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At Cambridge Design Partnership we have an innate curiosity to observe and learn from people, nature and the surrounding environment outside the comfort and safe confines of our labs. In this particular blog piece, I would like to begin by sharing one of my most recent observations and the learning outcomes. 

A few days ago, I was walking past the breakfast cereals aisle at my local supermarket, with no intention to enter, when suddenly something made me stop and actually walk into it. No, it wasn’t a fancy new product or a theatrical new pack that grabbed my attention. It was actually every-day consumers who were the protagonists of the drama that was unravelling before my eyes. Amongst the crowd, three shoppers were pushing their trolleys up and down the narrow space provided in-between shelves, anxiously scanning the cereals fixture. Trolleys were banging on each other; baskets were getting entangled with all the cross-merchandising that was hanging off the shelves and in the middle a screeching shopper whose leg was becoming numb after having been hit by a furious trolley. It was a truly multisensory experience but for all the wrong reasons.

What is causing all this mess, I wondered, and why are people manically walking up and down the aisle without buying anything? In my quest for answers I took the liberty to speak to some of the sufferers of that predicament. “I can’t tell the difference between all these products” a 38 year old mum of two told me. “I accidentally picked up the wrong product…this is not what I was after…it’s confusing…they all look the same” a 65 year old pensioner frustratingly admitted. 

Instantly, it all became very clear. Some were struggling to identify what the right product would be for them and their families and others were hopelessly trying to locate their favourite brand on shelf. Still, I was very keen to try and rationalise all this behaviour and perhaps explore what kind of solution could put some order into that chaos. So I took a deep breath, a step back and stood there gazing at the cereals aisle. What did I see? A sea of sameness; a monotonous wall of cardboard bricks that featured roosters, monkeys, and other cute animal kingdom representatives, all drowning in a frantically prolific palette of colours that could easily make rainbows seem inadequate. And the same story repeated itself in the bakery aisle, the ambient food aisle, the condiments aisle, the frozen food aisle, and so on.          

There is a valuable lesson for brand owners to learn from the story above. Standing out in the crowd today is a challenging task, and artwork and graphics alone are not enough to tackle the issue. Think about it: with approximately 40,000 goods available in the modern retail setting where consumers only spend an average of 8.5 seconds to make a purchase decision and 1/6 of a second looking at each available pack it becomes obvious that the days when artwork and graphics alone made the difference are long gone. This is perhaps why the protagonists in our story were so confused and annoyed. Creating such negative emotional reaction at the point of sale could never be a lucrative strategy for any brand.

Packaging therefore needs to have the capacity to be more self-evident and autonomous; it has to work harder in a more crowded competitive context both in the retail and the in-home environment. This can be achieved only if those involved in packaging realise that structural design is the key to differentiation. Form, shape, materials, smart dosing and dispensing, are only a few of the design attributes that can uplift a product’s status both on-shelf and at the point of use, and give brands truly unique identities.

Yes, structure must work in harmony with artwork and graphics to deliver an inclusive packaging system. However, at Cambridge Design Partnership we urge all our clients to consider structural design. It so often gets overlooked by brands despite its vast potential to drive sales, stand out against the competition, create loyalties and ultimately simulate growth. For that reason we have been systematically advancing our skills and capabilities in this particular area and we are fully equipped to guide and deliver structural excellence for those brand owners that acknowledge the value and power of structural design. I will leave you with an analogy which I am sure you would agree with: structural design is ‘the bones’ and artwork is ‘the skin’. One complements the other, but it’s the bones really that help you stand up and rise.

Blog developed for the Latin American publication specialized in packaging and converting technologies
El Empaque+Conversión B2B Portales, Carvajal Información.

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