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Packaging Design: Engaging Consumers

John Lamb

Today, personal care products and their associated product groups are some of the fastest-growing and most competitive segments within the fast moving consumer goods market. Cosmetic and personal care products traditionally are split into product groupings, each with its own unique packaging formats and needs. Together these groups—makeup, skin care, deodorants and fragrances, soaps and body wash, hair care and oral care—are responsible for a packaging market earning revenues slightly more than $3 billion annually in the U.S. alone. Steady growth is expected to increase this to around $4 billion annually within the next 10 years.

Packaging within the personal care sector is of key importance to product manufacturers. This in turn means that the design of personal care packaging must be carefully tailored to both reflect and support consumer, product and marketing trends.

General Trends

New consumer groups—Recent and future trends include the targeting and engagement of new and varied consumer groupings. Increasingly, traditional consumer profiles are being replaced by targeted ones. For instance, male grooming continues to be one of the fastest-growing personal care sectors. Linked with a better consciousness of health and well-being, products that offer skin care and fragrance now can be seen alongside traditional products such as shaving aids and deodorants, leading to new growth in packaging specifically targeted toward men. Another example is the growth of youth markets, with companies targeting groups typically ranging in age from 7–14, 14–20, and 20 and above. Target marketing also can be seen in the world of magazine publishing where the diversity of products has expanded greatly in recent years.

Product concepts—New product concepts, such as brand stretch, are emerging within the personal care market presenting both challenges and opportunities to packaging designers. For example, Dove stretched its soap bar aesthetics to body wash and bath cream packaging. The brand now offers similar benefits and messages in its diverse product groups such as deodorants and hair care. The packaging designs have to support what the core brand offers whilst maintaining differentiation between the various product benefits within the range. Another new product concept, traversing all consumer groups, is luxury and niche product marketing. A growing recognition of the desire for luxury, enhanced by the notion that consumers are attracted to reassuringly expensive products, plays a key role in propping up global manufacturers’ turnovers. As a result, many of the luxury brands now are owned by major personal care companies.

Overriding all of these trends is the increased anxiety created by packaging waste. Sustainable packaging is now a hot issue with many companies looking for ways to minimize packaging, making it lightweight and reduced to allow for easy recycling or refilling.

Consumer is King

Increasingly, these companies are recognizing that the consumer is king. Every aspect of the design must be fully explored to reach out and engage consumers at all levels and throughout the life of a product. Shape, texture and color, along with the use of new and more expressive materials, are being exploited to give better shelf standout.

Retail environment—The retail arena is now the major battleground where brands and packaging need to make a statement. Therefore, one element that is primary to nearly all packaging briefs is the requirement for shelf standout and visibility to attract attention. The average U.K. supermarket—where most personal care products are bought—has around 40,000 stock keeping units in store. Of these, the average shopper will see around 300 and will buy 30–50 in a normal weekly shop, of which 2–3 will be personal care products. However, it generally is accepted that the amount of time spent at the personal care fixtures is far greater than at any other, mainly because consumers see this as an opportunity to indulge and experience something for themselves and not just as a routine family purchase. Once attention has been won, the package must deliver positive functional interaction as consumers invariably play with the packages to experience the product before purchasing it.

Materials—As well as concentrating on key aspects of standout such as color and shape, designers also are adding differentiation through materials and perceived visual function. This may include the creation of negative shapes, or spaces between packages within a range producing separation on the shelf, while focusing on a design that promotes a consumer’s perception of high-package volume.

In addition, materials can be exploited to deliver brand messages, often on a subconscious level. Packaging materials no longer house, transport and protect. Materials are visceral experiences that pass unquestioned into consumerr understanding, with the new function of materials being to entice, delight, seduce, subvert and communicate. A knowing, intimate whisper in the consumer’s ear—unlike the sometimes brash shout from the rooftops of advertising or the rational metaphors of 2-D graphics (“cold as ice,” “fresh-cut grass,” “clear as morning”). For instance, most personal care packages are sold with closure systems that allow the consumer to open the package and smell or look at the products within. The packages are experienced in the hand before purchasing so the packaging materials become the brand while the product becomes its own on-shelf advertisement.

