In today’s retail landscape, saturated with countless options vying for consumer attention, packaging design has become a critical battleground.

Michael Duffy, SVP and global creative director at Equator Design, a packaging design and branding agency, sheds light on the power of design in grabbing attention, forging brand connections, and navigating the complexities of the omnichannel retail environment.

Design as the silent salesperson

Duffy emphasises the pivotal role packaging plays as the initial touchpoint between brand and consumer.

“The marketplace is inundated with options, and consumers often feel overwhelmed by choice. Packaging design serves as the initial touchpoint between a brand and the consumer, playing a pivotal role in drawing in potential buyers.”

By leveraging insights gleaned from shopper behaviour research, Equator Design crafts packaging that resonates with consumers, guiding their creative approach. 

The art of standing out

Each design element plays a crucial role in crafting shelf-stopping packaging.

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“Colours evoke emotions and associations, typography communicates brand attributes, and imagery enhances appetite appeal,” explains Duffy.

Equator Design prioritises clear information hierarchies and impactful visuals, ensuring key product details are readily accessible to consumers.

As Duffy further clarifies: “We prioritise clear and robust information hierarchy and imagery, such as illustrations or photography, to ensure that key product details are easily accessible to consumers.”

Working with retailers

Understanding retailers’ constraints and strategies is paramount for Equator Design.

“We collaborate closely with retailers,” says Duffy, “leveraging insights from research to navigate shelf space limitations and optimise packaging layouts.”

“This ensures our designs not only stand out visually but also adhere to size and placement restrictions within stores,” adds Duffy.

This collaborative approach ensures packaging not only catches the eye but also enhances the overall shopping experience for consumers.

Omnichannel design

The rise of e-commerce necessitates adaptable packaging designs.

“Online listings require attention to mobile optimisation and clear visual communication while brick-and-mortar environments may require creative solutions to stand out on shelves,” explains Duffy.

“The omnichannel retail landscape necessitates adaptable packaging designs,” Duffy emphasises.

“By tailoring designs to each retail environment, brands can effectively engage consumers across various touchpoints, leveraging insights from research on emerging retail trends and consumer behaviour.”

Brand identity and product resonance

Equator Design’s approach to packaging design prioritises brand identity and product features.

“Our approach begins with thorough research into the client’s brand identity, target audience, and market positioning,” says Duffy.

Advanced analytics and market research tools such as focus groups further refine its approach, allowing for targeted marketing and sales efforts. 

“We collaborate closely with clients to define key design elements that align with their brand values and resonate with consumers.”

Differentiation through design

Duffy illustrates the power of design in differentiating products: “Imagine navigating the aisles of a local supermarket, surrounded by an array of similar products all vying for your attention. Amidst this visual cacophony, what draws your eye? It’s not merely vibrant colours or bold typography; rather, it’s the clarity and distinction of a well-crafted design.”

Structuring information clearly and incorporating captivating visuals, including illustrations or photographs, allows brands to carve out a distinct presence on store shelves.

Duffy uses a vivid analogy to illustrate this point: “Envision two products side by side – one cluttered with confusing graphics and cluttered text, while the other boasts sleek and organised packaging, adorned with crisp imagery, stunning photography, and concise messaging. Which would you be more inclined to pick up?”

“Through strategic design choices, guided by deep consumer insights and market behaviours, brands can ensure their packaging not only grabs attention but also serves as a powerful conduit for conveying the essence of their brand, its values, and bringing the product to life within the pack.”

The goal is to craft a visual and tactile experience that transcends the surface, forging deeper connections and lasting brand loyalty in a competitive marketplace.

Smart packaging

Smart packaging goes beyond protection, it offers interactive experiences that not only deepen consumer engagement but also promote inclusivity by catering to diverse needs.

“By providing additional product information, personalised content, or avenues for feedback,” explains Duffy, “smart packaging fosters meaningful connections between consumers and brands, driving loyalty and enhancing the overall shopping experience.”

Duffy offers a real-world example of smart packaging in action: “The ‘NaviLens’ code is an absolute game-changer for blind consumer inclusivity,” emphasises Duffy.

“Kellogg’s has utilised this transformational technology on its cereal boxes, which can be detected significant distances away in a fraction of the time. Not only helping the consumer locate the item itself but get key information, such as allergy warnings or recycling instructions, in spoken form. It can also pick up product information that is blurred or presented at acute angles, which is truly incredible.”

“NaviLens is an exceptional example of how brands can put accessibility at the forefront of design and packaging decisions to become a true catalyst for change.”

In response to shifting consumer preferences, packaging design is undergoing a transformation. Sustainability, personalisation, and interactivity are now key considerations.

“Brands are prioritising eco-friendly materials, leveraging technology for personalised interactions, and integrating interactive elements to create compelling packaging that resonates with consumers, fosters brand loyalty, and drives long-term engagement,” says Duffy.

Consumers are increasingly environmentally conscious, and brands are responding by prioritising eco-friendly materials such as recycled cardboard or biodegradable plastics.

Personalisation allows brands to tailor packaging to specific customer segments, creating a more meaningful connection.

Finally, interactive elements can transform the shopping experience. By leveraging their smartphones, consumers can virtually interact with the packaging, unlocking additional product information, animations, or even exclusive content.

The future of packaging design

The future of packaging design, according to Duffy, will revolve around enhancing brand visibility, sustainability, interactivity, and personalisation to meet the demands of a digital retail landscape.

“Brands will prioritise innovative solutions that optimise shipping efficiency, integrate sustainability with convenience, and deliver immersive experiences across online platforms, driving consumer engagement and loyalty in an evolving retail environment,” he concludes. 

By harnessing the power of design, brands can transform packaging from a mere container into a powerful tool for grabbing attention, forging deeper connections with consumers, and building lasting brand loyalty in a crowded marketplace.

In today’s competitive retail environment, effective packaging design is no longer a luxury; it’s a necessity.