Packaging can be beautiful

I know a lot of skeptics are anti-marketing, and I know several who claim they deliberately avoid ‘branded’ goods. All well and good, but personally I embrace a little bit of luxury now and again, and nothing embodies this sentiment better than really beautifully designed and manufactured packaging.

Packaging can be as much a part of the emotional interaction with a product as the actual contents. The buying process is enhanced, firstly by the aesthetics of the packaging on the shelf, secondly by the weight and feel of the object in your hand, and lastly by the thrill of paying a little extra for the luxury of great packaging. You know it’s wrong to pay for the outer shell, but wrong often feels right. Eat a lot of cake and see what I mean.

Packaging design is a long-practiced art (yes, I said art, as in ‘discipline’ but also as in ‘nice to look at’) and I considered making this post a justification of it, perhaps in an attempt to knock some of the hard edges off the anti-marketing skeptics. But I don’t think I need to, because I simply don’t believe there is anyone out there, skeptic or not, who doesn’t have a favourite item that isn’t a strictly rational purchase, or who doesn’t occasionally think “ooh, that looks nice” just based on the colour, design or shape of a product.

Instead, I am presenting you with some of my favourite packaging design. These are items I buy not just for their contents, but for the whole shebang, and are either proper classics, or destined to enter the packaging hall of fame.

Kikkoman’s Soy Sauce

It’s quality soy sauce, but it also comes in the best bottle ever. Squat and happy, the jolly little fellow just begs you to pour a liberal dose of his insides all over your rice.

Molton Brown

Getting ‘smellies’ for Christmas is brilliant. When are you ever going to spend £20 on a bottle of bath foam for yourself? Unless you’re the Queen (or a member of Queen, apparently they own more of London than Her Majesty), you aren’t going to fork out silly money for posh bubbles. But Molton Brown packaging is divine. You could always refill the bottles with cheap supermarket-own-brand stuff once it’s all gone…

Imperial Leather Soap

This is ‘just’ a bar of soap, but when I was a kid it was the height of luxury, and the joy of a new bar has endured. Firstly, it comes in a box which is the same shape as the bar inside. The actual soap is wrapped in gold foil, and when you remove that, the brick-shaped bar inside has a matching gold sticker in the centre which doesn’t come off when the soap gets wet. It’s just fantastic, and a cheap thrill to boot.

Gu Brownies

These are a relatively new product on the UK market, and as well as being really delicious chocolate brownies, are packaged so beautifully it’s almost OK to spend the £5 asking price. The brownies are small and individually wrapped, and placed neatly inside a cunningly-lidded black matte box. My luxury-o-meter goes off the chart but my environment-o-meter is sadly flaccid. I buy ‘em anyway.

Diet Coke in a glass bottle

Glass bottles have enjoyed somewhat of a renaissance lately, which I welcome. In a pub, the advantages of the glass bottle of Coke over the horrid draught stuff are obvious (the syrup to water ratio, the carbonation, etc), but for home purchasing it’s a really silly vanity. Nonetheless, it’s one I indulge in because there’s nothing better than getting home on a hot day and cracking open a hand-sized, ice cold bottle of Diet Coke, even though it cost more than an entire 2 litre plastic bottle.

Those are a few of my favourites. Indulge me with yours.

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  1. I’ve never had a problem with branded products. I just realize that just because something comes in a pretty package or has a particular brand identity that such things may not be true, and that product may not be the “best” I can get for my dollar.

  2. I prefer function over form. Any soy sauce will do, shower gel over soap, smellies are crap gifts, make your own brownies (you can add your own ingredients in the proportions you prefer) and coke is Satan’s wee. OK lager is Satan’s wee but coke is a close second.

    Jack Daniel’s bottles are my one weakness. The form is easily identified as being different and not just another whisky even though there are smoother shorts to drink. Marmite is another preference but I maintain that it is the flavour rather than the form that motivates me. The form is merely easy to recognise.

