What makes a package a design icon?
What exactly is an icon? It is generally defined as someone or something that embodies certain desired values and ideas or a desirable attitude towards life. Brands and the design of their product packaging can also attain the status. We’ll take a closer look at how in the following.
Disruption in compliance with the respective category codes
Packaging can only become a design icon if it broadly fulfills the category codes while being disruptive to some degree. We observe time and again that packaging must master this tightrope walk between classic and innovative so that it doesn’t merely ignite a brief fireworks display, but shines in the long term and burns itself into consumers and the market, so to speak.
But how can this combination, which seems so contradictory at first glance, be understood? And above all, how can it succeed?
Let’s start with disruption which can take place on many levels. Here are a few examples at a glance:
(a) materiality: trying out new materials that potentially have added value for consumers in the specific target group or in general, such as haptic or idealistic (sustainability, climate and environmental protection, health, etc.)
b) Shape and size: experiment with shapes and sizes that create attractive new user scenarios, such as a particularly compact package for reduced waste or a special shape for better applicability of the actual product
c) Graphic elements: play with colors, typographies and other graphic elements that put the article in a different or even additional light, give it a new personality trait and thus broaden the range of associations among consumers
Ultimately, there are many and varied stylistic devices for disruptive packaging design.
Disruption is always defined depending on the context. When we talk about branded goods, especially in the food segment, the state of packaging design at the POS or the competitors and their positioning defines the meaning of disruption for us. Packaging that might be perceived as extremely disruptive in one market segment might be completely lost in another. That’s why it’s also important to understand your brand’s ecosystem and be willing to explore new avenues.
But you must not overdo it either. Because if the packaging is designed in such a disruptive way that it is no longer recognizable as what it fundamentally represents, it will most likely never reach the icon status that brands strive for. Marketing and communication also play an important role here, because if the innovation is not clearly communicated through a proper story, it may not be noticed by the customer at all or the desired effect will fail to materialize.
This is where the second sub-factor comes into play: basic category codes must usually be adhered to and taken into account so that consumers do not have any recognition difficulties. Example: Olive, canola, sunflower and other edible oils are typically bottled. If a brand were now to try to offer oil in a bag and place it differently at the POS, it would be exceedingly disruptive, but this step would have to be followed by a well-thought-out campaign, since presumably no customer would think of putting oil in a bag next to tomato sauces. Of course, this is an extreme example that you won’t find in this form either, but the approach remains the same even with smaller disruptions.
In short, packaging must be disruptive enough not to look like the other packaging in the product category. But it also must not appear so unusual that the consumer no longer recognizes the product.
So it needs the perfect amount of disruption while adhering to elementary category codes. This is the basic recipe for packaging to become iconic. If the packaging breaks conventions and yet remains clearly assignable, it catches the consumer’s attention and has the potential to become an icon.
The role of communication
As already mentioned, marketing and communication play an important role in a new disruptive packaging. However, some packaging is not spectacular in any way, either visually or haptically – and yet it is absolutely iconic. Why? Because here, too, communication plays a very central role and has specifically helped to ensure that every consumer recognizes the packaging the same way. Take the Coca-Cola bottle, for example.
First advertised in 1886, Coca Cola quickly developed into a cult product with extraordinary recognition value. To this day, the soft drink is an integral part of many people’s everyday lives.
The main reason for this is that the brand embeds its product in a wide variety of areas that are relevant to people: from fashion to parties to sports. It accompanies us through everyday life and in all situations. Through this broad contextualization, Coca Cola appeals to many groups of people. The beverage is present everywhere, keeps up with the times and remains relevant. Just like “too big to fail” companies known in the business world, the synergy and resulting omnipresence create similar “too big not to be seen” effects that must create icon status. The whole thing happens over a period of time and so we also come to the last factor in the creation of a design icon.
The role of time
If you establish yourself on the market to such an extent that your own products retain their fixed place on the shelves for many years, you can undoubtedly rate this as iconic. A good example of the interplay of time and communication is Coca-Cola, as mentioned above, but products such as Raffaello, Toblerone, Pringles or Maggi seasoning, on which our agency was also able to work as part of the Limited Edition, are also part of this. Above all, it’s about products that have always been there and never change, and that have achieved the status of an icon through their consistency in the market. They have accompanied us through our lives and a supermarket without these products would be unthinkable – something that of course only an icon can claim for itself.