduce your manufacturing costs.
Now the next question: What should you do to develop a good “less is more” pack? Are there best practices to follow?
Well, as a market researcher, my response would be: Explore your options broadly. Go bold with your minimalist designs, test them with consumers and eliminate subjectivity from your decisions.
From a more granular, tactical perspective, here are a few points you might consider when you’re considering your next redesign:
- Use fewer words, or less text. You don’t need to include or list everything on the front of your pack. Claims are important, but complex and long claims often go unnoticed, ignored or aren’t understood. So use your space wisely.
- Understand the potential advantage of emptiness. You might think that blank or empty space on pack design would be a disadvantage. But is it? When we talk about standing out among a sea of cluttered designs, the blank or empty spaces around your key visual could go a long way in adding to the inherent ability of your pack to stand out on shelf. So, leverage the idea of “emptiness” to your advantage.
- Ever noticed how a bright scarf can make an otherwise simple, blank and dull outfit stand out? Consider having one element on your pack that really stands out instead of playing with every single element. This can enhance the overall appeal of your pack while keeping its stand-out potential high.
- Keep the size of the visual in mind. When it comes to testing pack elements with consumers, the visual on the pack is usually the most engaging element. So how large should that visual be? Should it cover the entire label? 50%? 30%? To find the right answer for your product and category, don’t hesitate to explore multiple options to find the one that works best for you.
- Colors and contrasts are the most important elements that drive pack designs to stand out on shelf. When you think minimalist, be careful with your choice of color and how much color and contrast you’d like a pack to have, because in many cases, less can sometimes be more.
- Why not try windows on pack? Transparent packs that can provide a preview of the product to consumers can make communication on the pack simpler.
- Last but not the least, Go Bold! Don’t be afraid to be different. That’s what your customers want. And the more different you are, the more likely you’ll be to succeed. Don’t constrain your creativity by the obligations set by brand rules. Explore broadly and pick your design by evaluating all possible alternatives (minimalist, non-minimalist/ evolutionary, revolutionary) by involving the market. Subjectivity in pack design can be most dangerous to your brand and can seriously limit the potential you have in the marketplace.