5 Lessons from IMAG!NE Snacks on Designing a New Brand Identity & Experience

by Shawn Binder on 10/23/2019 | 6 Minute Read

There are plenty of kids’ snacks that have playful packaging, but we don’t often see designs that tangibly reflect a child’s own boundless imagination—the kind of design that takes you back to art class in elementary school, where all you had were your own powers of invention and the paper in front of you.

So how do you reimagine what we typically expect from a kids’ snack and conjure up a child’s innate sense of creativity? 

IMAG!NE Snacks puts the power of creativity in kids’ hands. What sets the brand apart are the visual elements that comprise the packaging; everything has a handmade feel because they used construction paper and scissors to create the typeface and layout.

We wanted to know what it takes to thoughtfully design a new kids’ product, so we asked Jon Guerra, the Head of Design for Frito-Lay, a PepsiCo company, about how empathy flows through his approach to designing a new brand and product experience. Guerra outlined five key take aways for every designer to keep in mind.

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Understand Your Target Demographic

When it comes to designing a children’s snack from the ground up, you have to understand who your audience is. Sure, kids have to love the packaging, but you also have to appeal to their parents by selling a wholesome, responsibly-made snack.

“We wanted to create a better-for-you snack for children,” says Guerra. “We knew who the product was for, but we also wanted to appeal to parents who are very savvy and aware of the products they’re giving their children.”

Yes, you have to familiarize yourself with your audience, but you also have to anticipate their needs. IMAG!NE snacks are made with real ingredients like cheese, apples, and cranberries and come in four varieties: two kinds of yogurt crisps and two kinds of cheese stars. The snacks are bite-sized because Guerra knew that anything too big would present a problem to parents on-the-go. “We needed them to be poppers,” he adds, “because if a child eats something in more than one bite, one would imagine a lot of crumbs happening.”

You have to approach the design of a brand not only through how someone experiences it on the shelf, but every step of the way as a consumer interacts with the product. That way, you can create something long-lasting. 

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Remember, There’s No ONE Department in Team

To craft a new brand experience, Guerra knew it was an all-hands-on-deck assignment, a cross-functional partnership led by design and marketing where every team needed to communicate with one another. 

“One of the challenges we faced with IMAG!NE is how to make a healthy snack pop off the shelf,” he says. “How do you convey the overall goodness of the ingredients? How do you convey the claims and benefits without overwhelming the package? How do you create a product that cues the 'better-for-you' category without blending into the background? How do you push beyond that and pop off the shelf?” That’s what’s significant about designing a brand from the bottom up; you need every partner to take part, whether it’s design, marketing, or e-commerce.

So, the design team drew up some different concepts and performed a test launch in several markets. “Originally, it was all white, and we sold none because no one could see it,” he jokes.

Guerra and his team eventually settled on a vibrant color palette that wowed when you placed products next to each other. The key was communicating with one another and getting feedback from all interested parties; in that way, they could talk through how they could experiment and perfect those iterations.

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Ask Does the Design Flex? 

Beyond the need to stand out at shelf, designing a great product also means seeing how far that design can “flex.”  

Not only do you need to know how your packaging looks on the shelf, but you have to question other aspects like performance. “We were very specific about the type of packaging we presented to parents,” because, he says, "we wanted to repackage in a resealable bag." Chip clips are about as inflexible as it gets when you're on the go with your child.

But more than that, part of building a food brand is trial and error. You perform countless taste tests because it has to be great, and not just good enough. But with design and, specifically, packaging, that means doing the market research and seeing what it looks like on the shelf so you can get a prospective consumer’s reactions. 

And beyond the packaging itself, the label itself must transcend. Again, not just good enough; it has to be outstanding.

“You need to see how the logo looks on TV, in digital banner ads, on t-shirts, hats and flyers,” Guerra adds. “The more your design can flex, the more potential exists for your brand to be successful long-term.” 

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Use Empathy in Your Design

“You need to use empathy in all of your design approaches,” Guerra says. 

To get his team of designers into the headspace to design a product marketed towards the health-conscious parent, Guerra had designers approach creating the packaging as a child would. “We want the design to feel hand-crafted, so all the assets were cut out with paper.”

Essentially, you have to get down in the sandbox and play with the kids—how they dream or look up at the sky, or in this case, how they might get to work in art class. You have to tap into the infinite potential of a child’s creativity. They created a font that was cut out with paper, and they hand-drew and designed all the illustrations. “We wanted to bring the actual product into the brand visual language in a way that was integrated holistically,” says Guerra.

By approaching your designs with empathy—really getting into the headspace of who will be interacting with the product—is critical to capturing your audience for a lifetime. 

“The team’s approach to communicating ‘better for you’ and ‘made for children’ was very clever,” said Richard Bates, Vice President and Head of Global Brand Design. “Instead of using the overused category cues for ‘better for you’ and relying on the typical imagery created by adults to entice children, the team created a solution that reminds a parent of something a child might create and suggests a powerful image of being at home doing something they enjoy or share using their imagination and creativity. This imagined memory celebrates a moment of intimacy between parent and child, something that connects them to the IMAG!NE brand in a truly emotional and effective way.”

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Question How Authentic and Relevant Your Design Is

When it comes to design, Guerra’s mantra is "empathy, authenticity, and relevance." For IMAG!NE, the thought-process behind the brand wasn’t done once they finalized the packaging and logos; brilliant design extends to what happens long after the product gets into a consumer's hands. Specifically, it means what your brand does on-the-ground to make a social change.

“We want to create brands that have staying power,” said Guerra. As a result, the IMAG!NE marketing team is leading a partnership with No Kid Hungry to provide resources to hungry children across the country. In today’s social economy, for a brand to remain relevant, they need to put their money where their mouth is and listen to the community’s needs.

Additionally, for e-comm, IMAG!NE designed boxes for dieline cutouts, allowing children to create and imagine with the package itself. It's these touches that show how on-the-pulse IMAG!NE is; they care more about the community and social good as well as  the bottom line.

With Guerra’s five lessons from designing IMAG!NE, any designer has the roadmap to create a brand experience that stuns from start to finish. Radical empathy is a critical component, and the rest comes down to dedication and teamwork. 

Go here to learn more about PepsiCo Design & Innovation.

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