Intuitive design — implementable process

Tata Elxsi’s unique i-cube pack design process

Intuitive design

As one of the biggest and most experienced design companies in the Asian region, Tata Elxsi offers packaging design solutions to several popular brands across FMCG, personal care and pharma product categories. What exactly are the dynamics that result in a buying impulse when a pack meets its customer on the shelf at — the first moment of truth? Shyam Sundar, senior design manager at Tata Elxsi’s Industrial Design division in Bengaluru, discusses the issues in an email exchange with PSA’s Deepak Manchanda.

Over the past few years, India has witnessed tremendous growth in modern retail. With increasing mobility and purchasing power, the shopping tastes of Indian customers have become more sophisticated. Big retail has arrived. Power brands are emerging. Undeniably, at the core of this change is the role of smart packaging design. A powerfully designed pack on the shop shelf asserts a buying impulse that is incomparable to any other marketing media. More and more brands have begun to realize that a small investment in pack design goes a long way in the marketing suc- cess story. Among the various companies offering specialized services to brands for developing their packaging is Tata Elxsi. The company’s overall turnover for the 2008-09 financial year was Rs 419 crore.

Deepak Manchanda (DM): Tata Elxsi has been a pioneer in the business of organized packaging design services. Give us an understanding of how the idea of the business came about and the growth since then?

Shyam Sunder (SS): Tata Elxsi has always been a technology-driven design business. It  was initially involved in selling and supporting high-end design software to various OEMs across India. It has moved since then by consolidating its design and technology expertise by offering a complete range of dynamic services in multiple domains. It enables clients today to walk in with an idea and walk about with a marketable product. Today we have a significant presence in the electronics, automotive, telecom, broadcast, healthcare, entertainment, and consumer products industries.

Shyam Sundar, senior design manager at Tata Elxsi’s Industrial Design division, Bengaluru

Packaging was an evolving industry a decade ago where companies mostly picked up existing design off the shelf for their brands. While the market begun to evolve and companies became more consumer centric, Tata Elxsi saw an opportunity to apply its design and technology expertise to the packaging industry. Starting with providing design support services, Tata Elxsi has grown to now provide complete brand and product development services to diverse industries.

With the economy growing at a healthy rate over the past decade and a half, there has been a surge of design-led development which plays a critical role in various industries ranging from consumer products, transportation to healthcare. We have steadily grown development centre in Japan, an industrial design studio in Milton Keynes, UK and the latest addition of an animation studio in Los Angeles, USA.

DM: What are the inputs required from a client and how is the outcome validated against its desired market objectives? In addition, what does Tata Elxsi do to ensure that the design that has been visualised is successfully manufactured?

SS: IDE, the industrial design division of Tata Elxsi is arguably Asia’s biggest and premier design firm for packaging design across all FMCG categories on multiple fronts – the value that IDE’s designs bring to its brands, the success rate enjoyed by brands that have been supported by IDE and the sheer volume of work. This has enabled IDE to create a mark for itself in the business of design.

We have developed our own design process called i-cube which comprises three phases of design — Investigate, Innovate and Implement. This is rigorously followed and covers all aspects of brand and product development. This integrated design process has been perfected by IDE over the years and transforms innovative ideas into endearing brands of the future for our customers; and into enriching experiences for end users. Our highly experienced design team offers customers a potent combination of product styling, product usability/ergonomics design, graphics design, visual merchandising and implementation capabilities — from concept to retail.

The client provides us with a design brief that covers the objective of the project, markets, target audience, manufacturing specifications. While we have our own research team that helps clients research the need of the product or find out suitable design directions, it sometimes shares the data with us apart from information on manufacturing vendors.

The design development is a combination of the insights developed during the research phase, which is then given a form by the designer’s expertise/knowledge and is finally engineered to be manufactured as per the specifications given by the client. The design goes through several validation phases to ensure that it resonates with end consumers. This is done mostly through consumer clinics. The feedback is taken into consideration and relevant modifications are made to the design before the brand is launched. The final brand therefore is a reflection of consumers’ needs and expectations. IDE also help organisations optimize this development by integrating the essential aspects of business/human/technical factors in their designs. IDE’s approach is sensitive to the business challenges that our customers face, ensuring they get a distinct competitive advantage in a dynamic market.

