What is good design? Good design is everything. It’s a verb and a noun. Design is the secret to enhancing every aspect of the brand experience and driving conversion. Vani interviews Ashwini Deshpande to decode the what, why, and how of good design and how brands can craft smart design strategies to grow their business!

Learn about:-

01:51 – What is a good design? 

13:30  – Establish your visual identity

34:30 – Design principles for smaller packaging

43: 10 – Designing products for screen

Read the complete transcript below:-

Vani 01:29 

Ashwini, you have long years in design and you and I have worked together on Kurkure about, six, seven years back now. And I’m so glad that we did get the chance to work together. I had a fantastic time. I really love doing that project with you. But since we are recording this podcast here today, tell us for the audiences what is good design to you.

Ashwini Deshpande 01:51 

Yeah, so Vani that’s really like a big question and I think when I was a young designer about 30 years ago, I would’ve answered you like in a snap because when you’re young, you believe that you know everything, right? But, as I’ve had the opportunity to work on solving many problems through design or by design, I think this is one of the most difficult questions today for me. But I’ll try and answer as well as I can. So design is used in many different contexts. It’s a word and it’s a noun. So for somebody who’s on a life support ventilator is good design and for somebody who’s getting married, a good henna decoration on the hand is good design. So it’s such a wide variety. But I believe design is actually a systematic approach to addressing some overt or unmet needs.

Vani 02:43 

Unmet needs. It’s a systematic approach to addressing unmet needs. Very nice. 

Ashwini Deshpande 02:49 

Yes, or sometimes they’re overt needs they’re staring in your face, but they’re not being solved well or methodically. And I believe that usually is to be done by combining your insights by looking at what technology or materiality you have in hand, and of course the designers creativity and imagination to put all those things together. But all of this can happen well and should happen well when you keep the user or consumer at the center. So that’s really what I think design is. And we always say that good design is everything and good design is profit. So that’s really how we define design. 

Vani 03:25 And good design is never expensive either.

Ashwini Deshpande 03:28 

Exactly, you said it, you know, anytime somebody says, oh my God, your fees. So I say, you know what, good design is never expensive. Just go for it. 

Vani 03:36 

Lovely. So tell me, there’s so much you spoke about understanding what the unmet need is or who the consumer is. Wouldn’t good design also be a function of just a good brief? And are all clients adequately educated to be able to give you a good brief? Or do you sometimes get frustrated, do you work with clients or coach them into understanding what is a good brief to start with? 

Ashwini Deshpande 04:00 

I think that’s a fantastic point, Vani, because a lot of times if you begin well, you land well. And, so if there is a brief that actually outlines what the client is set out to solve instead of a brief that literally gives you a prescriptive we want you to do this. So yes, I think right from the beginning, our job has always started with, sort of helping the client team to figure out what is the right way to brief, what is the right brief. And the good thing about working with mature clients, MMC clients, many times there is already a method or process of formulating a trace. But the thing about maybe younger clients, startup clients, clients that don’t have a professional team, you know, we have to of course educate them on how to write a brief, literally give them frameworks or templates and say, you know, just fill this for us and that’ll make at least a starting point. So that’s one aspect, which is a good brief, which doesn’t say what they want and says what the consumer will benefit from. The other part of doing a good design project is educating how to give good feedback, a mature feedback. 

Vani 05:06 

Very nice. Very nice. So on that point, on mature feedback, I know Elephant is very big and has huge reputation in the industry now, but do you still face clients who have adequate money and who’ve given you the job and then when you do come back with the work, the comments are something in the zone of, didn’t quite like it. 

Ashwini Deshpande 05:31 

You are so right. People still do that, you know, because everybody’s creative and everybody’s got some opinion. There’s always a subjective opinion on anything that has got some aesthetic output. So yeah, unfortunately, even after all these years of experience, we do hear things like “maza nahi aaya, aur kuch karte hai”. I think the meaningful mature feedback with focus on the user, that is something that we really still need to bring into a conversation again and again. So anytime we get a feedback like, oh, I don’t like that purple, or let’s try red, you know, that kind of a feedback puts everything back into a space where we are forgetting the consumer or a user, or we are forgetting what is the landscape we are gonna go and sit inside or play inside. So I think all these things have to be brought into the conversation when a mature feedback is in question. 

Vani 06:21 

This bit about creative appreciation, about figuring out what is a good design is very important, even at the clients end, to be able to educate all team members. I remember even at Pepsi and at Unilever, or I mean, when there are large teams, there are always differing points of view, even within the team. Because it appeals to your aesthetic sensibilities and within the team also to be able to write feedback, which sort of brings together everyone’s point of view and is still not about just, you know, putting everyone’s point of view together, but is actually a rational piece of feedback that is based on the brief issue is itself a lot of education, I mean, it needs training. 

Ashwini Deshpande 07:02

And that also happens once you’ve gone through it a few times and seen how consumers are reacting to the decisions you have taken. So I think it’s a cycle and it’s a lot of learning. 

Vani 07:14 

Yes. So it’s not just consumer research, like I keep telling my clients, even now, you know, when we are reacting to design or even scripts or any piece of creative, of any kind, I keep reminding my clients that we must look at the brief first. If we are confident that we have a well written brief, we must first see if the design submission or the creative that has come back from the creative team, does it meet the brief. If it meets the brief, then we don’t have the right to say “maza nahi aaya”, you know, then we have to really ask ourselves if we’ve written the correct brief. So it’s not easy, 

Ashwini Deshpande 07:52 

It’s about the audience. It’s about the changing audience, because a lot of the time we take it for granted that we understand what they are about, but everybody’s evolving. So, I mean, if you think that if I’m doing something for children, I understand what they do, I probably have to really crosscheck and, you know, see what they’re up to right now. Do we know what the top games children are playing right now? That is the acid they’re exposed to. So all of that.

Vani 08:20 

Very, very nice. So tell me, since you are talking about children and I mean the kind of visual grammar or the kind of colors you’d use or the combinations you’d use would be very different for different kinds of audiences. Tell us a little about the psychology of color and design or patterns or iconography or even the kind of photography. How does psychology play a role in what you do? 

Ashwini Deshpande 08:44

So that’s actually one of my favorite topics, color really, you know, color, photography, illustration, typography, all these are tools for designers. And just because your toolbox is filled with all these, you don’t have to use everything at all times, right? So you have to be able to choose what tool that’s gonna be most impactful for your brand or your brand’s need at that point in time. And color is many times a very often, well known, but underutilized tool, I believe, because colors literally can make or break an emotion and if it is used effectively, impactfully, knowing exactly the kind of impact you want, it can give you amazing results. So for example, if you want to convey indulgence or luxury, there are certain colors, textures, metallics that you would use if you want to evoke taste. So if you want to just create a dual quotient, you can do that through color or photography. There’s a whole color theory, it’s scientific literally. So, for example, red is known to be a color that, sort of evokes more emotions neurally or black font on yellow is the most readable from the longest distance. So these are all theories that can be used. However, every brand won’t use black or yellow because then every brand will look the same, right? So you have to be able to figure out what is the uniqueness that you’re adding to your brand and what is it that you’re adding to convey a certain impact or emotion or effect. So all of these ideally need to be done methodically, knowing exactly what you’re doing and then of course, taking care of the acidic.

Vani 10:25

Very nice. In fact, speaking about color, there’s a medical brand that I worked with and one of the things we found speaking of color was that, you know, all medical brands seem to be operating in the blue, green zone. There is a good reason why they operate in the blue green zone because those colors make you feel calm. They make you feel clean. It’s a feeling of being sanitized, sterile, you know, all of that which is required in the medical world. And yet because that is so, all of the medical brands therefore also tend to look the same. So how do you borrow from that world and yet be able to stick out? So color can play a very, very interesting role in how you even position the brand in the consumer’s mind. 

Ashwini Deshpande 11:10

Vani, I have a couple of examples, if I may cite them. So one of them is, I mean, I wish it was our work, but it isn’t, I really admire somebody who took that decision. So if you see the landscape of water brands or drinking water brands. And there was a time when the whole landscape was, of course it was an emerging category and there were many players getting into it. And of course the global players had also brought in their brands in India. And everybody was blue because water is blue and blue is supposed to be also the color of clarity, color of trust and so on, right? And then, Bisleri took this bold stance of going tame. They said, we will stand apart, we will not be blue because Bisleri was a leader and as a leader, they could actually take that stance and they could actually differentiate and stand apart. And I think that was done very subtly and though still within the balance of cool colors, I think it was a very, very impactful, effective decision. And it’s sort of holding up well after so many years and I really admired that decision at that point in time, which was completely based on color. And the other decision then in that category that happened subsequently was Himalaya water. I was just gonna bring that down. So I thought that was so interesting for a category that would’ve played safe and remained in blue. Somebody said, no, I’m gonna change the landscape, let me do something differently and it worked for those brands. 

