Five fundamentals of great design: Insight

Effective packaging is a crucial part of the marketing mix for consumer packaged goods (CPG) brands, and it is becoming only more so. Your package is one of the most fundamental aspects of your brand, second only to the product and product experience. So if package design is so important, then it must be important to secure the best design for your brand. But where do you start? As with all things, you start with the basics. This is the first of a series of five blog posts that will identify the five fundamentals of great package design.

Empathy and understanding; the importance of insight

Undertaking a package design or redesign program can be a daunting and complex task. There are so many things to consider: the brand’s strategic and visual equities, brand architecture and positioning, various consumer segments, retail distribution channels, product integrity, materiality, and more. Where does the design process begin?

The answer: All design begins with insight—the first fundamental.

Design is an inherently empathetic undertaking in that it is almost always done for someone else. Designers want to understand what others are thinking and feeling and design for them, rather than being overly self-absorbed or self-interested.

Insights are foundational. Insight is a focused understanding of a human emotion, behavior, or belief. Insight is really just a very astute understanding of people, or a group of people. Insights about people are key to understanding, and powerful insights accelerate good ideas that have the potential to drive brand and business value.

Statistics and facts are similar to, but not the same as, insight

In today’s risk-averse climate, marketers are under pressure to financially validate any program before it is launched. Because of this, many marketers elevate the importance of statistically viable facts (such as 67 percent of adults indulge in snacks at night) over true insights about their consumers.

It is easy to see the appeal from a marketer’s point of view. It feels good to know that 67 percent of adults indulge in snacks in the evening. That one sentence contains information on a segment (adults), a behavior or habit (snacking), and a time of day (night). Even though these few words are chock-full of information, the same words are devoid of insight. Insights are more than observations or statistics. Insight tells us not what people do, or when, but why they do something.

Insight reveals the hidden truth

Insights often reveal a hidden truth, which is one of the reasons they can be so valuable. This is an insight: “Adults snack at night to reward themselves after a challenging day—and then they feel guilty about it.”

With this insight, I know not just what they do and when they do it, but also why. And I know how they feel about it. That’s powerful. Now I’ve got true insight into not only the behavior of my consumer, but also the motivations for the behavior and the feelings that go along with the behavior.

It’s not that the aforementioned fact is unimportant to marketers. It could definitely help inform a media buy. Buyers will know to weigh the buy toward evening hours when a large percentage of the audience is susceptible to a snacking message. This fact, however, is less informative from a design point of view, although the insight and the tension inherent in it will definitely inform the design process.


As human beings, we share insights

For brands, we very often look for insights that typify one target consumer group, but there are a few fundamental insights that almost all human beings share. An example is the notion that “I can pick on my little brother (or sister) all day long. But as soon as someone else starts picking on my little brother (or sister) we’ve got real problems.”

A few years ago, the successful temporary package redesign and promotional campaign for ROM, a Romanian chocolate bar, tapped into and leveraged this insight perfectly. Before the program’s launch, most Romanians, especially younger Romanians, were not feeling particularly patriotic. This was especially problematic for ROM, whose package design is the Romanian flag. Watch this video and see how ROM used insight to not only sell more chocolate bars, but also reignite feelings of patriotism among Romanians.

Insight is a transferable skill

Insight is not only helpful in a branding and design context, but also in life in general. Insight really is just understanding people, what makes them tick, their motivations, the whys behind their behavior, and how they differ. For instance, as the mother of two sons and one daughter, I know that boys and girls are different, they think differently and they behave differently.

This was never more evident than on a family vacation earlier this summer when my 11-year-old son began to interact and then play with another boy his age while my daughter and I lounged by the side of the pool.

After about two hours of splashing in the water and going down the slide, Elliot ran over to us and with a wide smile said, “Mom, I made a friend in the pool!”

I replied, “I know Elliot, I’ve been watching the two of you play together for a while now.” Elliot smiled at me and then looked fondly toward his new friend, who was waiting for him in the pool. I then said, “By the way, what’s his name?”

Elliot turned back to me and absentmindedly asked, “What?”

I repeated, “What is your new friend’s name?”

Elliot shrugged his shoulders and matter-of-factly stated, “I don’t know.” His little sister and I exchanged a glance, did a bad job of suppressing a perfectly synchronized chuckle, and simultaneously, though good-naturedly, rolled our eyes.

Elliot immediately picked up on all of this, became defensive, squared his shoulders and squeezed his fists, and loudly proclaimed, “Mom! Who cares what his name is? We don’t talk. We just do stuff!” And he then stormed back into the pool to swim with Friend.

Elliot and Colin (I had to ask his mother his name) continued to have a great time “doing stuff” for the rest of our trip. And this eye-opening encounter reminded me how to better connect with all of my children. My sons Elliot and Lucas and I talk, but it is usually while kicking a soccer ball or tossing a baseball. My daughter Aziza and I certainly talk while we do activities together, but we also just talk.


Insights are the first step of the design process

So in life as in design, insights are fundamental. Do not start any design process without at least one good insight, and challenge yourself to better connect with the people around you by being more insightful about them.

My next post will detail the second fundamental of great design, perception. After insight, perception is the second most crucial aspect to the business of design because all imagination and creativity begin with perception. Perception and creativity are linked by specific brain physiology. Perception is important not only in the creation of great design, but also in responses to it.

Keep an eye out for my next post!