  3. @hoverFrog:
    “The form is easily identified as being different and not just another whisky even though there are smoother shorts to drink. ”

    I’ve never drank shorts.

    Wine is probably my biggest weakness. I always go for the label over the content. Just last night I picked up a bottle simply because it had artwork from Ralph Steadman. Haven’t drank it yet. Will post drunken review later in the evening.

  4. @hoverFrog: “Jack Daniel’s bottles are my one weakness.”

    Me, too! There are other whiskeys that are smoother (Maker’s Mark, which also has an awesome bottle), but for some reason I really, really like the Jack Daniel’s bottle.

  5. I like good packaging as well, and sometimes I have to prevent myself from buying things like food based solely on appearances.

    One thing I’ve noticed is that, quite often, expensive specialty products are the ones that have the best packaging. Obviously if the product costs more, there’s more money to spend on design (or, at least, less skimping there). And, I think this is one area where organic foods have an advantage on regular foods.

    For instance: In the UK, the Duchy Originals organic food that Prince Charles patronizes all comes in very nice, elegant packaging. The same applies to half of the stuff on the shelves at Whole Foods here in the States. We don’t need to get into the whole debate as to whether or not “organic” guarantees that ANYTHING about that product will be better than the standard version.

    I’d just simply like to point out that it makes sense that a “brand” like organic would require a bit of primping in the packaging department…it all seems to be about creating affective relationships with the consumer in order to justify the same higher cost that allows them to spend more on package design.

    (This post was written in haste, so I apologize if it doesn’t make as much sense as it did before I wrung it out of my brainmeats)

  6. I made a hundred childhood moonbases out of discarded L’Eggs containers.

    Nothing beats the Japanese though… even the candy looks like it was sealed in place by the same machine Iron Man uses to get dressed.

  7. Olives and capers, oil and vinegar. For some reason, these have the greatest little bottles – octogons, spheres, cones, hexagons all made out of glass in various shades.

    Man, I feel like having a salad…

  8. The only thing I even recognized was the coke bottle.

    One question leaps out from you post.

    It must be answered.

    Why would you order diet coke in a pub?

    I’m a sucker for a well designed wine label. If it looks like a person designed it instead of a committie I will pick up the bottle and look at it. If they include a story on the back of the wine I will probably buy it.

    I also like the packaging that incorporates rough paper, and string. I’m a sucker.

  9. @marilove: That never occured to me. Both absolutly reasonable. Just such alien concepts that they are hard for me to even think of.

    Okay let me re-phrase the question.

    Why would you order diet coke?

  10. @SkepGeek:
    Not 100% sure if Apple’s designs qualify as ‘packaging’, but yeah, I agree. My iMac is probably the most visually pleasing thing in my house, next to ME of course*. In my opinion, Apple has done the best job of branding products in the history of marketing. I regularly hear people refer to their mp3 player as an iPod, regardless of make and model.

    *Just kidding. I’m actually quite ugly.

  11. Definitely agree on Apple products, especially the iPod. My MacBook Pro is shiny, and that’s part of it’s appeal, but there’s also a solid argument to be made justifying its cost on quality alone.

    The iPod, though… definitely buying an “experience” (the package) over the device quality. Better-quality devices — in terms of audio quality, capacity, etc. — are had much cheaper. But the iPod is so darned Pretty (especially the old Nano and the new Shuffle).

    Hard to call all of that “packaging”, though, because the beautiful design is part of the function of the devices — they’re jewelry as much as music players.

  12. I love me some good packaging. I like to buy DVDs, and like it even more when they come in sweet packages! This usually involves multi-disc packages that have lots of parts that fold out, or slide into and out of each other (or open up). Faux leather, tin, whatever — a good movie/TV show + some awesome packaging = bliss. I even like to SMELL them.

    This is one reason why I still buy DVDs even though I could easily download them. I’m sure digital delivery is the way of the future, don’t get me wrong, but there is still something to be said for the tactile pleasure of a good box.

    But, don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of DVDs in terrible packages, as well.