Vani 12:24 Hundred percent. You can’t miss those brands on the shelf. And when you think of water, actually for me, Himalaya, it’s so beautifully done. Pink is so beautifully done combined with the copy that they write, which is so romantically written.

Ashwini Deshpande 12:38

It’s the whole story, right? 

Vani 12:41

Yes. And then subsequently, a lot of other water brands have infused a lot of excitement into a category that is otherwise very, very functional. And there is very little to say about water, I mean, what do you say about water? Water is so basic that you can’t really, it’s difficult to attach the emotions to it. And now that we are talking about water, you know, there’s this global brand called LIFEWTR and that whole brand is now built only on design. You wanna buy that water bottle not for the water but for the bottle because it makes such a statement. Fantastic. Fantastic. This is a great conversation. So in this context, since we are talking about colors, Ashwini, tell me what role does the visual identity of the brand play in the brief that you are issued? Many times brands come with new packaging and these are the reasons why I need new packaging. But I don’t have a visual identity manual. I don’t have any guidelines to issue to you. This is what I was doing and I might be at a stage where I haven’t really matured in my design evolution. So I have little bits and pieces of what I might have done by way of ads and performance marketing. I might have released one ad somewhere. I might have done something on YouTube and now I’ve landed a lot of money and I’m looking for new packaging. So, tell us a little about how did you guide clients on what is the importance of a visual identity and do you also develop some bit of that as part of the end output that you’re supposed to give to them that might just be here is your new design for a new range of spices that you’re coming up. 

Ashwini Deshpande 14:23

Yeah, so I think, logo, of course visual identity is not only the logo, but logo is probably the most important part of visual identity. And then it comes with a whole lot of other guidelines. The color palette or the accent colors, the fonts, the secondary fonts and so on and also a manner in which you use it so they could be alignments and so on. So I think the logo really is like, if a brand is a person and brand should be a person, ideally. The logo is a face. What I say is that as human beings, we don’t have the liberty to choose a face, I mean, we are born with it, right? So you might be a very serious person, but you might be born with a face that looks like it’s always smiling or about to tell a joke and there is no match. But for a brand, you have the choice. If you are a brand that stands for something, your logo can say that and that’s your face. So, if your logo is not doing that for you, then it’s time to examine. So if you are a brand of tasty food and your logo is not saying that it’s time to do that or if you are a brand of nostalgia and if your logo is not doing that. Brand of goodness, brand of trust, brand of high fashion, you know, each of these will have a different face, right? So the logo literally is that and visual identity is something that gives the logo an entire system of being consistent, being recognizable, building recall, all of that. So I think visual identity is something that really is what is remembered usually. Beyond that, there isn’t much that a consumer is likely to remember. So it’s one of the most important aspects. In fact, you know, I take a course at Ashoka University and the students are so excited because of a lot of branding, actually the reality is that we consume messages more with our emotional brains than with our rational brains and what we consume emotionally stays with us for much longer. That goes into our long term memory and a lot of everything that we do with design, logo, colors, style of photography, et cetera. The reason why it builds trust is because it goes into our long term memory. So if we can do something with design that conveys the values of the brand as we wish it to be, then actually we are doing great service to the brand because, you know, decisions are made in a snap, all decisions are made in a snap, including what we call high involvement products, even if we were to buy a house or choose a partner to get married to. Actually, the decisions that are made in a snap are the best decisions because that’s when your emotional brains are putting together various things that the rational brains can’t even rationalize, can’t even put reason to. And I say this very passionately about design, that design helps the emotional brain put so many attributes together that you would never be able to list down as a rational human being. 

Vani 17:26

Ashwini I wanna ask you, since you spoke about the logo, what if a company actually doesn’t have a great logo and you are advising them on why it might be a good time to change, but changing a logo is not easy because after all, you’ve got a set business going. Even if that business is smallish, you are very, very scared. I’d be very scared as a founder to lose the consumers I already have, to lose that familiarity and to be moving to something new and to have to reestablish, Hey, I’ve changed, I’m now this. Do you also give some tangible handles to clients on how they could transition and can design, play a role over there?

Ashwini Deshpande 18:07

So this is a very important question and this is the one that I think we have to answer many a times because when we are called in for some kind of a design intervention, we can sense that the logo is not doing justice to what it could’ve done and the reality is that the promoters or founders of that, product or brand have had some success with it and therefore want to sort of hold onto something that has worked for them or that has had some kind of history or some kind of attraction with their consumers, their users. So changing a logo is something which, as you said, is not easy for many reasons. One, of course, the promoters, kind of believes in it, or their habit of it. And the other is, of course, the logistics of changing a logo on something that is tangible and quite large. So I can recall a time when we were changing the identity of Bajaj Auto and as you can imagine, the number of touchpoints that would have to change if Bajaj changed its logo. So, I think there were about 5,000 components of a vehicle that had the logo imposed on them. So you can literally imagine what the scale is apart from, of course, the hundreds of showrooms, the advertising, the stationary, communication, signages, factories and so on. So changing a logo is something that you really need to understand. What is it that it is going to do for you and what it is gonna do potentially? If you can put some total of what it could do for you in terms of growth, in terms of traction, in terms of likability, livability, if that can be sort of brought into the picture at the right time, then it probably is worth it. I mean, Bajaj did change its logo and because there was a message to be conveyed, it had to be done in the right way and the logo could do it. So it’s the right time, right place if you choose that. I think that’s really what could lead you. So many times like you said, people say that, oh, this logo has worked for us and people recognize us with this logo, so how can we change it? And my question to them usually is that, you know, how many consumers do you have right now? And for example, they say, we have a one lakh consumer base. I’m just hypothetically saying that. And then I say, What is your ambition? How many people do you want to actually have as your consumer base? And they say, oh, we could potentially be doing six to eight lakhs, easily. And then I say, so what that really means is the upcoming consumer base is far bigger than what you already have. And if you make a decision that is right for that potential consumer base, your current consumers will get it. In fact, they might even be delighted. So you are doing it for those seven lakh consumers who you haven’t managed to touch here, which are far bigger in number than the current ones. So you have to take that kind of a rational decision and say, oh, if it’s right for those seven lakh, I’ll manage to convince my current base of one lakh on how it is right to do it at this point of time. And sometimes promoters and founders don’t really have a complete comprehension of how their consumers or users look at their brand. Sometimes the consumers are absolutely delighted to see a brand change. They say, oh, I am changing and my brand seems to understand that, and therefore they have changed too. 

Vani 21:21

That’s lovely. So a lot of what you’re saying is about showing a huge vision to the founders, investors and helping them understand, look, your market out there could be so much bigger, there’s so much more for the taking. And if you were to make this one courageous move, then you could open yourself up to so much more business. I can imagine that’s not easy for anyone to move to, particularly when you don’t feel that there’s anything wrong as such. I remember on Kurkure itself, you remember Ashwini, when we were working on Kurkure, for example, you know, at that time it was a brand that was over 20 years old. And the challenge then, was, we are looking at a packaging makeover and yet I have this huge base of consumers. I can’t create any dissonance in their minds on who I am or which is the original Kurkure, also given the context of their being over 2000 localites, 2006 that are already present in the market and that looks very close to me. In that context, I have to be able to convince retail and consumers and bring a new face to the brand and be able to communicate adequately to them, look, I’ve changed, you’d love me now and here I am, and I’m still the old me, different from all of the rubbish that exist in the market. 

Ashwini Deshpande 22:49 

I can think of another example that we got the opportunity to work on some years ago and that’s also another very large brand. I believe today it reaches about 160 million households that started to salt and when we were invited to sort of look at not just the packaging, but everything else that could be corrected for the first moment of truth. And I believe of course, that was also a very nice vision to get a design company in with that, you know, let’s look at the first moment of truth and see what difference we can make. And we of course began with analyzing what their visual equity was and so on. And that was also the time when the positioning was changed from desh ka namak to desh ka sevak. So, you know, we said, how is it that we can infuse that? And what is it that Tata salt now needs to convey at that point in time? I mean, as you know, Tata salt is also hugely copied and there are so many spurious products and so on. The number of Tata salt lookalikes is uncountable. It’s beyond anybody. But then we looked at that logo and what it was doing is, it was, I don’t think anybody would recall now, because it’s been a few years, but the way Tata is written, salt was written exactly the same way, that is also because it began with an industrial production of salt, basically. And then that was packaged for domestic uses. So Tata is a strong, solid industrial brand, salt also was sort of written exactly the same way. And we said, what is it that we can get in this logo that will actually align with what we have to say or who we have to reach? And we realized that it was, while it was very trusted and solid and robust, it lacked the kind of humane touch. And you know how salt is used, in an Indian household it’s not about how many grams or it’s not about how many spoons it is to keep it, right? The person who’s cooking knows exactly how much. You don’t have to tell her how many grams and she may not be able to tell you how many grams, but she will get it right. So we said, where is that human touch? So that’s really what we did to salt. We made salt into a signature logo while Tata remained the trust, salt became the human part of it. And you can imagine the kind of hesitance to change a logo for a brand that reaches over a hundred million households at that time. But what it could bring in to the brand, which is the human touch, was so large in terms of impact that the team sort of agreed to that idea and went ahead with it. 

