Here’s a little known fact about me: I never studied design or multimedia or service design way back when I was a student at university in the noughties. I knew what I wanted to do and be part of (even back then!) and I wanted to learn about design, information architecture (I didn’t call it that back then, I was just fascinated in information delivery and consumption), product design, digital (or multimedia as we called it back before the interweb 1.0 proper) and the users interface with ‘stuff’ because I was always a righter-brainer & rubbish at the good stuff. I was working part-time at a CBT (computer based training) company helping put together training CDRoms (remember them?) for Helicopter Pilots and I was really unimpressed with how bad they were to use (the CBT materials, not the helicopters!) and how bad the graphics were – In todays world we’d call that ‘poor experience’, and so I got myself on the ‘Packaging Design’ course at Bournemouth University. PACKAGING? ARE YOU MENTAL?! A lot of my mates (and colleagues at the CBT company!) thought I was insane doing a degree in Packaging, they thought I’d decided I wanted to design milk-cartons and not carry on doing what I was doing… but here’s the thing, I was doing what I always wanted to do… think about the component parts of all packaging;
- Instruction / Product Information
- Design / Brand
- Fast moving, evolving consumer goods
Sound familiar? Not so skeptical now are you!
It was literally the only course I could find that would teach me everything I wanted to know about design. About the esthetic form of something, the information architecture of something, the design of something that needs to stand out in a crowded aisle, the typographic quality of something (print anybody?), the brand of something, the perishability, materials, mass appeal, recognition, touch… you name it and in those 3 years I learnt the lot. I just did it using the paradigm of cardboard, tetra-pack and plastic. We even covered sales & marketing as part of the course. It was great.
It’s also something I continuously refer too today because it’s even more relevant in towards world. All our UX is just packaged design.
Packaging on a supermarket shelf has less than three seconds to grab the attention of a consumer.
Those three seconds are exceedingly important when you consider that more than 70% of purchasing decisions are made at the shelf. Add to this the fact that supermarkets can contain on average 40,000 packs to choose from, then that pack has got to work hard. It’s the same with websites, apps, digital outdoors etc.
Packaging’s role is threefold:
- To sell the product
- To protect the content
- To facilitate the use of the contents
Ditto, the role of digital is the same. The component parts are the same too;
Packaging graphics have more to do than simply look pretty. They must work to cut through the white noise that is the crowded supermarket shelf, and attract a potential buyer.
Packaging comes in all shapes and sizes. The structure of a pack can serve to create shelf standout and sell the product, to prolong the life of the product and to facilitate the use of the product. There’s also a lot we can learn from packaging that ‘just is’. It’s practical & boring in some cases, but absolutely necessary to transport the precious cargo to the end user.
The packaging industry has been vilified over the years, not least on the subject of plastic bags. Yet, brands have always been looking for ways to reduce materials and maximise packaging for both environmental and financial reasons. Web optimisation in UX is the same.
Traditionally certain materials have been associated with certain markets. But as markets change and consumer attitudes adjust it is unsurprising that material choice has also changed in the packaging sector accordingly. Same in digital, only our material is now ‘content’ and ‘conversations’ and bits of media.
The packaging industry spans many markets and so is regulated by many different forms of legislation and voluntary codes. More parallels – I work a lot in Financial Services so I know this all too well.
There are 8 golden rules of packaging design that we were taught at uni too that I stilI also apply in UX:
- Conduct a thorough audit of all competitors in your market before you start, and make sure you understand their respective positionings and attributes. Then create your own.
- Look at what is happening in other markets, e.g. if you are just considering the UK or Europe, what is happening in the US or Far East that might give you a point of difference?
- Put measures in place at the start so you can track and learn as you go, e.g. measure awareness of and attitude to your packaging now and in the future. A good research agency will tell you how to do this.
- Be different and ensure your pack has its own visual equity and has a strong personality and attitude.
- Make sure your pack works at all stages of its life cycle, from leaving the factory to ending up in the user’s hands.
- Mock up how your pack would look alongside your competition. Test it in store and make sure it really does leap out at point of purchase.
- Design with tomorrow in mind. Create a pack that is in keeping with current market trends and future trends.
- Consider doing some pre-market testing to make sure your pack will find a willing audience. But be careful how you test it as consumers never quite know what they are looking for until someone shows them something new. Henry Ford once said: ‘If I’d listened to what people wanted I’d have built a faster horse!’
Out of the box UX
Everybody in the field of UX should be digesting and using content and background materials from the field of Packaging Design. It’s a rich seam of knowledge that can be directly applied to what we do. Take a website for example, it’s just in many cases a fast-moving-consumer-good and it comes with all of the same elements. Now that interfaces are merging with the real world it’s more relevant than ever.
2013 is the year where I go right back to my roots and start to bring packaging to the forefront of the area of UX that I work with. I’m going to start taking packaging examples to client meetings & as part of all my Discover, Define, Design phases. It’s actually one of the single biggest areas of parallel comparative research available to us so when you start a new brief this year, make an effort to go down to the supermarket & decide what kind of package your making for your digital content.