  13. I’ve gotten to the point now where I will only buy tuna that is in a can with a pull top. I can’t think of anything else.

    I agree with the sentiments toward Apple packaging.

    I detest the plastic strips on CD’s and DVD’s. Packaging gone wrong IMO.

  14. @Darren:

    I’ve owned 3 iPods in my life. And I have to say there is nothing like holding a brand new one in your hand right out of the box. It’s beautiful. It really is.

    I, too, love packaging. Sometimes I find myself outright lying to my husband (and myself) to justify buying the prettier product.

    I was just commenting on the Makers Mark bottle this weekend when my husband bought one. I love the red wax. I also love the Knob Creek bottle.

    I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve been tempted to buy cheap booze just because the packaging was gorgeous. For some reason, I tend to give in when the price is higher than when it’s lower… maybe that’s the skeptic in me saying that if it’s pretty and cheap, it’s probably little more than pretty.

  15. @Elyse: I thought it was red plastic masquerading as wax. I’m usually a little drungk when I start playing with it and peal it off the bottle but I think its plastic

  16. I think Hover Frog is on to something. Both liquor and perfume come in easily identifiable fancy shaped bottles. Although I rarely use either, many colognes (euphemism for Men’s perfume) and a number of liquors come in distinctive and sometimes attractive bottles. The point is to get your attention, although I am unlikely to pay $64 an ounce for perfume, but I might pay that much for a premium Vodka in a fancy bottle. Durnett just made a comment that modifies my position, it is not just liquor or perfume bottles, it is glass bottles in general that have the most distinctive shapes.
    I think there are a lot of exceptionally labeled items in prettily printed and fancifully folded cardboard containers, especially overpriced candy. However, the packaging is not usually what convinces me to buy a product.

  17. I make my living selling the art and jewelry that I create and I’ve spent a lot of time considering the packaging that I use for my jewelry. Obviously I think pretty packaging can be really great for a good product but it can’t hide a bad product for very long.

  18. The actual design of an Apple product would be called product design, if we wanted to get technical here, but certainly the boxes that our shiny ipods and iMacs come in qualify for package design. In their packaging and product design Apple stands out as being simple, sleek, and aesthetically pleasing, unlike other a few other computer companies out there…

    If you’re interested in package design, I suggest you take a look at Probably one of my favorite design blogs on the web, but I’m a design nerd.

  19. Nothing at all comes to mind – aesthetics have never been a big deal for me (if you looked at my house or clothing, that would be painfully apparent). Cleanliness, neatness, yes – aesthetics, no.

    Also, the OP has a comment about soy sauce on rice – apparently this is a really ‘white’ thing to do. All my Chinese friend sneer at the idea of soy sauce on rice (as they gleefully dump ketchup on everything).

  20. @marilove: Also, now I’m all excited, because I’m visiting friends for dinner tonight, and they generally have a full bar, including Jack Daniels and, usually Maker’s Mark, though sometimes they also have Knob Creek.

    Anyway, I heart good whiskey, regardless of the packaging!

  21. I’d like to belatedly point out that Teek is having some issues accessing the site, which is the only reason she has yet to participate in the discussion!

  22. @marilove: I agree with you on that. I love whiskey. Coming back from Kuwait we had a layover in Shannon Ireland. We were allowed to leave our rifles on the plan and hit the bar. Some of us hadn’t had a drink in over a year. I had my first Irish Whisky. A triple shot of Bushmill’s. That is a wonderful and smooth whisky.

  23. I remember there was a study not that long ago about kids being given the same carrots both in a regular package and a McDonald’s bag, and how the trend indicated that they thought the McDonald’s carrots were better.

    I wonder if there have been similar studies done with other products, and how much of an impact packaging has on our perception of taste and quality. Like, whether price, perceived price, design, etc each have individual effects or some sort of total effect on perception of how good or bad something tastes. It’d be very interesting either way.

