Friday, March 6, 2009

What's Going On?

I talked to my mom for a while today and she asked me an interesting question, "Why is everything I see at the grocery store starting to look like cheap, store brands?"

I think it is interesting because if someone as far removed from the design world as my mom notices a change, it has to be big. It started with Pepsi's rebranding at the end of last year. Seeing a design on the internet and on store shelves are two completely different experiences. Pepsi's "fresh", new identity makes them look like store-brand sodas. Tropicana's change was so drastic that consumers convinced them to revert to the tried and true, straw-in-orange design. Apparently, mom was so turned off by a new Kraft Cheddar Cheese package (described as blank, white and ugly) she consciously went for the (unusually) better-designed Kroger brand.

I have to wonder, what's behind all these sudden packaging switch-ups? My first guess is the economy. Perhaps food manufacturers have decided that stark and conservative are more fitting these days. To an extent I can understand that logic but I really can't see a consumer looking at a heavily decorated packet of sharp-cheddar cheese and saying, "Oh, my. This packaging is too decorative. Surely I can't afford this." C'mon. On the contrary, I believe that in dire economic times a brand's look should remain a constant, showing that it can weather the storm. For me the Pepsi rebrand came at the complete wrong time which adds yet another tick to the 'Dumb Idea' column.

It could just be the way design is trending. We're moving past the quirky, "hand made" era of "all-natural" design. Perhaps the next stop is simple soda and desolate dairy packaging.

What are your thoughts? Is there any explanation for this upswing in downplayed design?