Vani 25:07 

Very nice. So Ashwini, both in the case of Kurkure, as well as Tata salt, I’m looking at the number of variants they have. Talk to me about brand architecture, because this is not something that most people get. And I see that there is a lot of stuff out there in the market on the shelves, which doesn’t talk to one another even though they come from the same brand. Because brand architecture fundamentally is about giving a tangible handle to the consumer to say, look this is all of these different variants. So let’s say for example, Kelloggs, if I have a strawberry variant and I have honey and I have chocolate and I have blah, blah and blah, blah. Yeah. How do you make sure via design that the consumer knows here is the width of choices I have available. I can pick any one of these. I think Cadburys does it brilliantly, for example, and yet you’re all a part of the same family and given the fact that today on the shelf, whether it’s on the shelf or even in the online world, there is so much clutter. Being able to get block presence, being able to own the shelf, having dominant shares on the shelf, having visibility on the shelf, stand out value on the shelf is so important that I can’t not look like a block. And within that block, I have to give tangible handles to the consumer to say, Here this one is yours. And for example, on Lindt, you know, I was talking about when I go to pick up chocolate, I must know, this one is a sea salt and caramel. This one is the orange. This one is the hazelnuts. This one is the blood. And I’m thinking in a hurry, I subliminally know that my orange one is with is, it has a dash of orange in it. But if there are more than two chocolates or more than one chocolate, actually that has a dash of orange on the design, then I could well get confused, you know, on Kurkure , for example, the reality is that in a market, the retailer would say, mere paas ek hara hei madam, ab hara mein bhi alag alag shades hoti hai. So, and there are only so many primary colors, you know, if I have 30 variants, then I need new shades. How do you solve that? 

Ashwini Deshpande 27:13 

Yes. So I think I can tell you about, of course Tata salt has also now expanded its architecture and we are at this color game right now. But I can tell you about another brand that we worked with or maybe a couple of brands. So firstly, yes, there are only a limited number of colors, but color, like I earlier said, is only one tool in your toolbox. So there are others, right? There is typography, there is illustration, there is photography and there is absence of all of these. You have the choice of not filling up the whole format also. So you can be, you can go on the other extreme and be minimalist and not use any of these tools in excess. So I always believe that if you’ve told the benefit of whatever it is that you’re putting out on the shelf and because we are talking about packaging, if the benefit is out loud, then I think color has no business to confuse anybody if the benefit is out loud. So, if you are able to convey the overall framework of benefit, then the color becomes a useful tool or useful addition to what your message is. I’ll give you two examples, like I said, one is, when we were designing for Britannia breads, now our objective always is to try and tell it like it is to the consumer who’s trying to pick something and should be able to make the right choice. She should never go back home and feel that, oh, I didn’t get it or this is what it is. So in bread we realized that there was a lot of confusion and misunderstanding and misinterpretation of what bread you are picking up. So there was brown bread, there was wheat bread, there’s whole wheat bread, there’s multi grain bread and so on. There were a whole lot of things that were potentially coming up in that category. The category was just sort of growing, but there were a lot of misconceptions. So people believed that if something is a brown bread, it is a wheat bread. And we realized that that is not so, it’s not a whole wheat bread necessarily. So we said we have to be able to tell the consumers what bread it is and let them make that choice, you know, let’s not be pushing that under the carpet. So we use that as a tool. We said our biggest message on the bread is, what it is. Is it whole wheat? Is it the whole atta? Is it multi-grain? Then which is multi-grain and so on. And that became the entire focus. Then it didn’t matter what color it is because the message was about what does this brand have inside? And so it became like a part of the whole visual vocabulary and so on. The other brand is Paper Boat. When we were designing Paper Boat, it was a startup that came to us nearly 10 years ago and said that we are gonna do ethnic drinks. And this is of course, a very interesting brand story because when you say ethnic drinks, you could position the brand in many different ways because it could go overtly Indian, it could go overtly traditional, it could go overtly regional and so on. But we looked at the user or consumer that it was intended for and we said, look, they are modern, young millennials. They are not looking for something necessarily that is in a traditional format. The point is not a traditional format, the point is the traditional content. So if the content inside is from the past, from nostalgia, the format doesn’t have to do that. So we kept certain things that came from the past, which is the taste, of course, of the product or the name of the product. So it is called Aamras and it is not called mango pulp. And that is what brings you that nostalgia and takes you back into the world when life was simple and things were not transactional. There was some joy and goodness in life and we wanted to bring all of that back through this brand. And therefore, of course it was called Paper Boat as well because Paper Boat, I mean, who hasn’t launched a paper boat in a puddle next to the house when they were children? So we wanted to bring that back. But the format of that was completely contemporary. And we said, if it’s called Paper Boat, we have to make it look like that, right? So we chose matt white which was a very unconventional choice to do because everybody says, oh, white pack in Indian retail conditions. How would it be and so on. But fortunately, the founders of Paper Boat were completely in alignment with what we were presenting to the consumer. And it was all about the consumer feeling the delight and joy. And if the shape, of course, was also designed to feel like you are holding a fruit and taking juice out of it. So it was ergonomically designed, it was literally like getting the juice out of a fruit, the cap was designed as a tribute to the shape of Paper Boat and so on. So all of that came together. So by the way, a packaging is not just a good logo or good colors or good food shot, it’s the whole experience and it’s the first moment of truth experience and also the second moment of truth experience. So if you can control all these factors and present something, I think then there is a winner.

Vani 32:10 

Fabulous. This is a beautiful example, and I think, Paper boat is like the poster boy of all innovation. In so many ways they broke so many codes. It’s a case study that I’m taking up in challenger marketing as well. I love talking about it. In the case of Paper Boat, it is the much urban elitist consumer, people like us who are able to appreciate those design sensibilities, who wanna go back to now nostalgia because we are also so, you know, without articulating it, we wouldn’t be willing to articulate it, I mean, life is very stressed and anxiety for it in so many other ways right now. So Paper Boat in a sense, takes you back to an era that feels, oh gosh, this is back to my childhood. It’s that peaceful, happy, joyful time of my life. Now, in the case of Paper Boat because we roll a certain kind of consumer, we can read. And we know, you know, in the sense the Aamras is legible. I can read it. But what do you do with brands? Like in the case of bread itself, that was a great example. What do you do when icons, photographs, colors are the primary handle for a consumer to be able to pick. There are so many categories that are bought by the masses of this country and the factors that actually even the educated lot, like I have examples on failures, even at Unilever, when we were doing the top end shampoo range where we thought, you must can read, I had this huge argument with my French boss and he said, you know, we are launching this new range and it’s a range for care for colored hair. And this is going to be bought by the top notch women who color their hair for fashion reasons. And we would’ve imagined, of course you’d read, you can read on the bottle, it’s written shampoo, it’s written conditioner. Why should you not be able to read? And there was so much confusion in the market, retail was utterly confused and agitated and so consumers eventually, from some parts of the world, had to withdraw because we wanted a certain color synchronicity. And at the same time we thought that relying on the words will help consumers differentiate. And I’ve seen this, for example, even on L’Oreal that I now buy, I’m often confused because I’m relying on colors or I’m relying on the packaging structure and I’m confused like I am meant to buy a conditioner and I brought shampoo home or the reverse. It’s even tougher to use this understanding and solve for it via design. Isn’t it? 

Ashwini Deshpande 35:00 

True. So, there’s always an information hierarchy, and that’s something like, I know when we worked on Kurkure , I think we did that mapping as well. What is it that people want to know first when they’re making a decision? What is the first part of the decision? What is the second part of the decision? What is the third part? And for example, if I were to just go back to Kurkure, the first decision is that I’m gonna buy a snack. The second decision is that I’m gonna buy a certain brand. The third decision is that I want a certain flavor. Fourth decision is probably the size of the pack. So I mean, we have to literally map how you make a decision of buying a shampoo or a conditioner, whatever it is. And if you create that map, whatever it is at the top of that priority or the hierarchy, I think that needs to be conveyed by the packaging in no uncertain ways the rest can follow. So if you do this hierarchy very clearly, you know the priority of the consumer when she’s making a decision, then I suppose you can address and I think one of the examples again I can give you is when we were working with MTR on their packaging and of course it’s a huge range of products and in, you know, the innovation team is always at it. So there are newer products coming out all the time. So we said, how do you categorize and how do you understand the priority of decision making? And how do you then address that through whatever messaging or whatever hierarchy of imagery or illustrations or icons or mnemonics that you do. And we realize that while everything is about food, some foods are impulse buys, some are informed choices. Some are from the monthly list of stuff that’s like a staple. So in each of these cases, your decision making is very different. So if you’re buying ready to eat food, what is most important is the taste. If you’re ready to cook food, then the most important decision is, is the recipe authentic? Because you are gonna be cooking it and serving it. So it’s your reputation at stake. So if the recipe is authentic, whatever you do and serve on the table is gonna be great. That’s about ready to eat, ready to cook. But if you’re buying a spice, then you are more concerned about the quality and authenticity of ingredients. What is the source? Where did this chili come from or where did this cardamom come from? Or whatever that is. So if these are the concerns and decision making, then should those not be addressed for us before everything else? So that’s really how, I mean it feels like just a four centimeter by five centimeter kind of a playground, but there are so many small decisions and nuances in that which can add value. 