  24. @Expatria: There has been at least one large study on the effects of price to the preceived taste and quality of wine. The more expensive the wine the better it was preceived but when blind taste tests were conducted the results changed. People couldn’t tell the difference between a $1000 bottle and a $4 bottle. Makes me feel a lot better about my wine purchases of late. I usually shoot to spend less than $10 on a bottle.

  25. Welcome back Teek, glad to see you managed to navigate your way home after SitP on Monday ;) As I mentioned then, and as has already been mentioned a few times over in this thread, Apple Apple Apple. So shiny and nice. I’m not sure I’d buy their products purely on basis of the pretty, but it’s definitely a bonus.

    And yes, I’ve actually caught myself wanting Gü products (how utterly wrong does that phrase sound? Say it to yourself – Gü products), even though I don’t like the food contained within the gorgeous packaging. It scares me sometimes.

    As for the booze aspect of this thread, I have been known to keep the more ornate bottles even when the main reason for buying them has long worked its way through my system.

  26. I once bought Moxie tampons just for the cute packaging, but they’re the kind of thing that once you’ve bought it and have the little tin, you can just keep it, reuse it and don’t need to buy it again.

  27. Apple doesn’t even sell products, they sell a lifestyle. Look at their most recent slew of bullshit (read: commercials). It’s a layed back, young, hip guy, contrasted with a stuffy, suited, uptight, slightly overweight, middle aged square. The way the Macs/iCrap look is an extension of this. The only thing Mac has going for it is Vista.

  28. I don’t know if this counts but I’m a sucker for a restaurant with a really clean, minimalist design. If I’m trying to figure out where to eat and I see such a place almost always head straight for it regardless of the type of food served there.

    As far as store bought products go, I really like milk in glass bottles. Plus, returning the bottles to the store and getting my dollar back gives me an absurdly overblown sense of accomplishment.

  29. Since “not-branded” is a brand I don’t have trouble with any of that, in fact, I like being branded myself. Skeptic, for example, a great brand.

    Coke is my favorite brand. Ranks just above “greasy American diner.”

  30. @Gabrielbrawley:


    Did you just call me “pretty and cheap”? I can’t even begin to tell you how offended I am! I am not “pretty and cheap”. I’m “fucking hot and cheap”.

    Get it straight buddy!

    For that you owe me 3 bottles of Makers Mark. 1 for you, 1 for me, 1 to test the plastic/wax/rubber shit on the top while we share the bottle. Deal? Thought so.

  31. I am a sucker for sample packs. Little miniature versions of the full product in nifty little boxes? Very hard to resist.

    I have in the cupboard a box of 5 different grades of maple syrup, each in a little glass jug about 2 inches tall. (That was actually pretty cool, as I could do comparison sampling of the flavors to find out which grades I liked – surprisingly I found I much prefered the stronger flavor of the “low grade” stuff to the grade A stuff we had been buying) I have several sets of tea samples that came with each tea in it’s own tiny little tin. One of the few makeup purchases I’ve bought in recent years was a burts bees sampler pack – I never even got around to trying that one, but the packaging was adorable.

  32. @EdWood:

    I even like to SMELL them.

    That’s a very weird thing to do, and I should know, I do it a well.

    Love me my Book of the Dead edition of The Evil Dead, as well as my Evil Dead II in the collector’s tin.

  33. @Mazlynn: Oh yeah, I’m a sucker for sample packs, too. The packaging is definitely what gets me, as most sample packs I’ve bought tend to sit around looking pretty for a long time before I use them.

    I like things that come in tins. Altoids, Adagio tea. There’s a seller I’ve bought from on Etsy who packages her jewelery in cute little tins stuffed with color-coordinated tissue paper and the outside has a beautiful sticker decorated with her logo.

  34. With the exception of the Kikoman soy sauce bottle, which gives the practical advantage of keeping the soy sauce from dribbling down the side of the bottle after use, every item here screams “BAD VALUE” to me.

