A few of my favourite things

Packaging design can convert everyday objects-of-need to loved objects-of-desire


“Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens; Brown paper packages tied up with strings. These are a few of my favourite things,” goes the ever popular tune from the 1965 movie The Sound of Music.

Almost all of us can find it easy to identify with sentiments of these lyrics. In our homes, on our desks, on the car dashboard and even in our pockets we have our favourite perfume bottles (even if empty), a pencil stand, a statuette or a cute keychain. Cell-phones acquire a cult following while discarding the old phone, watch or pen is so hard. Dressing tables in most homes are often laden with empty packaging that’s simply too good to throw away. Kitchens have re-used favourite tins of tea and confectionery. The prayer niche in homes is decorated with venerated idols and objects. Some people like me (I must confess) even collect smooth pebble-stones, glittering feathers and twisted twigs that represent the timeless beauty of nature. What is universal about people and favourite things that packaging designers have learnt to exploit?

As Peter Drucker, the leading business thinker of the 20th century, has said, “all business has two functions – marketing and (design) innovation.” All packaging design begins with a Marketing Brief. The product marketer identifies the basic need and defines the product or service to fulfill that need. It is the process of creating objects-of-need and placing them effectively in the market — at the right price, the right position and the right promotion (communication). Packaging design is tasked to decode the marketing brief in terms of the packaging format, on-pack graphics and the convenience features. At this point design can exploit insights about basic human nature as well as learn from the world of nature around us, to lift the marketing brief from being just about creating an object-of-need to become an object-of-desire. This is the X-factor of successful packaging design that can help to lift an average product to become a universal favourite.

We have seen this principle applied time and again not just to packaging but even more to cars, gadgets, furniture, home appliances and other luxury products. What are the basic principles available to packaging designers to create more desirable products?

Add a little different touch to the packaging

Sometimes a little extra touch — even at a higher cost — adds a difference to a pack that customers find hard to ignore. This could be a neck-medallion for a liquor bottle or a coloured cloth over a pickle jar.

Focus attention to the pack design

Try to make packaging the star instead of the product being packaged. Make the pack look premium enough to be kept around the modern home, in the kitchen or Bathroom as a home accessory instead of having to be hidden away in a cupboard.

Use striking colour combinations

Colour is the ‘trade dress’ in which the product appears on the shelf and stands against its competitors. It is critical to get the colour combination right in order to gain a visual edge. The success of the Pepsi blue and red, or the Colgate red, are obvious examples.

Extend available label space by the use of rear-panel printing

A simple way to give customers more information and not detract from the presentation of the package is to print statutory information on the rear panel of a label. This can work very well for the packaging of clear liquids in clear bottles. It allows more space for the packaging graphics while all the regulatory information goes on the back of the label.

Add a metallic shine

Labels do not always have to be printed on white or clear material. A metallic foil based label can be very striking when compared to a flat white look. Luxury products such as perfumes, gourmet foods and liquor have learnt to use this option well.

Create a reusable package

17 2design

This is not a new idea. In the ‘good old days’ almost all packaging was re-used. In the frenzy to create low-cost, use-and-throw products it is a valuable concept that gets forgotten.

Develop target group based packaging

Pack design to resonate with the demographics of the target consumer group can add a great deal of appeal. For such reasons packaging for deodorants aimed to appeal to a younger consumer mimics the rugged, macho looks of gadgets and automotive products.

Try to add an element of fun

17 3designEngaging consumer interest with the help of humour or fun graphics on the pack need not be confined to kid’s or teenager products. All categories of products are capable of being presented in a ‘fun way’ — whether it is Hippo Chips or Kuch Nahi whisky.


Create surprise by merging packaging concepts

17 4designMany consumers react positively to the unexpected. Brands can exploit the element of surprise to create pack concepts that merge formats. For example the Flexican which looks and feels like a beverage can but in reality is a laminate pouch. Similarly, the aluminum can which is shaped like a glass bottle.

Borrow ideas freely from nature

Nature’s packaging is usually elegant and beautiful as well as efficient. It offers some amazing examples of innovative packaging. Consider the banana, the peapod, the orange, the peanut or the pinecone — these are all examples of nature creating efficient packaging. These are the shapes, colours and even packaging concepts that can be borrowed freely from nature’s example.

17 5designClearly, by applying many of these concepts to packaging, it is possible to create desire that can surpass mere need. Designers know this well and it is for such reasons that many products are intentionally made with ‘sexy’ curves or shapes. For cars, it even goes beyond shape and curves to adding ‘muscle’ and power. Taken to an extreme this love for objects — anthropomorphizing — can result in humans seeking emotional comfort and fulfillment from objects rather than other people. (Consider small children and dolls, for example.)

At a universal level, however, the love for favourite things is a basic instinct that works well for marketing.

“I simply remember my favourite things,” the Sound of Music lyrics go on “and then I don’t feel so bad.”

This article was published in June 2012 in the print issue of Packaging South Asia.

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An engineering graduate from BITS, Pilani and a Post-Graduate Diploma from Milan, Italy in Human Factors Engineering. Over 40 years of work experience in branding, packaging design & development. Worked as Head of Packaging at Oriflame – Silver Oak; Dabur India and Ranbaxy Laboratories. Currently - an Associate with The Packaging Consortium – a packaging development consultancy. Worked closely with Jindal Polymer Films for Application Development of Specialty Films for flexible packaging. Now a packaging consultant for some reputed companies. He is also an Associate Director with Firstouch Solutions – a design company providing services in Brand Comm, Packaging, Exhibitions and Branded Retail Environments. He is closely associated with the Indian Institute of Packaging as a Member of the Northern Regional Committee. He is also active as a contributor to Packaging South Asia magazine and other journals and at forums and conferences. Has been writing articles on packaging design and marketing for Packaging South Asia since 2007.


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