Vani 37:31 

Beautifully explained, Ashwini and I don’t think people understand that design actually requires all of this thinking. Most people think of design as art, actually, it’s very difficult to explain sometimes to clients also as to why you need a specialist in design for packaging, for example, that you know, somebody who’s just a great artist or somebody who’s just great creative or great graphic designer cannot necessarily do packaging because it is a science. It’s not about using four centimeters by five centimeters like a canvas and saying, chalo, let’s have fun on this canvas. 

Ashwini Deshpande 38:06 

Of course you can do that as well. So when you have taken care of all the logic after that, of course you have to build a layer of the creative layer.

Vani 38:18 

Yes. But coming to just that Ashwini, would you say that a small pack design, if I’m doing a Kurkure 2 rupees sachet or if I’m a bubble gum, then design has to work much harder. How do you also, like what design principles do you think would be applicable? Is design different? If I had to do, let’s say a two liter pack versus a five ml pack or a three ml pack? Shampoo, for example, is a classic. Remember again, from my shampoo days when we used to do sachets, there was this huge debate we used to have internally for premium brands. Oh, is the sachet going to pull the imagery down?

Ashwini Deshpande 39:00 

Shampoo sachet is a classic example actually because, I mean, I’ve worked on some shampoo brands as well and I know that consumers, when they’re buying a sachet. In their mind, they’re actually buying the bottle. So the imagery in their mind for the brand is the bottle which they see on their TVC or whatever other medium, however they are actually buying a sachet. So then what part of the imagery from the bottle do you actually bring on to that sachet, so that they get assured that, yeah, I’m buying the same thing, but what part do you remove? Because the space is so limited. 

Vani 39:32 

Yes. For example, we used to have exactly this debate, you know, that we are gonna show a side face and then we are gonna show long flowing hair on the shampoo bottle. So you are absolutely right. I mean, it is a struggle, to be able to figure out and that’s where the design hierarchy or the consumer’s hierarchy of making a decision has to be so clear. Because even in that sachet, the anti dandruff versus the shine versus hairfall versus blah versus blah has to be adequately clear. And the brand name of course has to be adequately clear. I’m buying Dove or I’m buying Clinic Plus.

Ashwini Deshpande 40:09 

Yeah. Yeah. So I wanna say a couple of things. One is that I, you know, this is, by the way, I’m so glad that we are discussing this because this is a point which is rarely given due respect by most clients. They believe that you’re gonna pack and then you just go expand or shrink for SKU adopts and therefore they don’t even want to pay fees for asylum for that. But the fact is that some of these can actually make or break your numbers, if you don’t get it right. So you can’t just shrink or expand what you do on your largest scale. 

Vani 40:38 

Correct. Correct. In fact, you have to think a lot harder. You have to think ground up yet again for a smaller one. 

Ashwini Deshpande 40:44 

I give an example of, when we are traveling, if you’re packing an overnighter or if you’re packing for a week, you know, so you stare at what you pack for an overnighter, you will pack only the essentials. There is no way to pack three pairs of shoes just in case you change your mind tomorrow morning, right? So the smaller packs are something like an overnighter. So you pack in only what is absolutely essential for that brand to convey that, hey, I am the same thing. The other thing is when they talk about the good design, you know, good design is not when you can’t add something anymore, it’s when you can’t remove anymore. So in a small pack, you try and remove all the elements till a point when you realize that, oh, if I remove beyond this, then it’ll no longer be that brand.

Vani 41:30 

Very nice. That’s a great perspective. And on this I also wanna talk about how important a role design can play even in the back size perception. For example, on Kurkure, my greatest challenge was exactly this. The whole category operates on paanch rupaye mein kitna bada packet mil sakta hai and you are struggling with the P and L. You can only provide as many grams. You can only do X bag size because that is the best that your P & L allows. And you have to manage the dimensions, the length, and width accordingly. Then you have to use design because design itself, how you use the fascia of the pack. And this is true not just of Kurkure, it’s true in the oil category. It’s true across all categories actually. Competing with brands that are literally neck and neck with you and the consumer is making a snap decision. She doesn’t believe that the two brands are very, very different, you know, either will do, and over there how you look on the shelf makes a huge difference right then in which brand gets picked up and put into the shopping basket. Now over there, design has to play a very critical role. Conveying, I’m a trustworthy brand, by the way. You’re getting great value from me and that comes from how the design itself has been done. And I used to say this, that look, design is not just about pretty graphics on the pack. We used to always have this debate on Kurkure on how one can use design to increase the black size perception in the consumer’s mind or when it’s hanging in the shop. Because how the design is treated can visually convey to the brain, ye chota pack hai, ye bada hai, is mein zyada value mil rahi hai.

Ashwini Deshpande 43:16 

I wanna add one more complexity to what you’re saying, which is online shopping. So online shopping has added a whole new complexity and challenge to how you design packaging. Because now you’re not sitting on the shelf physically, but you’re sitting on a screen with 20 other brands and the size is looking exactly the same. So no matter if you’re 250 grams or 500 grams, the image on the screen is exactly the same size. 

Vani 43:45 

And I was looking to this guy, one of the VC fund guys and he was saying that, you know, we pick up brands where the packaging and the size of the logo and how the pack graphics have been treated play a huge role in which brand will get picked up on the likes of Amazon, where almost everyone feels like a commodity, you know, when the consumer is scrolling through and almost all brands feel like a commodity, or either just making a decision basis the sponsored posts or basis the little ad that you see, which is running over there. Because you don’t have the patience to scroll beyond two scrolls of the thumb, you know? So if you’re looking for relatively low involvement, you make a quick snap decision. And he says over there, just the size of the logo and the standout value of the packaging actually determines which brand will get picked up. So he says, I’m very, very particular about having brands in my portfolio that get this. 

Ashwini Deshpande 44:40 

True. So yeah, that’s the new science now, in fact. So we’ve recently designed two brands, which are supposed to be just for the screen. I mean, of course they are there in real life and they will also go into retail and that of course will play its own role. But, it’s D2C first, and we work with two brands. One is called WickedGud, which is a brand of healthier staples like pasta and noodles and stuff. And another is Chayoos, which is also doing a large retail play now because during the pandemic, all this retail was shut, but people still wanted their tea. So package tea is their new game and we’ve designed both these considering that we want to actually stand apart on the screen. And if you take a look at those, after this conversation, you’ll know what I’m saying that they are designed for the screen and they’re designed to catch your attention and convey the message in the snap.

Vani 45:32 

I hundred percent agree. I think designing for the screen is an art in itself and it’s an evolving art and not everybody gets it. Like even founders don’t really know, even we as clients may not really know how we should evaluate the designs that come to us and to make sure of that. So a lot of times I say, Let’s do mockups. Let’s actually put this on a screen even if we have to create this, let’s do the mockup and see what it will look like because in the initial stages when you don’t have the luxury of bombarding people with ads or anything else, I mean, there are zillion brands that don’t get advertised ever, you know, a lot of confused marketing with advertising. Advertising’s a very small part of marketing. Actually the pack graphics are your best ad because that is GRPs that are yours. It’s your own asset. And if you are not making an ad out of that, then that is a blast for me. That is fatal disuse or huge opportunity loss for you to be able to stand out. 

Vani 46:29 

Yes, you’re absolutely right. I think being able to design for the screen is very, very critical. 

Ashwini Deshpande 46:35 

That’s the new emerging science in packaging design, if I may say so. 

Vani 46:39 

I can hundred percent imagine. Fantastic. This is great, Ashwini. I think we’ve had a great conversation. I thoroughly enjoyed the session.┬á

This show is sponsored by CherryPeachPlum Growth Consultancy. ­čŹĺCherryPeachPlum is a marketing-focused business consultancy that delivers business results. Get in touch via www.cherrypeachplum.in to get marketing solutions that work in the real world!

What is good design? Good design is everything. It’s a verb and a noun. Design is the secret to enhancing every aspect of the brand experience and driving conversion. Vani interviews Ashwini Deshpande to decode the what, why, and how of good design and how brands can craft smart design strategies to grow their business!

