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evolution of a package design

UPDATE, 6/2/11:
I have noticed that I am getting hits to this post from web searches regarding Good Food Made Simple® products, as they are finally making their way into supermarkets. If you arrived here subsequent to such a search, you might also be interested in updates here and here.

I often collaborate with my friend Anthony Sini on design projects. Trained in the 60s at New York’s School of Visual Arts, Anthony is a terrific artist and designer of the old school. He works on a drafting table with paints and markers and adhesives and x-acto knives. He uses a computer for email, but not for design work.

Lately we've been working on packaging for a line of frozen food items to be called Good Food Made Simple. The client is a Massachusetts company that has several successful niche brands in the marketplace. The budget does not allow for production of varying designs for market testing, as might be done by a bigger company. The design process here is a collaborative, evolutionary process between Anthony, me, and employees of the client company, all of us navigating basically by the seat of our pants.

The product concept is sort of anti-corporate, with clean, simple package designs enclosing authentic, simple, minimally processed food that nonetheless offers the convenience of quick microwave preparation. The short ingredient lists are to be disclosed right on the front of the package to emphasize the absence of chemical additives and artificial ingredients. The difficulty, of course, is to embody these values while standing out in supermarket grocery cases. The client liked the American Flatbread pizza boxes, which are kind of primitive and not "designy" at all--black type and handwriting on white cardboard. Perhaps our product photo would be black and white. (Ironically, we've recently started seeing new A.F.packages with color images).

The first GFMS product is to be steel cut oatmeal, cooked, frozen, and packaged in individual servings that can be placed in a bowl and microwaved in a couple of minutes. I was skeptical about this until I tried it, and found that It's actually very good--just as if you had spent a half-hour laboriously stirring a simmering pot of oats on your stove top.

What follows is a rough account of our process. It's necessarily very simplified; in actuality we've generated scores of minor variations for every image you see here, and have gone down some blind alleys I'm not even mentioning. We started out by producing 4 rough ideas for the client to choose from.

There was much discussion, from which emerged no clear consensus. We were asked to do some more variations on three of the original four, refining them and showing how some of these concepts could be adapted to boxes of varying size and shape. For the heck of it we threw in a variation on the fourth, not dealing with the shapes, but just taking out the multiple colors and using just black, red and white--a scheme that the client had like in the bottom right image above.

Somehow this became the very tentative choice. (bottom left quadrant in image below).
After several rounds of small variations on this theme, we produced three-dimensional box mockups. By this time the two sizes under consideration were both horizontal rectangular shapes. We worked to refine the typography, which we thought was elegant and supportive of the out-of-the-mainstream image of the product. We had also arranged a photo shoot to get a picture of the actual product, deliberately shot without the conventional “serving suggestion” adornment.

After looking at these for a while, we revised the smaller design to preserve the red cubic shape at the top left. This works very easily on the large box, which is proportioned in such a way that the red form can extend all the way across the top and side. On the smaller box, it's trickier.

At this point we took the mockups, which looked pretty good to me, to a supermarket to see how they looked in their natural habitat. The result was something of a shock. The red and white and black box stood out just fine, but it was immediately obvious that neither the photo nor the small refined type in which we had set the word "oatmeal" served adequately to identify the product.

After all, oatmeal is not familiar in the frozen food case, and we need to grab the attention of shoppers to whom it may never have occurred to look for it there. So we concluded that the type needed to be big so you could read it across the supermarket aisle.

This change was met with some resistance from the clients, who wanted to maintain that elegant, clean look we had developed together, and wanted "100% steel cut" to be on a par with "oatmeal." But after much discussion we arrived at something like what you see below.

The brown sugar on the oatmeal was faked in with photoshop. If we decide to keep it or do something else by way of garnish, we'll reshoot the photo. Now we're making final tweaks to the information on the boxes, getting ready to produce the final files for the printer. We hope the product will actually make it into stores soon. Updates to come, as the process continues...

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Reader Comments (1)

Love the photos of in-situ-freezer-product-placement. Great blog!

February 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCarolyn Wirth

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