The USP of Tata Elxsi is the ability to transform an idea into a marketable product. We have a large design engineering team that works in tandem with the designers to develop a product. This ensures the design intent is carried across the manufacturing phase. We also supervise the mould and assembly management of the product and work closely with the mould makers/moulders so that the product is manufactured as per the specifications outlined.

DM: What types of products benefit the most from packaging design and in what way? Is packaging design really seen as a key business investment and what has been the experience of brands that have benefited the most from it?

SS: Packaging is the core for any product regardless of what category or industry it is meant for, as it enables a consumer to establish a contact and a relationship with the brand. We call it ‘the first moment of truth’ — critical to the success of any brand. Packaging has actually gained in importance in the marketing mix as consumers closely scrutinize more brands on the retail shelf before purchasing. Given this, it’s a wise idea to conduct an assessment of current packaging and make necessary changes. Packaging helps in portraying company and brand image, along with offering an innovative opportunity to engage with consumers on several levels. Companies which have under- taken aesthetic and functional packaging overhauls for their brands have enjoyed a high success rate in the marketplace.

Over the past few years, global companies such as Unilever to regional companies such as CavinKare have realized that design is a critical element in the success of any brand; therefore, while they might not invest as heavily as they would do in advertising, the investment is definitely on the rise and is visibly seen as a strategic investment that can add to both the bottom and top lines of any company. Brands like Pureit and Junior Horlicks have helped redefine their respective categories with tremendous success — both from the brand recall and sales point of view.

DM: Modern retail in India is in the midst of a revolution. Packaging design is increasingly recognized as a ‘game changing differentiator to deepen a brand’s connect with end consumers.’ What is the experience of Tata Elxsi in the context of designing for modern retail?

SS: India has witnessed a tremendous growth of modern retail over the past few years. There is increased sophistication in the shopping pattern of customers, which has resulted in the emergence of big retail chains in most metros and tier-1 cities. Customer tastes and preferences are changing; this has led to radical transformation in lifestyles and spending patterns.

Packaging has an enormous impact on each brand’s success, as it directly affects many purchase decisions made at the point-of-sale. Also, packaging is a strong influencer for customer satisfaction as well as in aiding repeat purchase. Today, it is universally acknowledged that packaging decisions can have a significant impact on sales.

Consumers who buy products from modern retail are discerning and demanding in what they trust and eventually buy. Therefore, in today’s world, it is very important that the product engages them at various levels — visual, emotional and functional. The design therefore has to address all these levels to ensure that the product finally resonates with the consumer. At Tata Elxsi, our endeavour is always to design products that are intuitive in nature while being aesthetically appealing. While brands principally have to look at engaging maximum number of consumers, exclusive brands for upwardly mobile segments on the other hand that are perceived as aspirational, have to communicate sophistication in the packaging design and the entire visual identity of the brand. At Tata Elxsi, we internalise the respective consumers and develop designs that have traction with them. This flows right down to the material, colours, images and mechanism of the product that will help create that imagery.

DM: In your opinion, how has modern pack design evolved? How has the availability of better materials and technology contributed to achieving more successful designs that fit in better with contemporary lifestyles and convenience?

SS: Growing competitiveness has placed new demands on packaging design. Modern pack design has evolved from the standard material and shape of a glass or a tin packaging to using new materials and technology to create a unique differentiator for the brand. Companies are experimenting with various packaging and graphic designs to break the clutter on the shelf. There is also a great awareness amongst consumers about the kind of packaging they are buying into. Therefore, the focus has moved towards sustainable packaging which is not harmful to the environment and can be recycled easily. As lifestyles change and the world moves at a faster pace, there is a need for packaging that can retain freshness of the product and also be easy to use. The packaging also has to reflect the consumer’s personality and should be identifiable as they want the brands to be an extension of themselves; and in one sense speak for who they are. Therefore, even mundane categories such as toothpaste and soaps have been witnessing active consumer engagement. This is possible through use of new materials and technology for packaging. Aliva is a great example of how packaging design has evolved and has become more intuitive in nature.