Learn about:-

01:51 – What is a good design? 

13:30  – Establish your visual identity

34:30 – Design principles for smaller packaging

43: 10 – Designing products for screen

Read the complete transcript below:-

Vani 01:29 

Ashwini, you have long years in design and you and I have worked together on Kurkure about, six, seven years back now. And I’m so glad that we did get the chance to work together. I had a fantastic time. I really love doing that project with you. But since we are recording this podcast here today, tell us for the audiences what is good design to you.

Ashwini Deshpande 01:51 

Yeah, so Vani that’s really like a big question and I think when I was a young designer about 30 years ago, I would’ve answered you like in a snap because when you’re young, you believe that you know everything, right? But, as I’ve had the opportunity to work on solving many problems through design or by design, I think this is one of the most difficult questions today for me. But I’ll try and answer as well as I can. So design is used in many different contexts. It’s a word and it’s a noun. So for somebody who’s on a life support ventilator is good design and for somebody who’s getting married, a good henna decoration on the hand is good design. So it’s such a wide variety. But I believe design is actually a systematic approach to addressing some overt or unmet needs.

Vani 02:43 

Unmet needs. It’s a systematic approach to addressing unmet needs. Very nice. 

Ashwini Deshpande 02:49 

Yes, or sometimes they’re overt needs they’re staring in your face, but they’re not being solved well or methodically. And I believe that usually is to be done by combining your insights by looking at what technology or materiality you have in hand, and of course the designers creativity and imagination to put all those things together. But all of this can happen well and should happen well when you keep the user or consumer at the center. So that’s really what I think design is. And we always say that good design is everything and good design is profit. So that’s really how we define design. 

Vani 03:25 And good design is never expensive either.

Ashwini Deshpande 03:28 

Exactly, you said it, you know, anytime somebody says, oh my God, your fees. So I say, you know what, good design is never expensive. Just go for it. 

Vani 03:36 

Lovely. So tell me, there’s so much you spoke about understanding what the unmet need is or who the consumer is. Wouldn’t good design also be a function of just a good brief? And are all clients adequately educated to be able to give you a good brief? Or do you sometimes get frustrated, do you work with clients or coach them into understanding what is a good brief to start with? 

Ashwini Deshpande 04:00 

I think that’s a fantastic point, Vani, because a lot of times if you begin well, you land well. And, so if there is a brief that actually outlines what the client is set out to solve instead of a brief that literally gives you a prescriptive we want you to do this. So yes, I think right from the beginning, our job has always started with, sort of helping the client team to figure out what is the right way to brief, what is the right brief. And the good thing about working with mature clients, MMC clients, many times there is already a method or process of formulating a trace. But the thing about maybe younger clients, startup clients, clients that don’t have a professional team, you know, we have to of course educate them on how to write a brief, literally give them frameworks or templates and say, you know, just fill this for us and that’ll make at least a starting point. So that’s one aspect, which is a good brief, which doesn’t say what they want and says what the consumer will benefit from. The other part of doing a good design project is educating how to give good feedback, a mature feedback. 

Vani 05:06 

Very nice. Very nice. So on that point, on mature feedback, I know Elephant is very big and has huge reputation in the industry now, but do you still face clients who have adequate money and who’ve given you the job and then when you do come back with the work, the comments are something in the zone of, didn’t quite like it. 

Ashwini Deshpande 05:31 

You are so right. People still do that, you know, because everybody’s creative and everybody’s got some opinion. There’s always a subjective opinion on anything that has got some aesthetic output. So yeah, unfortunately, even after all these years of experience, we do hear things like “maza nahi aaya, aur kuch karte hai”. I think the meaningful mature feedback with focus on the user, that is something that we really still need to bring into a conversation again and again. So anytime we get a feedback like, oh, I don’t like that purple, or let’s try red, you know, that kind of a feedback puts everything back into a space where we are forgetting the consumer or a user, or we are forgetting what is the landscape we are gonna go and sit inside or play inside. So I think all these things have to be brought into the conversation when a mature feedback is in question. 

Vani 06:21 

This bit about creative appreciation, about figuring out what is a good design is very important, even at the clients end, to be able to educate all team members. I remember even at Pepsi and at Unilever, or I mean, when there are large teams, there are always differing points of view, even within the team. Because it appeals to your aesthetic sensibilities and within the team also to be able to write feedback, which sort of brings together everyone’s point of view and is still not about just, you know, putting everyone’s point of view together, but is actually a rational piece of feedback that is based on the brief issue is itself a lot of education, I mean, it needs training. 

Ashwini Deshpande 07:02

And that also happens once you’ve gone through it a few times and seen how consumers are reacting to the decisions you have taken. So I think it’s a cycle and it’s a lot of learning. 

Vani 07:14 

Yes. So it’s not just consumer research, like I keep telling my clients, even now, you know, when we are reacting to design or even scripts or any piece of creative, of any kind, I keep reminding my clients that we must look at the brief first. If we are confident that we have a well written brief, we must first see if the design submission or the creative that has come back from the creative team, does it meet the brief. If it meets the brief, then we don’t have the right to say “maza nahi aaya”, you know, then we have to really ask ourselves if we’ve written the correct brief. So it’s not easy, 

Ashwini Deshpande 07:52 

It’s about the audience. It’s about the changing audience, because a lot of the time we take it for granted that we understand what they are about, but everybody’s evolving. So, I mean, if you think that if I’m doing something for children, I understand what they do, I probably have to really crosscheck and, you know, see what they’re up to right now. Do we know what the top games children are playing right now? That is the acid they’re exposed to. So all of that.

Vani 08:20 

Very, very nice. So tell me, since you are talking about children and I mean the kind of visual grammar or the kind of colors you’d use or the combinations you’d use would be very different for different kinds of audiences. Tell us a little about the psychology of color and design or patterns or iconography or even the kind of photography. How does psychology play a role in what you do? 

Ashwini Deshpande 08:44

So that’s actually one of my favorite topics, color really, you know, color, photography, illustration, typography, all these are tools for designers. And just because your toolbox is filled with all these, you don’t have to use everything at all times, right? So you have to be able to choose what tool that’s gonna be most impactful for your brand or your brand’s need at that point in time. And color is many times a very often, well known, but underutilized tool, I believe, because colors literally can make or break an emotion and if it is used effectively, impactfully, knowing exactly the kind of impact you want, it can give you amazing results. So for example, if you want to convey indulgence or luxury, there are certain colors, textures, metallics that you would use if you want to evoke taste. So if you want to just create a dual quotient, you can do that through color or photography. There’s a whole color theory, it’s scientific literally. So, for example, red is known to be a color that, sort of evokes more emotions neurally or black font on yellow is the most readable from the longest distance. So these are all theories that can be used. However, every brand won’t use black or yellow because then every brand will look the same, right? So you have to be able to figure out what is the uniqueness that you’re adding to your brand and what is it that you’re adding to convey a certain impact or emotion or effect. So all of these ideally need to be done methodically, knowing exactly what you’re doing and then of course, taking care of the acidic.

Vani 10:25

Very nice. In fact, speaking about color, there’s a medical brand that I worked with and one of the things we found speaking of color was that, you know, all medical brands seem to be operating in the blue, green zone. There is a good reason why they operate in the blue green zone because those colors make you feel calm. They make you feel clean. It’s a feeling of being sanitized, sterile, you know, all of that which is required in the medical world. And yet because that is so, all of the medical brands therefore also tend to look the same. So how do you borrow from that world and yet be able to stick out? So color can play a very, very interesting role in how you even position the brand in the consumer’s mind. 

Ashwini Deshpande 11:10

Vani, I have a couple of examples, if I may cite them. So one of them is, I mean, I wish it was our work, but it isn’t, I really admire somebody who took that decision. So if you see the landscape of water brands or drinking water brands. And there was a time when the whole landscape was, of course it was an emerging category and there were many players getting into it. And of course the global players had also brought in their brands in India. And everybody was blue because water is blue and blue is supposed to be also the color of clarity, color of trust and so on, right? And then, Bisleri took this bold stance of going tame. They said, we will stand apart, we will not be blue because Bisleri was a leader and as a leader, they could actually take that stance and they could actually differentiate and stand apart. And I think that was done very subtly and though still within the balance of cool colors, I think it was a very, very impactful, effective decision. And it’s sort of holding up well after so many years and I really admired that decision at that point in time, which was completely based on color. And the other decision then in that category that happened subsequently was Himalaya water. I was just gonna bring that down. So I thought that was so interesting for a category that would’ve played safe and remained in blue. Somebody said, no, I’m gonna change the landscape, let me do something differently and it worked for those brands. 

Vani 12:24 Hundred percent. You can’t miss those brands on the shelf. And when you think of water, actually for me, Himalaya, it’s so beautifully done. Pink is so beautifully done combined with the copy that they write, which is so romantically written.

