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The Thought Process Behind Beauty Print and Packaging Design

By: Jonny Rowntree
Posted: February 20, 2014, from the March 2014 issue of GCI Magazine.

The cultural phenomenon surrounding the principles of modern beauty is everywhere—from the airbrushed billboards illuminating cityscapes to the advertisements that make their pitches on mainstream TV and online. It’s an element that dominates every aspect of the contemporary aesthetic—even in what we see on the shelves of supermarket aisles, pharmacies and boutiques.

Body image is one of the many powerful driving forces behind ad campaigns, media productions and politics, and it even penetrates its way into the domestic sphere. No wonder, then, that the beauty industry is valued so highly globally and that beauty products are often marketed as essential for healthy living and improved quality of life. And ad design and packaging play a pivotal role in fueling this thought process.

Identifying the Audience or Creating It?

When it comes to image, in the past, the beauty industry tended to be big on showing consumers how to discriminate for the “best,” often defining which specific body types, classes and ethnicities were considered desirable and thus setting a trend for the public to follow. This may still happen to some extent, but the industry also is widening its lens more and more.

Package design addresses this in two different ways—on the one hand, companies can adhere to specific, rigid requirements, and beauty products are imaged with young, slender, glowing women with luminous features and a toned physique, including well-maintained skin, hair and teeth. Portraying these women as enjoying a heightened quality of life is often essential, with some designers foregoing the sexy, pouty look for a blissfully happy expression, appealing directly to the mainstream.

However, other beauty companies wishing to engage in other measures of advertising take a different approach on their design, instead focusing on women of varying sizes, shapes, races and ages. This follows suit with wider trends for natural beauty, natural beauty products and more global concepts of beauty, and, therefore, the new focus is founded on the basis that “real women” shouldn’t have to feel displaced by the so-called mainstream concepts of beauty standards.

What is particularly interesting about products marketed with this approach is that they range from a detailed to minimalistic design, conveying a more “natural” feel and using fresh yet subdued colors and a casual phraseology that is written in simple typography.

Besides aiming to readjust the defining principles of beauty, it also suggests that beauty is attainable and that every woman has the potential to shine no matter what their features.

Keeping It Simple?

It’s a drastically different story for beauty products geared toward the male population. While female beauty products are often excessively feminine and are, for the most part, bright, bold and utilize scripted typography, products for men usually couldn’t be more obviously masculine. The design and imagery for male-targeted products often attempts to appear masculine to an extreme—as it should never be mistaken for a woman’s product.

To serve an extra helping of potent masculinity, several products—particularly deodorants—feature bold, striking colors (usually dark, often metallic) to imply they are powerful enough to handle a man’s physique (versus the lady-like insistence of pleasant odors to counter perspiration) as well as upper-case, block fonts. Gentler overtones can be found in the sleeker, more refined packaging of men’s hair gel, for instance, a clear venture into the suggested metrosexuality that accompanies the desired image of the male.