DM: Are there some specific requirements that need to be met for globalised brands that must be designed to meet a uniform standard across different markets around the world?

SS: Any brand that is designed has to appeal to the end consumer and induce him to buy it. Therefore, any global brand must have a universal visual appeal, apart from the product benefit/taste that might be relevant to that respective market. It also has to be viable for the respective market to manufacture the product; therefore the packaging design will have to look at an optimum design that can be easily manufactured anywhere in the world. Moreover, the brands have to be sensitive to the market and consumers that it is targeting. It is critical to consider these for any global brand to succeed in multiple markets.

DM: Does packaging design confine itself to luxury brands only or is there an opportunity for it in the context of low price-point packs or packs for rural markets also?

SS: Packaging design has created a paradigm shift when it comes to design being used by brands to create a differentiator and is playing a larger role especially for low price points (LPPs) or packs for the rural market. Packaging design therefore is not confined to just luxury brands. It is a great opportunity and challenge for packaging design to address LPPs as majority of Indians reside in rural areas — which is a huge market that every FMCG company is eyeing.

The field of packaging design has the potential to impact brands across industries and diverse consumer segments. The CavinKare shampoo sachet is a remarkable example where design has helped low price point packs to set precedence in the market and today is a big category. The other instance is HUL Pureit, which is able to offer affordable drinking water to another strata of society and the rural market because of its ability to offer a superior technology in an affordable and effective format.

Today the packaging design industry has grown to work closely with other key stakeholders to design products that cater exclusively to the rural and semi-urban markets. It ensures that the product designed not only delivers on cost for the manufacturer but also engages the consumer by providing him the experience in both the form and function of the product. This stems from a deep understanding of the growth potential of the rural and semi-urban consumers. The insights therefore developed enable one to understand the unique requirements of Indian rural consumers, who are very different from the urban ones.

DM: According to you is effective pack design the result of a process-driven management effort or the artistic inspiration of a creative individual?

SS: Design as a discipline aims at solving problems or enhancing lives of consumers around the world. Consumers today are very demanding and have huge expectations from brands, which when they don’t comply can be sent into oblivion in a short period. Any design has to be appealing and at the same time also to ensure that it is functional, so it appeals to a wide range of consumers. It therefore is a combination of using a creative solution and channelising it in the right direction to get the optimum output. Simply put, it is an inspiration that sparks a creative idea, which needs to be driven through a process to make it a viable business.

DM: Which way do you see packaging design evolving in the future? Will it still remain a largely visual medium of communication or will there be more efforts to make it multi-sensorial?

SS: As retailers increasingly focus on developing and managing their own store brands, more sophisticated, responsible packaging is one of their primary concerns, too. Yet, there is a growing consensus that more can and should be done.

Packaging design is already evolving with companies around the world exploring form and material to offer their consumers a unique brand experience. Packaging of the future will be more sensitive to the environment but at the same time will look at optimizing the entire development by exploring new technology and material to make the product more viable to manufacture and store. Cost savings can be significant with reduced packaging on the front end, yielding fewer materials used and less energy consumed as highly desirable added bonuses.

Packaging will also be multi-sensorial in nature, like in the cosmetics industry which is aspiring to appeal to both the sight and smell senses to attract consumers. It can also enhance consumer indulgence through packaging by transforming mundane packs into personalised gadgets that can improve a person’s lifestyle.

With the advent of technology and innovation in design, packaging design will look to push the boundaries and use every opportunity to draw the consumer to the product. The most apt example can be the advent of 3D television that is going to change the way people experience entertainment and make it more immersive in the years to come. Packaging design can therefore look forward to such innovations that will completely redefine how consumers interact with brands around the world and try to go beyond the basic senses of an individual.

Lastly, seeing how consumers interface with packaging gives companies the most solid information possible and also a real starting point. That also could lead to the development of more distinctive, proprietary packaging undreamed of until now.

The above article was originally published in the March-April 2010 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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