Feature: Packaging the everyday

Published:  June 1, 2011
Feature: Packaging the everyday

When you walk through the local supermarket, you’re inundated with packaging design from every angle. It’s often a visual assault of both beautiful and absolutely horrendous execution.

Unfortunately, it seems that the latter is winning the battle for your attention within a sea of same design. As a designer walking the aisles, I’m sure you ask yourself ‘why can’t this box of rice be better designed? Who made the decision to allow this to see the light of day?’ The reason for this is typically a client who is not brave enough to stand out from their competitors. A client who feels comfortable sailing the calm sea of sameness, as opposed to braving the storm of uniqueness. So how do you make your product stand out on the shelves by taking this approach? Scream louder than your competitors? If they’re using 36-point type, dial yours up to 72-point. Are they using bright blue? Fight back with chartreuse and slap a drop shadow on for good measure. This sort of one-upmanship can lead to some pretty garish results.

Now, not all supermarket packaging adopts this approach. If you take the time to scour your local store, you’ll find all kinds of wonderful examples of beautiful, award-winning design. Take, for example, the Cannes Grand Prix award-winning work Turner Duckworth did with the redesign of Coca-Cola. It was able to take one of the world’s largest (if not the largest) brands and breathe some much needed life back into it. By putting focus on the two things (the colour red and the Coca-Cola wordmark) that every consumer associates with Coca-Cola, no matter in which part of the world they reside, Turner Duckworth created a clean and simple design that not only stands out, but is easily recognisable. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the work that Arnell did for the rebranding of Coca-Cola’s main competitor, Pepsi.

Speaking of Arnell, its recent attempt at redesigning Tropicana was a complete flop. Not because the new design was hideous, but because Arnell took the one thing that every consumer associated with Tropicana over the past few decades (a fresh orange with a straw plunged into it) and threw it away with the morning trash. This is a great example of why sometimes a complete redesign of a well-known and successful product can be supermarket suicide if not done well. As designers, we tend to scrutinise every little thing we see, especially when we deem it to be poor design. What we don’t always realise is the amount of equity these brands may have, or the amount of spending and effort that has gone into leveraging it over the years.

So, the next time you’re strolling the aisles of your local supermarket appalled by all of the poorly designed products closing in on you, take the time to find the gems hidden among them. Who knows, maybe you’ll even find some great new products to fill your cupboards at home. Chances are that if a company has put the time and care into the design of its packaging, it’s also put the same amount of effort into its products.

desktop invited Chris Zawada to comment on the packaging of a selection of products purchased from our local supermarket.

Single serve berry juice

The single serve juice category is oversaturated, with new players coming into market on a regular basis. Because of this, we tend to see unique, well-designed packaging that carves out its own identity on shelf. Take Preshafruit, for example. While the minimal type driven label and squat structural shape has an almost medicinal feel to, it does an excellent job of standing out from the other examples and will appeal to a more design-savvy consumer.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have Original Juice Co Black Label, which at first glance, if not for the image of apples and field berries, looks like barbecue or tomato sauce. The heavy use of black paired with serif type and hints of gold foil give it a very upscale but unappetising quality. While both Charlie’s and Nudie have a fun element to them, they feel easily forgettable stacked up against the competition.

Out of all of the bottles shown, POM stands out as the most successful. By recreating the shape of a pomegranate through the custom bottle shape, the simple wordmark driven design comes to life in a way that couldn’t be achieved if placed on an off-the-shelf bottle.



Jila, what was it thinking? A seahorse? Really? Whatever the connection is between a seahorse and mints (if there is one), it’s sure to be lost on those looking to pick something up to keep their breath minty fresh. If anything, this packaging seems better suited to the pet food aisle. Fisherman’s Friend is a tried and true brand with over 100 years of history under its belt. The packaging has remained relatively unchanged throughout the years, from its paper pouch to its iconic fishing boat graphic. The simple solid colours and low-tech production technique give it a sense of classic quality, something you know you can trust.

