Redesigning existing product packaging is fast
becoming one of the most requested projects in
graphic design. While at first glance packaging
refreshes may seem like no-brainers, they can often
turn out to be trickier and more anxiety-provoking
than designing a consumer package from scratch.
That’s because when you redesign an existing,
recognized package, you walk a fine line between selling
more of the product to a broader audience and
alienating your long-standing consumer base. Even
when there’s evidence that a design is holding back a
product’s potential on the shelf, it can be difficult for
a company to let go of its beloved heritage.
Companies resistant to change can quickly get left
behind, which is why the packaging redesign business
is so hot these days. Product managers find
their packaging out of date or floundering because
of major shifts in the marketplace. Retail channels
and customer demographics are changing before
It’s all business
A package design can begin to fail in its duty to sell
because it’s so outdated it no longer feels fresh. Or
it can miss the mark due to a change in target audience
or consumer needs. It may simply pale in comparison
to a competitor’s new approach. Or it may
need to be updated because the manufacturer has
decided to change the focus of the product itself.
Determining the business reason behind the
need for a redesign largely drives the approach for
the project. “A well-defined problem is half the solution,”
says Michael Osborne of Michael Osborne
Design, a firm that has tackled
high-profile redesigns for products such as Clos du
Bois wine, Gymboree, and Jack Daniels.
If a manufacturer is relaunching a product, for
example, the packaging designer may choose something
that can stand the test of time, rather than a
“trendy” solution. On the other hand, for a product
that faces fierce competition, a designer may need to
go out on a limb and risk a more radical, groundbreaking
approach to help the product stand out and
shake up the category.
Determining the approach
After determining the business reason for redesign,
designers must analyze the current situation before
embarking on the project.
Many packaging designers rely on a scale, usually
ranging from 1 to 10, to determine how dramatically
the redesign will stray from the original.
The 1 ranking may indicate a more evolutionary
approach—a small, discreet step forward—while 10
represents a revolutionary redesign, or a completely
Where the design project falls on the scale indicates
how much of a packaging’s existing equity must
be retained in the redesign. Equity in package design
includes familiar elements that communicate the
brand: colors, logo, type, images, words. A company
can become attached to equity that, research might
show, doesn’t need to remain. One example was
when Lipton tea shed the red box and 90-year-old
etching of founder Thomas Lipton, which had long
characterized the brand. Every piece of equity is up
for examination, even when a client insists at first
that it’s sacred.
Asking the questions
Focus groups and other kinds of research help designers
determine what must stay and what can be
refreshed. As designers explore how far a redesign
should go, they should ask the following questions:
- Who are the consumers of the product? How are
their needs different from what the current package
- How crowded is the product category? Who are
the competitors—new or longstanding brands?
- Where is the product primarily sold? Are there
new merchandising trends, category shifts, or
retail focuses that are relevant?
- How long has the current package design been in
place? How long does the client, for business reasons,
need the redesign to last?