A history of heritage: how do beauty companies build up their brand?

Fonts, colours and designs are crucial elements of packaging. Eloise McLennan explores how beauty companies create their brand history through design.


In the hypercompetitive world of the beauty industry, first impressions are everything. With an endless stream of new brands, products and limited editions hitting the shelves on a near-daily basis, many consumers rely on the visual appeal of products when making their choice, which makes packaging a vital tool for brands looking to catch the attention of perusing shoppers.

As societal transitions away from the era of excess, consumers are becoming more selective about the products they choose to buy. Nowadays, the overall brand experience is just as important as the individual products and beauty companies are using creative packaging designs to elevate beauty products from mere things, to luxurious experiences. Gone are the flashy, over-the-top packs that dominated the shelves, instead brands are cultivating a brand history with premium designs that focus on craftsmanship and quality to heighten the on-shelf appeal of beauty products. 

Less is more: simplicity is key

In contrast to the bold and bright designs of previous years, the new generation of beauty packaging is designed to be subtle. Simplicity is key, with brands employing gentle visual cues, natural colours and simple fonts to encourage a perception of premium quality. Over the years Scandinavian designs have appeared in a variety of industries, from interior design to stationary. As a characteristically minimalist movement, the trend has become a key influence in a number of beauty packaging designs with brands utilising its association with fuss-free, high-quality performance to promote an image of luxury and relaxation.  

One such collection that uses elements of Scandinavian design to unite products under a single brand image is the Spåa Retreat range from Superdrug. The company recruited design and innovation consultancy Seymourpowell to re-imagine its bathroom accessorise and gift boxes and establish a consistent identity that linked each individual product in the range. As part of the task, Seymourpowell was tasked with creating an entirely new name, brand and packaging design that promoted the range as a premium selection. Spotting an opportunity to develop a sophisticated collection the design team harnessed elements inspired by Scandinavian landscapes and modern design elements to instil an air of craftsmanship and aspiration into the gift boxes.

“Scandinavian design may be widely understood in the design and luxury worlds but it still feels fresh and distinctive to the Superdrug customer,” said Igor Astrologo, design director at Seymourpowell. “We brought this to all aspects of the range by specifying the highest quality packaging possible and advising Superdrug on material choices and shapes for product packaging that complemented our designs, such as introducing matte finishes to the range and gentle, subtler shoulders to the bottles.”

The result is a clean and elegant design that subtly reflects the indulgent feelings of relaxation and pampering associated with expensive spa treatments. In a nod to the minimalist traits associated with traditional Scandinavian landscapes and crafts, the design team kept the boxes simple, using a white and taupe colour palette with pebble graphic and subtle metallic copper foiling providing understated visual cues.

Recycled revolution: appealing to consumer trends and demands

While some brands may use packaging to establish a premium identity, how a product looks on the shelf can also help established organisations to shine a spotlight on specific product traits that may appeal to consumer trends and demands. This broadens the variety of characteristics that consumers associate with the overarching brand.

Back in the early 1990s, the newly launched Origins brand created by Estee Lauder stood apart from other skincare products in the US beauty market. With its minimalist approach to skincare and open commitment to sustainability and the environment the range needed a pack design that reflected the core narrative of the brand. At the time the green movement was gaining wider attention in mainstream society, which presented designers with a unique opportunity to use packaging as a subtle tool to simultaneously establish connotations of nature, value and trustworthiness in both the product and the brand.

The narrative of nature runs though the colours, images and fonts used on the packaging of Origin’s products, most notably in the key feature of all products: the Origins logo. According to the company, the two tree logo that sits centre stage of Origins is a visual representation of the brand piller “Powered by Nature. Proven by Science.” Furthermore the colour palette of each product range mirrors shades found in nature, for example the dark greens that appear on a number of Origins offerings conjure images of grass and trees and the rich orange of the GinZing range packaging echoes the sight of a sunrise or sunset.

Origins went one step further to cement the role of packaging in promoting its sustainable brand image. The packaging itself is manufactured using renewable energy sources and the cartons are made from 80% Forest Stewardship Council certified paperboard and 50% post-consumer recycled fibre. 

“Our long-standing history of world-class creativity and innovation is central to the high-quality products and services our consumers enjoy every day," says Carl Haney, executive vice-president, global research and development (R&D), corporate product innovation, package development. "We are committed to designing and embedding sustainability into our products and packaging and continuing to utilise Green Chemistry principles throughout product development."

Elemental updates: reinventing an image

Just as packaging can be used to create and promote brand history, it can also provide companies with a tool to update and reinvent their image. With a barrage on new launches hitting the market there is a risk that established brands may fall behind as brand loyalty becomes less of a driving influence behind purchases. To spark new interest in such a crowded market limited edition packaging and fresh new designs can help brands to adapt to changing consumer and social trends, modernising their image and extending the brand history into a new era.

After a 25-year reign as one of the leading players in the global skincare market, luxury British spa and skincare brand Elemis celebrated its anniversary with a new range of lavish packaging for its ‘Joy of Giving’ 2016 Christmas Gift Collection. Hunter Premium Packaging was tasked with creating a gift box range that encapsulated the brands British heritage and premium position, while also establishing the product as desirable gifting option.

The result was certainly eye-catching. Hunter used a striking selection of colours to differentiate the brands cosmetic and skincare collections. A subtle nod to the brands British heritage appeared in the grosgrain ribbons, which recreated the stripes of the union flag across the face of the gift boxes. Against the traditionally understated colour palette the rigid card boxes popped, injecting a sense of fun and enjoyment on the shelf. While the gift selection may have offered a notable break away from the norm for Elemis packaging design, the Elemis Lotus flower branding provided a tether that linked the range to the established brand identity.

As evidenced in the Scandinavian design of Superdrug’s Spaa retreat range, Origin’s collections and Elemis update, creating a brand history using small, easily adaptable elements in the packaging, allows brands to comfortably explore bolder options. It may not be an easy task, but if brands are looking for ways to stand relevant in the eyes of the consumer creating tangible connections between brands and packaging designs can help to provide a foundation that future launches can benefit from and build upon.