Ashwini Deshpande 12:38

It’s the whole story, right? 

Vani 12:41

Yes. And then subsequently, a lot of other water brands have infused a lot of excitement into a category that is otherwise very, very functional. And there is very little to say about water, I mean, what do you say about water? Water is so basic that you can’t really, it’s difficult to attach the emotions to it. And now that we are talking about water, you know, there’s this global brand called LIFEWTR and that whole brand is now built only on design. You wanna buy that water bottle not for the water but for the bottle because it makes such a statement. Fantastic. Fantastic. This is a great conversation. So in this context, since we are talking about colors, Ashwini, tell me what role does the visual identity of the brand play in the brief that you are issued? Many times brands come with new packaging and these are the reasons why I need new packaging. But I don’t have a visual identity manual. I don’t have any guidelines to issue to you. This is what I was doing and I might be at a stage where I haven’t really matured in my design evolution. So I have little bits and pieces of what I might have done by way of ads and performance marketing. I might have released one ad somewhere. I might have done something on YouTube and now I’ve landed a lot of money and I’m looking for new packaging. So, tell us a little about how did you guide clients on what is the importance of a visual identity and do you also develop some bit of that as part of the end output that you’re supposed to give to them that might just be here is your new design for a new range of spices that you’re coming up. 

Ashwini Deshpande 14:23

Yeah, so I think, logo, of course visual identity is not only the logo, but logo is probably the most important part of visual identity. And then it comes with a whole lot of other guidelines. The color palette or the accent colors, the fonts, the secondary fonts and so on and also a manner in which you use it so they could be alignments and so on. So I think the logo really is like, if a brand is a person and brand should be a person, ideally. The logo is a face. What I say is that as human beings, we don’t have the liberty to choose a face, I mean, we are born with it, right? So you might be a very serious person, but you might be born with a face that looks like it’s always smiling or about to tell a joke and there is no match. But for a brand, you have the choice. If you are a brand that stands for something, your logo can say that and that’s your face. So, if your logo is not doing that for you, then it’s time to examine. So if you are a brand of tasty food and your logo is not saying that it’s time to do that or if you are a brand of nostalgia and if your logo is not doing that. Brand of goodness, brand of trust, brand of high fashion, you know, each of these will have a different face, right? So the logo literally is that and visual identity is something that gives the logo an entire system of being consistent, being recognizable, building recall, all of that. So I think visual identity is something that really is what is remembered usually. Beyond that, there isn’t much that a consumer is likely to remember. So it’s one of the most important aspects. In fact, you know, I take a course at Ashoka University and the students are so excited because of a lot of branding, actually the reality is that we consume messages more with our emotional brains than with our rational brains and what we consume emotionally stays with us for much longer. That goes into our long term memory and a lot of everything that we do with design, logo, colors, style of photography, et cetera. The reason why it builds trust is because it goes into our long term memory. So if we can do something with design that conveys the values of the brand as we wish it to be, then actually we are doing great service to the brand because, you know, decisions are made in a snap, all decisions are made in a snap, including what we call high involvement products, even if we were to buy a house or choose a partner to get married to. Actually, the decisions that are made in a snap are the best decisions because that’s when your emotional brains are putting together various things that the rational brains can’t even rationalize, can’t even put reason to. And I say this very passionately about design, that design helps the emotional brain put so many attributes together that you would never be able to list down as a rational human being. 

Vani 17:26

Ashwini I wanna ask you, since you spoke about the logo, what if a company actually doesn’t have a great logo and you are advising them on why it might be a good time to change, but changing a logo is not easy because after all, you’ve got a set business going. Even if that business is smallish, you are very, very scared. I’d be very scared as a founder to lose the consumers I already have, to lose that familiarity and to be moving to something new and to have to reestablish, Hey, I’ve changed, I’m now this. Do you also give some tangible handles to clients on how they could transition and can design, play a role over there?

Ashwini Deshpande 18:07

So this is a very important question and this is the one that I think we have to answer many a times because when we are called in for some kind of a design intervention, we can sense that the logo is not doing justice to what it could’ve done and the reality is that the promoters or founders of that, product or brand have had some success with it and therefore want to sort of hold onto something that has worked for them or that has had some kind of history or some kind of attraction with their consumers, their users. So changing a logo is something which, as you said, is not easy for many reasons. One, of course, the promoters, kind of believes in it, or their habit of it. And the other is, of course, the logistics of changing a logo on something that is tangible and quite large. So I can recall a time when we were changing the identity of Bajaj Auto and as you can imagine, the number of touchpoints that would have to change if Bajaj changed its logo. So, I think there were about 5,000 components of a vehicle that had the logo imposed on them. So you can literally imagine what the scale is apart from, of course, the hundreds of showrooms, the advertising, the stationary, communication, signages, factories and so on. So changing a logo is something that you really need to understand. What is it that it is going to do for you and what it is gonna do potentially? If you can put some total of what it could do for you in terms of growth, in terms of traction, in terms of likability, livability, if that can be sort of brought into the picture at the right time, then it probably is worth it. I mean, Bajaj did change its logo and because there was a message to be conveyed, it had to be done in the right way and the logo could do it. So it’s the right time, right place if you choose that. I think that’s really what could lead you. So many times like you said, people say that, oh, this logo has worked for us and people recognize us with this logo, so how can we change it? And my question to them usually is that, you know, how many consumers do you have right now? And for example, they say, we have a one lakh consumer base. I’m just hypothetically saying that. And then I say, What is your ambition? How many people do you want to actually have as your consumer base? And they say, oh, we could potentially be doing six to eight lakhs, easily. And then I say, so what that really means is the upcoming consumer base is far bigger than what you already have. And if you make a decision that is right for that potential consumer base, your current consumers will get it. In fact, they might even be delighted. So you are doing it for those seven lakh consumers who you haven’t managed to touch here, which are far bigger in number than the current ones. So you have to take that kind of a rational decision and say, oh, if it’s right for those seven lakh, I’ll manage to convince my current base of one lakh on how it is right to do it at this point of time. And sometimes promoters and founders don’t really have a complete comprehension of how their consumers or users look at their brand. Sometimes the consumers are absolutely delighted to see a brand change. They say, oh, I am changing and my brand seems to understand that, and therefore they have changed too. 

Vani 21:21

That’s lovely. So a lot of what you’re saying is about showing a huge vision to the founders, investors and helping them understand, look, your market out there could be so much bigger, there’s so much more for the taking. And if you were to make this one courageous move, then you could open yourself up to so much more business. I can imagine that’s not easy for anyone to move to, particularly when you don’t feel that there’s anything wrong as such. I remember on Kurkure itself, you remember Ashwini, when we were working on Kurkure, for example, you know, at that time it was a brand that was over 20 years old. And the challenge then, was, we are looking at a packaging makeover and yet I have this huge base of consumers. I can’t create any dissonance in their minds on who I am or which is the original Kurkure, also given the context of their being over 2000 localites, 2006 that are already present in the market and that looks very close to me. In that context, I have to be able to convince retail and consumers and bring a new face to the brand and be able to communicate adequately to them, look, I’ve changed, you’d love me now and here I am, and I’m still the old me, different from all of the rubbish that exist in the market. 

Ashwini Deshpande 22:49 

I can think of another example that we got the opportunity to work on some years ago and that’s also another very large brand. I believe today it reaches about 160 million households that started to salt and when we were invited to sort of look at not just the packaging, but everything else that could be corrected for the first moment of truth. And I believe of course, that was also a very nice vision to get a design company in with that, you know, let’s look at the first moment of truth and see what difference we can make. And we of course began with analyzing what their visual equity was and so on. And that was also the time when the positioning was changed from desh ka namak to desh ka sevak. So, you know, we said, how is it that we can infuse that? And what is it that Tata salt now needs to convey at that point in time? I mean, as you know, Tata salt is also hugely copied and there are so many spurious products and so on. The number of Tata salt lookalikes is uncountable. It’s beyond anybody. But then we looked at that logo and what it was doing is, it was, I don’t think anybody would recall now, because it’s been a few years, but the way Tata is written, salt was written exactly the same way, that is also because it began with an industrial production of salt, basically. And then that was packaged for domestic uses. So Tata is a strong, solid industrial brand, salt also was sort of written exactly the same way. And we said, what is it that we can get in this logo that will actually align with what we have to say or who we have to reach? And we realized that it was, while it was very trusted and solid and robust, it lacked the kind of humane touch. And you know how salt is used, in an Indian household it’s not about how many grams or it’s not about how many spoons it is to keep it, right? The person who’s cooking knows exactly how much. You don’t have to tell her how many grams and she may not be able to tell you how many grams, but she will get it right. So we said, where is that human touch? So that’s really what we did to salt. We made salt into a signature logo while Tata remained the trust, salt became the human part of it. And you can imagine the kind of hesitance to change a logo for a brand that reaches over a hundred million households at that time. But what it could bring in to the brand, which is the human touch, was so large in terms of impact that the team sort of agreed to that idea and went ahead with it. 