The modern trend of breath mints and chewing gum in general tends to be the approach that Eclipse has taken – convey a feeling of ‘fresh’ through the use of metallic substrates and inks paired with some type of ‘icy cool’ white graphics. Tic Tac is probably the most interesting out of the bunch. Not because of the cutting edge design (as you can see, there isn’t any), but by leveraging the unique shape of its mints through the clear dispenser package. Much like Fisherman’s Friend, the design of Tic Tacs hasn’t changed much over the years. Sometimes it’s better to leave the design of a successful brand as it is, than to try and reinvent the wheel.



Multipurpose cleaners

Multipurpose cleaners are one of those products consumers purchase out of need, as opposed to desire. Because of this, packaging in the category is more focused on highlighting the unique benefits of each product, as opposed to creating beautifully engaging designs. The use of bright colours and a general overdesigning of each respective label is the common thread, aside from Coles’ house brand cleaning product. While Coles won’t be doing the awards tour anytime soon, its simplistic and sparse design does help it really stand out from its competitors. As with most house brands, the purpose of the overall lack of design is to convey a sense of affordability.

It’s very interesting how McLintocks uses the image of a smiling attractive woman as the focal point of its packaging design. The message it sends is that only women use its products and, when they do, they can’t help but smile. Among the lacklustre category of multipurpose cleaning products, there is one true bastion of good design, which towers over the rest: Method. While not pictured in this group, Method has been successful in designing some of the most striking packaging within the household cleaning market to grace supermarket shelves around the world.

Baked beans

Slap a beautifully art directed photo of some beans on the label and call it a day. While it’s a common theme on these packages for baked beans, it’s also a common theme with food packaging in general, especially food products packaged in containers where the consumer can’t see the product inside. What’s interesting with Wattie’s is that the company has taken this ‘mandatory’ food shot and breathed a bit of life and humour into it. Positioning it as the ‘Swiss army knife’ of beans and pairing it with the selling line ‘free extras come standard’ gives us a sense that we get more with Wattie’s. And, let’s face it, society always wants more. Heinz has done a great job of leveraging its iconic shield by making it a place holder for both the product name and the photo. While Coles’ $mart Buy is the most price conscious of the bunch, its minimal stark design leaves little to be desired from an appetite appeal point of view.

Shower gels

These are similar to cleaning products, in the sense that consumers want to read the benefits of how a particular shower gel will pamper or improve their skin. Original Source could have taken a similar approach to its competitors by merely listing the benefits of its product in an orderly fashion. Instead, it chose to highlight the main ingredient of mint and the sheer amount that goes into each bottle in a unique and bold typographic way.

The design of Dove is pretty standard; while not mind-blowing, it does fit nicely within the range of various Dove products and therefore helps to leverage the brand, making it easily recognisable to the Dove faithful. Pears has an interesting bottle shape that mimics a traditional bar of soap, which helps consumers quickly make the connection that this product is a body soap and not something else, like shampoo. Unfortunately, the rest of the Pears design falls flat.

There is a nice simple design aesthetic to Australian Organics. The bold icon, bright colour and nicely justified type have an almost Swiss design quality to them. While all of this makes it easy to identify on shelf, the overall feel is more of sunscreen than shower gel.

To see some of the best packaging design from around the world, visit Chris Zawada’s website.


Photography Tim Grey.
Deep etching Gerado Godinez.

One Response

  1. It takes courage and often expensive bespoke machinery development to create completely stand-out packs like Pom’s. But if successful, something that only needs to be done once.

    The cleverest Tropicana pack feature I remember was the plastic security seal that peeled away in a coil like a zesty orange rind upon opening.

    As Nudie and Original Source demonstrate, even with more traditional pack structures, you can achieve real cut-through with a distinctive and personality-rich tone of voice. One of easiest, cheapest, yet least-used elements to implement.

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