What is your design taboo?
Or, a lost-treasure exercise to get your product noticed in a competitive market

2 min read
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Three years ago, a friend took me to San Francisco's Japantown. I had never been to one before. 

We stopped at a big grocery store, and I headed straight to the tea shelves. I wanted to buy genmaicha (green tea mixed with roasted rice). As I faced a sixteen-feet-long shelf full of green tea packages, my eyebrows started to raise. I counted eighteen different producers of genmaicha. 

Which one should I buy?

I tried to narrow down my choices: a label should be only in Japanese (which I don’t speak) and I can afford a price higher than average. Even after filtering through the options with these parameters, I was left with a few choices. As my friend approached me asking “How are you doing here?” – read “Are you buying anything or?” – I picked the most beautiful one (in my opinion).

Was that tea good? Yes. Was it the best one out of the entire row? I will never know.

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. . .

We find ourselves in similar situations from time to time: staring at a gazillion options to choose from, in a hurry, not always having deep knowledge of the product category itself, and sometimes not speaking the language written on the labels. 

For every product in every market category, potential customers face the same difficulty choosing among hundreds of brands. Tech, retail, leisure, investments — it does not matter. 

What is a shelf placement test?

In a branding agency, when you work on a packaging design for a physical product (imagine, any food item — cereals, juices, oat milk), you start by reading a creative brief that the marketing team shares with you. One section there is called “Product Positioning.” It outlines the target audience, desirable perception in relation to competing brands, price group and — what is important for us in this article! — the planned location on a store shelf.

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