Designers, therefore, are being called upon to create packaging that responds to these new marketing strategies and consumer profiles.

To fully exploit the opportunities for brand communication, all aspects of packaging are being explored in greater depth. The role of structural packaging is becoming more and more important in delivering these packaging requirements.

Manufacturing Constraints

Of course, it would be relatively easy to design packaging that addresses these marketing considerations, but a great packaging design solution must overcome many practical hurdles before it can reach market.

All packages must adhere to legislation and safety standards, which may differ from one global region to another. Retailers will have their own set of shelf preferences and guidelines including preferred package heights, number of facings allowed and outer packing recommendations including shelf-ready trays. These requirements clearly have to be taken into account within the packaging design process.

The manufacturing process is probably the key element in ensuring package design acceptability. All aspects of manufacturing from material molding through to packaging line-filling, decoration and capping must be considered from the product manufacturer’s point of view. Each manufacturer has different production capabilities and cost-of-goods structures and each new project has its own set of criteria for delivering product to market. Typically, the larger multinational companies have their own manufacturing facilities, whilst smaller and medium-sized companies may utilize contract packaging suppliers.

Packaging designs inevitably have to satisfy these particular needs and increasingly product manufacturers are involving more specialist design companies to help create and deliver these designs.

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Trends in Action

The designers at the U.K.’s Tin Horse Design Limited have been involved in two global projects that exemplify the complex issues currently involved in developing packaging design for today’s personal care market.


Beauty, without apology, exists between myth and reality. In development, the concept was referred to as ‘Enigma’—an intentional play on the elusiveness of beauty—and the sculptural expression explores notions of belief, myth and faith in physical form and structure.

Cool, white-softened geometry is interrupted only by the presence of a pool of color that is immersed in the surface of the pack. The pool’s colored, high-gloss, transparent and reflective surface is in stark contrast to the silky, soft feel of the pack’s skin. The contrasting surfaces are designed to invite sensual touch and discovery. The pebloid form, which narrows toward the base, achieves a delicate balance and poise, an expression of both the fragility and the wonder of beauty, as well as retaining the heritage of the brand’s visual identity.

As to be expected of such a well-established brand, the path to launch was complicated and highly charged by emotive debates about the best way forward, with each global region having its own idiosyncrasies and demands regarding the final pack solution. The design, however, has been proven through rigorous qualitative and quantitative global research, and has the potential to be a motivating and appealing new canvas for the brand in the 21st century.


Tin Horse created necessary branded structural packaging for Clearasil. Elegant shapes are intersected by a dynamic asymmetric colored arc, providing an integral structural brand element, simultaneously echoing the graphic swoosh and articulating the core efficacy values of the brand. The color-coded lids provide a useful device for range differentiation.

Initially, the task to unify and update a sadly neglected and disparate portfolio of structural packaging seemed overwhelming for designers and the client. But discovering a visual device that really connected with the target users early in the development process gave the designers the opportunity to refine a comprehensive range of packs, including tubes, bottles, pumps and pad jars.

Each pack delivers the brand vision whilst also adhering to tough global distribution, manufacturing and commercial constraints. Global harmonization projects are never easy, but it’s amazing what can be achieved with a focused core project team, where client and designers really click and work together. The new look aims to enhance appeal to the brand’s slightly older, female audience by building elements of more premium skin care design into the pack graphics.

These two projects amply illustrate the trends, opportunities and constraints operating within the personal care packaging industry today. As the industry becomes increasingly competitive, the role of packaging design assumes ever greater responsibility for brand success. Satisfying the marketing needs of increased innovation, shelf standout and enhanced consumer engagement, whilst also retaining manufacturing feasibility, is of paramount importance. Linked to this, the need to work quickly, cutting lead times from brief to launch, is now a major factor in the design process. Above all, the clever part of pushing through new and challenging designs is to involve all parties throughout the entire design process before launch.

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