Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Quantifying creativity in developing and evaluating package design

I'm a product and graphic design buff, and as I sat drooling over Phaidon's wonderful book Area_2 on upcoming graphic designers, I wondered if quantitative research could really pick out winners in this creative field? I am no expert but I can tell instantly if I like what I see or don't like what I see in a visual image. If I am undecided, I need to process the visual and then understand it before I take a call.

Yes, things work a lot differently when product packages are on the shelf and consumers are filtering the visual among others with heaps of information in their heads (brand affinity, the time they have, size of package they buy, advertising awareness, frequency of buying and a lot more). But is it so hard to pick a winner quantitatively when it comes to package design or do companies simply rely more on non quantitative or flawed quantitative approaches to choose a winner?

I am a loyal Tropicana consumer and I thought the change in package design for the brand smacked of 'not listening to consumers and not quantifying their voice in research', else why would a design change that drastic (it makes the brand look ordinary) make it through research? If consumers called, e-mailed and telephoned to express their feelings about the new design, where were these consumers when the design was tested? A well done online test (among other tests) with the right samples of loyalists and other segments would have saved PepsiCo a lot of grief.

What could have gone wrong in the research? Some hypotheses I generated about the consumers in the study:

  • They were the wrong sample(it can happen)
  • They were not enough in size and voice
  • They gave wrong answers
  • They favored the new design but had a violent reaction later when they saw it on the shelf and wanted the old packaging back(blame it on the recession)
  • They were misinformed or did not understand the research
  • They were not taken seriously about something as creative as packaging design
  • They could not evaluate the new design clearly since it was a radical change from the original
  • ...

A combination of qualitative and rigorous quantitative research (and I prefer quantitative for all but initial research) can pack a punch when it comes to developing and evaluating package design. Here is how to get it right:

  1. Set goals and objectives for the new design using qualitative research.
  2. Communicate the objectives and vision for the new design clearly to package designers.
  3. Evaluate the initial rough designs through online testing. Identify the best four or five.
  4. Fine tune the best designs through quantitative research.
  5. Quantitatively test the best designs via various simulated tests (online or offline) to identify the winner.
  6. Go ahead with the winner design only if it emerges as a clear winner with respect to the control (keeping in mind the status quo bias in marketing research).

Online package design research tools are helping marketers evaluate and quantify how consumers will react to the creative aspects of the design. Package Design Magazine talks about three of these solutions.

Pure quantitative analysis of a creative process like package design is still viewed with skepticism among marketers. However, using the numbers to aid in the creative process helps companies avoid big mistakes and let's designers work and create within a framework that echoes the consumer's needs and wants.

One loyal customer is happy Pepsi scrapped the new Tropicana package and bought back the old.

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