Gareth Trickey, the owner of this particular wine, sent this in to us with some rather interesting thoughts on the packaging from the client side. Rhodes Wingrove in Australia did the design.
Read more about the thought behind the design from a client's view after the jump.
Various Method product packages (via Method Home site and the dieline)
Journalist, Rob Walker writes the weekly “Consumed” column for the NY Times Magazine. Equally adept at addressing both the business and cultural aspects of his subject, Walker’s well-reasoned column has emerged as an unusually clear window on the murky world of branding.
His book, “Buying In, The Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy and Who We Are” came out this past Summer.
box vox: One of the companies you write about in your book is Method. You make the case that buying one of their cleaning products is not a strictly rational decision, since so much of their product appeal is based on how cool the packaging looks, rather than how well the product works. Because of their packaging, Method seems to have inspired one of those impromptu brand communities that you discuss elsewhere in your book. Their products are regularly celebrated in package design blogs like The Dieline and I know of at least one designer’s blog (Nathan Aaron’s “Method Lust” site) that is devoted to nothing else. Of course, package designers may have their own self-serving reasons for loving Method, but they don’t seem to be the only ones who are buying Method because of its decorator packaging. Is it possible that Method has built a business entirely on a demographic of aesthetes who want every detail of their lives to reflect their own overarching good taste?
Rob Walker: It was actually one of the founders of Method who told me that their customer feedback indicated that people who bought Method products were often surprised that they worked—that is, they were attracted to the packaging for whatever reason, but had some kind of suspicion that there would be some kind of tradeoff of function for form. I thought that was pretty interesting, that people would buy a household cleaner, of all things, on that basis. It’s not like dish liquid is a good candidate for the “conspicuous consumption” theory of consumer behavior.
So I think it’s pretty clear that design was a major part of what has built Method’s business. BUT ... I’m not sure that I’d go quite so far as to say they’d built their business totally on the aesthete demo. That that demo was not crucial.
Here’s what I mean. One of the things that most interests me about Method is that they have an eco-friendly or “green” story to tell—their products are (they say) made without many of the toxic ingredients common to household cleaning products. But they chose not to make that their main selling point, their main way of differentiating themselves at the shelf level. They went with the “good design” strategy instead. They don’t hide the other, eco-ish story, they just skipped the traditional strategy of, you know, putting a tree on the bottle or whatever.
And I think this strategy worked well at a time when the broad idea of “good design” was much in the air. I think there were plenty of consumers who had been in essence conditioned by a variety of cultural forces (many of them commercial) to pay attention to the idea of “good design.” And Method offered both a kind of novelty at the shelf, and an easy way into that broad idea.
I’m generalizing wildly. But still. I think it was both a clever strategy and, on some level, an admirable one. I think it’s clever because the truth is the eco/green thing is really easy to knock off—especially in symbolic/design terms. (Just add a tree to your package and you’re ... green ... ish.) Many consumers don’t want to “do their homework” about such issues, so devious design/packaging strategies can work. And Method, as far as I can tell, had the right facts to back up their eco claims for anybody who did do their homework.
So I think that’s clever because really striking visual design is actually harder to knock off, if it’s done right. Copycats look like copycats, and it can actually strengthen the position of “the original.”
And I think it’s admirable in the sense that there was something going on behind the “good design.” (I am not particularly impressed by the argument that buying “good design” is its own reward, which is in effect what many observers seem to believe.) There was something ethical (for lack of a better term) about the product—but they aimed for an audience larger than the one that is overtly tuned in to such issues. And it would appear that they have attained such an audience. For now!
(Interview continues, after the jump...)
Perils of Competitive Shopping
When package designers go to the store, they sometimes go under false pretenses: not as true consumers, but merely pretending to be. Maybe it’s for a bit of “competitive shopping” (to check what products are occupying the shelves that a client’s new product will need to compete with). Or maybe it’s to checkout the display fixtures for a product proposal to a particular store chain.
Whenever I must do this, I get a little anxious, because managers and store security, trained to be suspicious of atypical consumer behavior, often seem to detect it in me.
Once I was in a local beauty supply store, doing research for a client who already had quite a few products on their shelves. Apparently, something about me aroused suspicion. Most of the other customers there were woman, and I was a man. Granted, they were not taking notes on a little notepad while they shopped as I was—but, whatever the reason, I somehow attracted some unwanted attention. When the proprietor challenged me, I tried to put her mind at ease, but she would have none of it. I told her who my client was and explained that I worked on packaging for products that might eventually come to be sold in her store. No dice. She forbade me to write anything more down in my notepad. And even though I purchased some “Alberto VO5 Conditioning Hairdressing for Gray, White & Silver Blond Hair” — a product which I use — she still insisted that I leave the store!