The risks of creating unique or better packaging

Itu Chaudhuri on what limits innovation in packaging design

Itu Chaudhuri, the designer and founder of ICD

Akanksha Meena interviews Itu Chaudhuri, the designer and founder of ICD, who explains the psychological impact of packaging design and the reasons why packaging manufacturers steer clear of innovative design concepts.

According to Itu Chaudhuri, in the packaging design segment, the spectrum of clients is huge. There are clients who are extremely well versed in packaging design while others are new to the subject. Not everyone understands that packaging impacts both sides of the brain – the left and the right. The left side hemisphere of the brain is the rational side. It deals with information, processes details and decodes messages. Most clients feel that if they have provided enough information on the pack either to a specific degree or very elaborately, their job is done.

In terms of attractiveness, they try to come up with a packaging design that looks and feels like it is a part of the product category and is easily recognizable. However, they don’t realize that packaging is capable of evoking certain sensations. The right hemisphere of the brain, the non-rational, works unconsciously and customers instantly react to certain shapes, smells and visuals without first processing them.

Believe in the non-rational side of the brain

In our practice, we don’t believe in the rational side of the brain, we believe in the unconscious side. Particularly, I believe that in the very first glance an impression is formed. Everything else that you believe later is adjusted to suit that first impression. The job of informing customers and giving messages is secondary. It is necessary but it is not sufficient and efficient,” Chaudhuri explains.

The non-rational side of the brain responds before a customer even looks at the graphics or interprets anything; it is instinctive. The veteran designer believes that the shape of a pack grabs a customer’s attention first and is then followed by color and material. For instance, black is attached to premiumization and masculinity. However, it is not clear whether the industry adopted black as a convention or because of the primal reaction it elicits. Similarly, different materials evoke a variety of responses. As an instance, consumers find shiny surfaces on a pack irresistible.

Chaudhuri reiterates the concept of the physique. We tend to form ideas about others and objects merely based on their shape and size, before looking at them completely. It is intuitive and instant; psychologists refer to this mechanism as the system 1 process. It is extremely fast and creates snap judgments. Clients need to pay attention to it and need to trust designers to create packaging based on this knowledge. Instead, brand owners have already worked out the best solution based on industry rules and economics.

New packaging design adds value to the brand

“A typical packaging manufacturing process does not allow the production of new and unique packaging design. The process has been set up keeping in mind rational structure, speed, and economy – hence limiting creativity. Manufacturers focus more on the additional cost of creating a new pack but don’t realize that packaging design not only attracts customers but also adds value to a brand,” Chaudhuri says. “The packaging creates a brand image. As the customer’s willingness to buy its products increase, she evaluates the brand favorably.

When we have limited knowledge about the scope of packaging, there is little or no room for innovation. Although designers are not trained in material engineering they can team up with manufacturers to acquire this knowledge, provided that they are financially compensated for their time. But manufacturers have limited budgets for the production run itself let alone a separate budget allocation for new ideas. As a result, nobody tries to venture beyond the existing packaging design.

“The psychological aspect behind the product design is important. Nobody has tried an idea that does not conform to the industry’s ideas of packaging. That type of innovation could come from designers if they work with material and processing engineers. The technical problems we face outside graphics makes our job harder because a designer is not a specialist, he is a generalist. People need to have the courage to test but they do not perceive packaging as an opportunity,” explains Chaudhuri.

Efficiency versus effective packaging

The designer suggests that the need is to invest in product design and ignore the additional costs. “A customer does not compare two products based on the difference between their prices but compares the perceived experience and value attached to them. However, packaging manufacturers focus more on how to achieve the basic aspects of packaging at a reduced cost. This is an efficiency-oriented mindset and not an effectiveness oriented mindset. That is the reason when you give someone a gift, you remove the price tag to ensure that it is effective in sending across the sentiment attached to it through its quality. You don’t choose a gift based on price,” says Chaudhuri.

Nevertheless, the designer agrees that the efficiency-oriented mindset has figures attached to it that cannot be denied. Facts and figures tend to be easy to believe and no blame can be attached in case it does not work. On the other hand, persuading a customer to buy a product is uncertain and clients are unwilling to invest in that uncertainty. “You can provide as much information as you can but you are not asking yourself whether a customer will read all the information provided on the packaging and what he will focus on more and what will be ignored. It is a struggle between information versus temptation, messaging versus signaling, rational versus non-rational, efficiency versus effectiveness,” he says.

Summarizing his point, Chaudhuri says that although packaging can be smarter, it is the gap between the technology provider, packaging manufacturers, designers and brand owners that is limiting innovation. They need to come together for innovation to take off. In order to make a gimmick seem smart and alive, a designer needs technical information and domain knowledge.

The risk

Lastly, Chaudhuri quotes an influential economics paper by George Akerlof, The Market for Lemons: Quality Uncertainty and the Market Mechanism, which examines how the lack or asymmetry of information between buyers and sellers can result in degrading the product quality in a market, “It is like buying a used car. If you were given a choice between the three used cars, you will buy the cheapest one assuming you are not aware of the usage history of the car. And the seller knows that the customer will gravitate towards the cheapest car since all of them are used so he doesn’t take the pain of displaying better-used cars at a higher price. Neither one trusts the other person. This leads to degradation of the market for high quality used cars. Similarly, manufacturers try to create the cheapest and most efficient packaging, customers gravitate towards the cheapest product since nobody takes the risk of creating a unique or better packaging design.”

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