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Designing For Our Pocket-Sized World

by The Dieline on 10/11/2019 | 4 Minute Read

Designers tend to take things very seriously. Even their phones.

Today’s society exists with everything we want right at our fingertips, something you can easily access in a few clicks. The things we design-and, really, the objects we use everyday-have been changed by the smartphone and our pocket-sized world. Because of this, design and packaging need to be simple, yet effective, to grab a consumer's attention, while still resonating with them. A designer needs to effectively execute uncomplicated and memorable packaging in a world where multiple things at once are seen and swiped across from a handheld device. 

We sat down with Sarah Moffat, the Chief Creative Officer at global design agency Turner Duckworth, to discuss how today’s pocket-sized world has given rise to numerous opportunities in both design and packaging. 

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What spurred the need for simplicity in packaging a pocket-sized world? Was it in response to anything?

The tiny supercomputer that we carry around in our pockets is a lens through which we see a whole new world. Not only is the view limited, but this world moves faster than any other. Hundreds of thousands of images scrolled through within minutes, each competing for space and time. Every pixel counts as much as every second. If it isn’t simple, it’s skippable and forgettable. Worst of all, swipe-leftable. 

Are there certain color schemes and shapes that work well with simple packaging?

The tail shouldn’t wag the dog. The brand and the message you would like to send is what dictates the colors and shapes. A research group will tell you that red, as a color, speaks to anything but refreshments. A designer, however, will tell you that Coca-Cola proves otherwise, but a great designer should be able to solve for any medium across 2D, 3D and 4D while maintaining the integrity of the brand. 

It’s also worth remembering that simplicity isn’t purely about reduction; it’s about focus, purpose, and restraint. Simple doesn’t mean boring or plain, and it should never come at the expense of personality. Only if it doesn’t add, can you take it away. Less-is-more, yes, but sadly, the voice of less-is-a-bore, more-is-more tends to take over, and the clutter creeps in. Coca-Cola took a relatively huge step in 2007 by removing decades of bubbles and fizz tacked onto the can to help communicate refreshment and energy, marketing clutter that was of better service to the brand elsewhere in the consumer journey. You can’t solely rely on a package to communicate every benefit and the ethos of an entire brand. 

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Does this simplicity in a pocket-sized world go beyond packaging? What else in advertising could benefit from simplicity?

In an increasingly complex world, whether virtual or actual, simplicity is key across the board. The need for simplicity isn’t restricted to packaging, nor is it limited to mobile, social, and digital platforms. Anything less than simple and an asset behaves like an unruly child hopped up on sugar. It’s hard to control, creates chaos, and is a bad influence on others. Before you know it, all the other assets have picked up bad habits. 

Simplicity provides a solid foundation, enabling you to define clear rules and roles; everything from the ground up is easier to control, govern, and manage. No added sugar required. We see simplicity as an overarching philosophy that applies to all media and disciplines. There isn’t one thing that couldn’t benefit from a little streamlining and focus. Life is complicated enough, communication shouldn’t be.

Why do you think designing and packaging in this was is so effective?

Simple design performs well at scale, both large and small, and it communicates with speed and clarity. It is memorable and cuts through the clutter, placing brands top-of-mind. Online and DTC shopping has finally allowed packaging to breathe, and information is only a click away online. If only supermarkets came with product comparison charts, we’d no longer need to compute complex claims comparisons in our minds.  

If a Charmin Forever Roll is 12” in diameter and weighs 2lbs, is it a better deal than their 6 Rolls-in-One Ultra Strong Super Mega Roll, and how many square feet is that? Packaging can finally relax a little and shine in the role it was hired for, to serve and protect.

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How has the societal shift towards smartphones and the world at our fingertips affected the need for simplicity in design and packaging?

Smartphones created a pocket-sized world. The tools we shape, in turn, shape the world around us. Packaging is seeing the same shift it saw with the birth of television. The intricate designs of the Victorian era, crafted to catch your eye in a refined department store, were retooled to win in a crackling black and white image on the end frame of a tv commercial. Bigger logos, a catchy tagline, and that all-important “serving suggestion enlarged to show detail." As the screens grew larger and enlivened with color, so did the logos. 

Today the smartphone has reduced the screen dramatically with its pocket-size. Design thrives in this new world and is perfectly equipped to help brands evolve and adapt. Design, as the author of foundations and the champion of simplicity, has arguably never been so important.