Author: Sabiha Mohammed Imani
Originally published in NuktaArt, inaugural issue, May 2005
Cover Design: Sabiha Mohammad Imani
Source of inspiration: Painting by Zubeida Agha, Karachi by Night, 1956
Has shopping at a supermarket ever left you confused?
Have you ever walked out with an unfamiliar brand just because you found the packaging exciting?
Has this ever led you to change your brand loyalty?
Enticing the shopper and luring them to buy the product is the primary goal tackled by the army of strategists, marketing experts and designers. They expend large amount of time and energy in devising the perfect package. As you walk into a supermarket or store, a sea of products of various sizes, shapes and colors instantly greets you. From unexciting to the most exclusive. In the present world of mass consumerism and brand war, packaging is the weapon used to convince the buyer and win consumer loyalty. Though for decades boxes, cartons, bottles, cans, wrappers, carrier bags, etc. have contained and protected products, today they are infinitely more sophisticated and developed than at any other time in history.
Not so long ago the packaging of a product was hardly given importance and yet today companies spend large amount of money on market research, package feasibility and development. This is due to the cut throat competition between brands. A very thin line separates one from the other, where a slightest slip can prove disastrous. The consumer too is now more aware, savvy and demanding. Generally a three-pronged approach is used to promote and market a product. Advertising introduces the product, promotional materials ensure that the product is recognized in every household and it is the packaging that describes the product, informs and opens a dialogue with the consumer ultimately leading to its sale. Thus becoming a vital element of primary importance in the entire sales strategy.
In the past monotonous bold gothic type, inapt colours, stereotype trademarks and static illustrations were used on the labels and boxes; unimaginative designs that did not evoke any emotions or maintain a uniform standard. Lack of fierce competition kept product usage, target audience (potential buyer) and visual impact in the background. But now packaging has undergone a revolutionary change as designers have challenged old conventions and broken taboos to redefine the relationship between consumer and product. With the salesperson’s role minimized, if not altogether eliminated at the supermarket in most large urban centers, it is imperative for companies to enhance their packaging budget so that they can compete with imported brands with rich contemporary designs on the self service shelf. The sophisticated design now needs to infiltrate the consumer psyche on a variety of levels, appealing to the shopper’s lifestyle as well as societal concerns.
Multimedia, digital imaging and hi-tech printing options have added a new dimension to design concept and sensibility. State- of- the- art technology has made image manipulation, molding and distortion a reality. 2D objects and typefaces are often made to look 3D with the help of computer software programs. Paper boxes and glass were the two most common packaging materials, but now plastic, aluminum, tin, wood, ceramic, acrylic, etc., are used extensively and to their fullest advantage. At times these materials can be more economical, but due to environmental issues, recycled and recyclable materials are gaining popularity and are being used to produce environment friendly designs much appreciated by the consumer. Another very powerful sales gimmick is to design a packing that can be reused after using the product contained within. At times the product sells solely because of this incentive.
Packaging molded in various shapes and forms are eye catching and draw immediate attraction. Similarly, whether individually or in combinations, exotic illustrations, dynamic graphics, surrealistic photography and futuristic typography, used harmoniously transform mundane designs to highly desirable ones.
Organizing the text and visual, selecting the appropriate material for the outer wrap to capture the essence or unique selling point of the product is paramount. The design must adhere to the outlines determined by the market research and survey. Every product is different; the audience they reach out to is different. The designer has to very sensitively make crucial choices. The visual must be powerful yet appropriate. Colors, which act like magic on human psychology, create the desired mood if used with an innovative imagination. The designer has to closely work with the copywriter; it is the honest yet dramatic copy, which educates the consumer. Using the right blend, the designer shoulders the responsibility of creating an amazing piece of art that has undergone a grueling scientific thought process and endless research. A piece of art, which will outshine all others in the utter chaos of familiar brands, on the over-stocked shelves.
Once the product is picked and deposited into the shopping cart, packaging has silently done its job. Bravo! The tacticians, marketing experts and designers have won their battle. The product now takes over. Unwrapping the meticulously created packaging, the consumer proceeds to use the product. The responsibility is transferred. From here on consumer loyalty depends heavily on the quality of the product and it’s ability to sustain the aggressive competition offered by other brands.
Sabiha Imani is a Bombay-bred and Karachi-based graphic designer, who has shaped the visual identities of several publications, art events, corporate projects and expos, within and outside Pakistan. Her contributions in the arts include book designs of Niilofur Farrukh’s (ed.) A Beautiful Despair: The Art and Life of Meher Afroz (2020), Amra Ali’s (ed.) Rasheed Araeen: Homecoming (VM Art Gallery, 2014) and Marjorie Husain’s Between Dreams and Reality: The Art of Tabinda Chinoy (Fomma, 2013); catalogue designs for Meher Afroze, Abdul Jabbar Gull and group exhibitions curated by Niilofur Farrukh and Amra Ali; and all collateral materials for The Takhti Exhibition (in tribute to Zahoor ul Akhlaq), Uraan and three ASNA Clay Triennials; among others.
Besides her design work, Sabiha has also been involved in art education. She has taught courses in design and typography at Indus Valley School of Arts and Architecture, SZABIST University and the Central Institute of Arts and Craft, where she was the Department Coordinator.