Packaging in an age of visual literacy

Over the years the packaging industry has experienced a distinct shift from consumers who wanted quality in the product and were therefore seeking a pack to protect the product, and not much else; to a world that has raised a generation on immersion in visual literacy.

Gaining information about a product is no longer the challenge; this is now merely at the consumer’s fingertips and this access will only grow as people of my generation begin to appreciate how flat the world is and how connected we ought to be if we do not want to be left behind.

How important then is the visual impact of a pack for a generation that has grown up with visual stimulus from the day it was born? This generation’s consumer has its fingertips permanently connected to a button of sorts and at the end of that finger is powerful, all consuming visual information.

The question, therefore, is what ought we to be doing about the visual information on our packaging to ensure our product is the one that visually stimulates the consumer while also offering sufficient, reliable facts for an impatient information seeker?

The past decade has seen a paradoxical shift from consumers relying on brand security and recognition and a dependence on honest information supplied on the pack to a world tormented by mistrust and suspicion owing to the impact of 9/11 on our psyche. The security for the new consumer now lies perhaps far more in the message delivered by the visuals on the pack. The colours, the dimensions, the contrasts, the branding. We need to be preparing faster than ever for a world that has become visually literate and discerning beyond even its own comprehension.

With this emerging connectivity, however, has come the danger of self indulgence where we feel the world has to know our every thought and movement through Facebook or Twitter or podcasts or simply through instant messaging on our mobile phones. My wife reminds me that in such an age where minimum words have the potential for maximum, global coverage, it is the picture that will need to be saying a thousand words.

The need for more information can now be easily satisfied in this world of ours that has become flatter and more connected. Do you have the skills to sell your product to the visually literate? If not, it is highly recommended that you consider using the services of designers who have the expertise to place your product in the hands of consumers who are increasingly greedy about how quickly they want satisfaction. You may think consulting a designer or brand developer is too expensive. Can you afford the long term cost if your product is overlooked?

Pierre Pienaar MSc FAIP
National President
Australian Institute of Packaging (AIP)

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