Vani 25:07 

Very nice. So Ashwini, both in the case of Kurkure, as well as Tata salt, I’m looking at the number of variants they have. Talk to me about brand architecture, because this is not something that most people get. And I see that there is a lot of stuff out there in the market on the shelves, which doesn’t talk to one another even though they come from the same brand. Because brand architecture fundamentally is about giving a tangible handle to the consumer to say, look this is all of these different variants. So let’s say for example, Kelloggs, if I have a strawberry variant and I have honey and I have chocolate and I have blah, blah and blah, blah. Yeah. How do you make sure via design that the consumer knows here is the width of choices I have available. I can pick any one of these. I think Cadburys does it brilliantly, for example, and yet you’re all a part of the same family and given the fact that today on the shelf, whether it’s on the shelf or even in the online world, there is so much clutter. Being able to get block presence, being able to own the shelf, having dominant shares on the shelf, having visibility on the shelf, stand out value on the shelf is so important that I can’t not look like a block. And within that block, I have to give tangible handles to the consumer to say, Here this one is yours. And for example, on Lindt, you know, I was talking about when I go to pick up chocolate, I must know, this one is a sea salt and caramel. This one is the orange. This one is the hazelnuts. This one is the blood. And I’m thinking in a hurry, I subliminally know that my orange one is with is, it has a dash of orange in it. But if there are more than two chocolates or more than one chocolate, actually that has a dash of orange on the design, then I could well get confused, you know, on Kurkure , for example, the reality is that in a market, the retailer would say, mere paas ek hara hei madam, ab hara mein bhi alag alag shades hoti hai. So, and there are only so many primary colors, you know, if I have 30 variants, then I need new shades. How do you solve that? 

Ashwini Deshpande 27:13 

Yes. So I think I can tell you about, of course Tata salt has also now expanded its architecture and we are at this color game right now. But I can tell you about another brand that we worked with or maybe a couple of brands. So firstly, yes, there are only a limited number of colors, but color, like I earlier said, is only one tool in your toolbox. So there are others, right? There is typography, there is illustration, there is photography and there is absence of all of these. You have the choice of not filling up the whole format also. So you can be, you can go on the other extreme and be minimalist and not use any of these tools in excess. So I always believe that if you’ve told the benefit of whatever it is that you’re putting out on the shelf and because we are talking about packaging, if the benefit is out loud, then I think color has no business to confuse anybody if the benefit is out loud. So, if you are able to convey the overall framework of benefit, then the color becomes a useful tool or useful addition to what your message is. I’ll give you two examples, like I said, one is, when we were designing for Britannia breads, now our objective always is to try and tell it like it is to the consumer who’s trying to pick something and should be able to make the right choice. She should never go back home and feel that, oh, I didn’t get it or this is what it is. So in bread we realized that there was a lot of confusion and misunderstanding and misinterpretation of what bread you are picking up. So there was brown bread, there was wheat bread, there’s whole wheat bread, there’s multi grain bread and so on. There were a whole lot of things that were potentially coming up in that category. The category was just sort of growing, but there were a lot of misconceptions. So people believed that if something is a brown bread, it is a wheat bread. And we realized that that is not so, it’s not a whole wheat bread necessarily. So we said we have to be able to tell the consumers what bread it is and let them make that choice, you know, let’s not be pushing that under the carpet. So we use that as a tool. We said our biggest message on the bread is, what it is. Is it whole wheat? Is it the whole atta? Is it multi-grain? Then which is multi-grain and so on. And that became the entire focus. Then it didn’t matter what color it is because the message was about what does this brand have inside? And so it became like a part of the whole visual vocabulary and so on. The other brand is Paper Boat. When we were designing Paper Boat, it was a startup that came to us nearly 10 years ago and said that we are gonna do ethnic drinks. And this is of course, a very interesting brand story because when you say ethnic drinks, you could position the brand in many different ways because it could go overtly Indian, it could go overtly traditional, it could go overtly regional and so on. But we looked at the user or consumer that it was intended for and we said, look, they are modern, young millennials. They are not looking for something necessarily that is in a traditional format. The point is not a traditional format, the point is the traditional content. So if the content inside is from the past, from nostalgia, the format doesn’t have to do that. So we kept certain things that came from the past, which is the taste, of course, of the product or the name of the product. So it is called Aamras and it is not called mango pulp. And that is what brings you that nostalgia and takes you back into the world when life was simple and things were not transactional. There was some joy and goodness in life and we wanted to bring all of that back through this brand. And therefore, of course it was called Paper Boat as well because Paper Boat, I mean, who hasn’t launched a paper boat in a puddle next to the house when they were children? So we wanted to bring that back. But the format of that was completely contemporary. And we said, if it’s called Paper Boat, we have to make it look like that, right? So we chose matt white which was a very unconventional choice to do because everybody says, oh, white pack in Indian retail conditions. How would it be and so on. But fortunately, the founders of Paper Boat were completely in alignment with what we were presenting to the consumer. And it was all about the consumer feeling the delight and joy. And if the shape, of course, was also designed to feel like you are holding a fruit and taking juice out of it. So it was ergonomically designed, it was literally like getting the juice out of a fruit, the cap was designed as a tribute to the shape of Paper Boat and so on. So all of that came together. So by the way, a packaging is not just a good logo or good colors or good food shot, it’s the whole experience and it’s the first moment of truth experience and also the second moment of truth experience. So if you can control all these factors and present something, I think then there is a winner.

Vani 32:10 

Fabulous. This is a beautiful example, and I think, Paper boat is like the poster boy of all innovation. In so many ways they broke so many codes. It’s a case study that I’m taking up in challenger marketing as well. I love talking about it. In the case of Paper Boat, it is the much urban elitist consumer, people like us who are able to appreciate those design sensibilities, who wanna go back to now nostalgia because we are also so, you know, without articulating it, we wouldn’t be willing to articulate it, I mean, life is very stressed and anxiety for it in so many other ways right now. So Paper Boat in a sense, takes you back to an era that feels, oh gosh, this is back to my childhood. It’s that peaceful, happy, joyful time of my life. Now, in the case of Paper Boat because we roll a certain kind of consumer, we can read. And we know, you know, in the sense the Aamras is legible. I can read it. But what do you do with brands? Like in the case of bread itself, that was a great example. What do you do when icons, photographs, colors are the primary handle for a consumer to be able to pick. There are so many categories that are bought by the masses of this country and the factors that actually even the educated lot, like I have examples on failures, even at Unilever, when we were doing the top end shampoo range where we thought, you must can read, I had this huge argument with my French boss and he said, you know, we are launching this new range and it’s a range for care for colored hair. And this is going to be bought by the top notch women who color their hair for fashion reasons. And we would’ve imagined, of course you’d read, you can read on the bottle, it’s written shampoo, it’s written conditioner. Why should you not be able to read? And there was so much confusion in the market, retail was utterly confused and agitated and so consumers eventually, from some parts of the world, had to withdraw because we wanted a certain color synchronicity. And at the same time we thought that relying on the words will help consumers differentiate. And I’ve seen this, for example, even on L’Oreal that I now buy, I’m often confused because I’m relying on colors or I’m relying on the packaging structure and I’m confused like I am meant to buy a conditioner and I brought shampoo home or the reverse. It’s even tougher to use this understanding and solve for it via design. Isn’t it? 

Ashwini Deshpande 35:00 

True. So, there’s always an information hierarchy, and that’s something like, I know when we worked on Kurkure , I think we did that mapping as well. What is it that people want to know first when they’re making a decision? What is the first part of the decision? What is the second part of the decision? What is the third part? And for example, if I were to just go back to Kurkure, the first decision is that I’m gonna buy a snack. The second decision is that I’m gonna buy a certain brand. The third decision is that I want a certain flavor. Fourth decision is probably the size of the pack. So I mean, we have to literally map how you make a decision of buying a shampoo or a conditioner, whatever it is. And if you create that map, whatever it is at the top of that priority or the hierarchy, I think that needs to be conveyed by the packaging in no uncertain ways the rest can follow. So if you do this hierarchy very clearly, you know the priority of the consumer when she’s making a decision, then I suppose you can address and I think one of the examples again I can give you is when we were working with MTR on their packaging and of course it’s a huge range of products and in, you know, the innovation team is always at it. So there are newer products coming out all the time. So we said, how do you categorize and how do you understand the priority of decision making? And how do you then address that through whatever messaging or whatever hierarchy of imagery or illustrations or icons or mnemonics that you do. And we realize that while everything is about food, some foods are impulse buys, some are informed choices. Some are from the monthly list of stuff that’s like a staple. So in each of these cases, your decision making is very different. So if you’re buying ready to eat food, what is most important is the taste. If you’re ready to cook food, then the most important decision is, is the recipe authentic? Because you are gonna be cooking it and serving it. So it’s your reputation at stake. So if the recipe is authentic, whatever you do and serve on the table is gonna be great. That’s about ready to eat, ready to cook. But if you’re buying a spice, then you are more concerned about the quality and authenticity of ingredients. What is the source? Where did this chili come from or where did this cardamom come from? Or whatever that is. So if these are the concerns and decision making, then should those not be addressed for us before everything else? So that’s really how, I mean it feels like just a four centimeter by five centimeter kind of a playground, but there are so many small decisions and nuances in that which can add value. 