    The iPod, though… definitely buying an “experience” (the package) over the device quality. Better-quality devices — in terms of audio quality, capacity, etc. — are had much cheaper.

    I couldn’t disagree more. The iPod has an exquisite user interface, and that’s worth a hefty premium. UI != packaging.

  35. I feel a sudden and overwhelming urge to purchase every product mentioned in this thread.

    Big Lebowski DVD. I’ve bought it three times now. First time was the regular edition, then the ‘deluxe’ version in the bowling alley shaped box, and just recently, the “bowling-ball” edition. To my knowledge the film itself has not changed a bit in the decade since it’s been out.

  36. I adore interesting packaging. It’s a guilty pleasure, I suppose. Novelty candy and even the camel cigarette boxes they’ve been making called ‘art packs’ are pretty gnarly. It’s hard for me to throw them away because they’re just so rad, but of course cigarette boxes don’t hold up too long.. unless you spend way too much on the ones in those tin cases (which I’ve been guilty of doing a couple times. But I re-use them for odds and ends like buttons and whatnot.)

    OH, and the best CD packaging I have ever seen is by far all of George Hrab’s albums. My boyfriend had ordered them all at the same time and when they came in the mail I was giddy at how awesome they looked.. and also because I love opening packages (OMGWEEE). I sat there running my fingers over the bumpy texts (you know, like when you stamp designs into leather, only with the paper it shows through on the other side to be kind of popping out at you) and noticing a bunch of simple details that I seem to notice more of every time I look at them, yet there’s not ‘too much’ going on. I’d say his packaging is definitely the most creative and visually pleasing I’ve seen thus far.

    Way to go Hrabster

  37. Late to the party! I have moved and am waiting for a ‘real’ broadband connection. Meanwhile, my mobile broadband won’t let me access the site. I am currently back in my old place picking up some stuff though, so have real access for a few days.

    To business! Firstly, thanks Rebecca for posting my post for me and making the photos all nice and centered which I wouldn’t have thought of. And also for finding a much nicer photo of a coke bottle.

    Soy sauce on rice: I love it. A bit of stirfried chicken and broccoli with a liberal dose of Kikkoman’s. Mmm. So, tonight, I was in Chinese restaurant, and the menu had that weird chicken stuff with minced prawn with a crab sauce dish. Underneath it, on the menu, was typed “you think this sounds weird? Imagine what turkey with cranberry jelly and bread sauce sounds like to a Chinese person”. Oddest menu ever. They also had an entry about pancakes, claiming they were a “Chinese Taco-way”.

    Ipods: the packaging itself is lovely. My iPod video came in a black matte box which I have kept, it’s really nice. The actual iPod though, hmm. I’m very out of love with it. I find the UI horrible, and I can only change the volume from the song screen, which is a tad dangerous. Also, it takes ages to scroll to a song and invariably it speeds up and I overshoot. It’s impossible to be precise whilst, say, jogging.

    Rant aside, it looks nice. But that’s not enough and my next mp3 player will not be an iPod.

    Little samples: I love them! I love miniature versions of anything. Big things made small.

    There’s LOADS of research on the effect of branding, packaging and price on taste and value perception. Now we’re in my area of expertise :D

    But sadly it’s 11pm and I’m really freaking tired. I may have blogged about it before though, I will try and dig some links up tomorrow. If not, I will write something specially, it’s a really interesting area (marketing psychology). Honest.

  38. MMmm.. marketing psychology…

    At night I usually listen to the audio book for ‘The Mind of the Market’ by Michael Shermer. I highly suggest you check it out if you haven’t already.

  39. I’m the same way about the Jack Daniels bottle.

    The Godiva chocolate liqueur bottle is very pretty, too.

    Part of why I keep buying Oil of Olay face cream is the little tub it comes in — translucent white/clear tub with a smooth and oddly curvy shiny black lid.

    I use a face powder that I use partly because it is extremely fine and it’s one of the only ones I’ve found that’s pale enough for my skin tone, but the box is why I’m not really interested in trying new ones.

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