Vani 37:31 

Beautifully explained, Ashwini and I don’t think people understand that design actually requires all of this thinking. Most people think of design as art, actually, it’s very difficult to explain sometimes to clients also as to why you need a specialist in design for packaging, for example, that you know, somebody who’s just a great artist or somebody who’s just great creative or great graphic designer cannot necessarily do packaging because it is a science. It’s not about using four centimeters by five centimeters like a canvas and saying, chalo, let’s have fun on this canvas. 

Ashwini Deshpande 38:06 

Of course you can do that as well. So when you have taken care of all the logic after that, of course you have to build a layer of the creative layer.

Vani 38:18 

Yes. But coming to just that Ashwini, would you say that a small pack design, if I’m doing a Kurkure 2 rupees sachet or if I’m a bubble gum, then design has to work much harder. How do you also, like what design principles do you think would be applicable? Is design different? If I had to do, let’s say a two liter pack versus a five ml pack or a three ml pack? Shampoo, for example, is a classic. Remember again, from my shampoo days when we used to do sachets, there was this huge debate we used to have internally for premium brands. Oh, is the sachet going to pull the imagery down?

Ashwini Deshpande 39:00 

Shampoo sachet is a classic example actually because, I mean, I’ve worked on some shampoo brands as well and I know that consumers, when they’re buying a sachet. In their mind, they’re actually buying the bottle. So the imagery in their mind for the brand is the bottle which they see on their TVC or whatever other medium, however they are actually buying a sachet. So then what part of the imagery from the bottle do you actually bring on to that sachet, so that they get assured that, yeah, I’m buying the same thing, but what part do you remove? Because the space is so limited. 

Vani 39:32 

Yes. For example, we used to have exactly this debate, you know, that we are gonna show a side face and then we are gonna show long flowing hair on the shampoo bottle. So you are absolutely right. I mean, it is a struggle, to be able to figure out and that’s where the design hierarchy or the consumer’s hierarchy of making a decision has to be so clear. Because even in that sachet, the anti dandruff versus the shine versus hairfall versus blah versus blah has to be adequately clear. And the brand name of course has to be adequately clear. I’m buying Dove or I’m buying Clinic Plus.

Ashwini Deshpande 40:09 

Yeah. Yeah. So I wanna say a couple of things. One is that I, you know, this is, by the way, I’m so glad that we are discussing this because this is a point which is rarely given due respect by most clients. They believe that you’re gonna pack and then you just go expand or shrink for SKU adopts and therefore they don’t even want to pay fees for asylum for that. But the fact is that some of these can actually make or break your numbers, if you don’t get it right. So you can’t just shrink or expand what you do on your largest scale. 

Vani 40:38 

Correct. Correct. In fact, you have to think a lot harder. You have to think ground up yet again for a smaller one. 

Ashwini Deshpande 40:44 

I give an example of, when we are traveling, if you’re packing an overnighter or if you’re packing for a week, you know, so you stare at what you pack for an overnighter, you will pack only the essentials. There is no way to pack three pairs of shoes just in case you change your mind tomorrow morning, right? So the smaller packs are something like an overnighter. So you pack in only what is absolutely essential for that brand to convey that, hey, I am the same thing. The other thing is when they talk about the good design, you know, good design is not when you can’t add something anymore, it’s when you can’t remove anymore. So in a small pack, you try and remove all the elements till a point when you realize that, oh, if I remove beyond this, then it’ll no longer be that brand.

Vani 41:30 

Very nice. That’s a great perspective. And on this I also wanna talk about how important a role design can play even in the back size perception. For example, on Kurkure, my greatest challenge was exactly this. The whole category operates on paanch rupaye mein kitna bada packet mil sakta hai and you are struggling with the P and L. You can only provide as many grams. You can only do X bag size because that is the best that your P & L allows. And you have to manage the dimensions, the length, and width accordingly. Then you have to use design because design itself, how you use the fascia of the pack. And this is true not just of Kurkure, it’s true in the oil category. It’s true across all categories actually. Competing with brands that are literally neck and neck with you and the consumer is making a snap decision. She doesn’t believe that the two brands are very, very different, you know, either will do, and over there how you look on the shelf makes a huge difference right then in which brand gets picked up and put into the shopping basket. Now over there, design has to play a very critical role. Conveying, I’m a trustworthy brand, by the way. You’re getting great value from me and that comes from how the design itself has been done. And I used to say this, that look, design is not just about pretty graphics on the pack. We used to always have this debate on Kurkure on how one can use design to increase the black size perception in the consumer’s mind or when it’s hanging in the shop. Because how the design is treated can visually convey to the brain, ye chota pack hai, ye bada hai, is mein zyada value mil rahi hai.

Ashwini Deshpande 43:16 

I wanna add one more complexity to what you’re saying, which is online shopping. So online shopping has added a whole new complexity and challenge to how you design packaging. Because now you’re not sitting on the shelf physically, but you’re sitting on a screen with 20 other brands and the size is looking exactly the same. So no matter if you’re 250 grams or 500 grams, the image on the screen is exactly the same size. 

Vani 43:45 

And I was looking to this guy, one of the VC fund guys and he was saying that, you know, we pick up brands where the packaging and the size of the logo and how the pack graphics have been treated play a huge role in which brand will get picked up on the likes of Amazon, where almost everyone feels like a commodity, you know, when the consumer is scrolling through and almost all brands feel like a commodity, or either just making a decision basis the sponsored posts or basis the little ad that you see, which is running over there. Because you don’t have the patience to scroll beyond two scrolls of the thumb, you know? So if you’re looking for relatively low involvement, you make a quick snap decision. And he says over there, just the size of the logo and the standout value of the packaging actually determines which brand will get picked up. So he says, I’m very, very particular about having brands in my portfolio that get this. 

Ashwini Deshpande 44:40 

True. So yeah, that’s the new science now, in fact. So we’ve recently designed two brands, which are supposed to be just for the screen. I mean, of course they are there in real life and they will also go into retail and that of course will play its own role. But, it’s D2C first, and we work with two brands. One is called WickedGud, which is a brand of healthier staples like pasta and noodles and stuff. And another is Chayoos, which is also doing a large retail play now because during the pandemic, all this retail was shut, but people still wanted their tea. So package tea is their new game and we’ve designed both these considering that we want to actually stand apart on the screen. And if you take a look at those, after this conversation, you’ll know what I’m saying that they are designed for the screen and they’re designed to catch your attention and convey the message in the snap.

Vani 45:32 

I hundred percent agree. I think designing for the screen is an art in itself and it’s an evolving art and not everybody gets it. Like even founders don’t really know, even we as clients may not really know how we should evaluate the designs that come to us and to make sure of that. So a lot of times I say, Let’s do mockups. Let’s actually put this on a screen even if we have to create this, let’s do the mockup and see what it will look like because in the initial stages when you don’t have the luxury of bombarding people with ads or anything else, I mean, there are zillion brands that don’t get advertised ever, you know, a lot of confused marketing with advertising. Advertising’s a very small part of marketing. Actually the pack graphics are your best ad because that is GRPs that are yours. It’s your own asset. And if you are not making an ad out of that, then that is a blast for me. That is fatal disuse or huge opportunity loss for you to be able to stand out. 

Vani 46:29 

Yes, you’re absolutely right. I think being able to design for the screen is very, very critical. 

Ashwini Deshpande 46:35 

That’s the new emerging science in packaging design, if I may say so. 

Vani 46:39 

I can hundred percent imagine. Fantastic. This is great, Ashwini. I think we’ve had a great conversation. I thoroughly enjoyed the session.┬á

This show is sponsored by CherryPeachPlum Growth Consultancy. ­čŹĺCherryPeachPlum is a marketing-focused business consultancy that delivers business results. Get in touch via www.cherrypeachplum.in to get marketing solutions that work in the real world!

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Ashwini Deshpande Co-founder, Elephant Design

About Marketing with Vani

Hosted by award-winning marketeer Vani Dandia, who has spent over two decades in advertising and marketing with Unilever, PepsiCo, Reckitt Benckiser, Henkel, BBDO and Leo Burnett.

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