Talal Khan (EC) looks at what makes some products stand out in crowded displays.
What makes a visual design talk?
When I looked at this stand, the Starbucks card jumped out at me. And the last one I noticed was Visa’s. When I showed this photo to friends and colleagues, they had a similar reaction. So I started thinking about the factors behind what we notice first in this picture. Why is this more crucial than ever? 15 years ago, a consumer waiting in line at a USPS would look around the store, and maybe talk to others around her. Today, she would probably use those two minutes to catch up on her Facebook newsfeed. Less time she spent looking around, plus more brands trying to speak to her equals a greater need for clutter-breaking visual design.
So in my search for factors that make visuals talk, I was looking for generalizable criteria that we could then apply in various settings and catch consumer attention. I wanted to assess visuals for print/online campaigns, evaluate packaging artwork for consumer goods products, think about how to choose brand logos, and so on. As I thought about the card stand, three factors jumped out:
Colors & contrast
Color, to me, was the most critical factor here. The Starbucks card created a bold contrast with its juxtaposition of green and white. There was a risk of its dark green background being muddled with the stand’s blue, but the white cup saved the day. Compare this with the subtle gray of Visa. Three elements within the card are gray: the background, the ribbon and the pictured card. So while this card looked beautiful when I studied it in isolation, it didn’t catch my eye from afar – as it lacked sharp differentiation/contrast between its elements.
Thought experiment: For the Apple card, replace the blue background with a black one. Would this new card stand out more than the blue version? My contention is that it would, as the black version creates a stronger contrast with USPS’ blue card-holder, than the blue version does.
I measure simplicity here by the a) number of elements on the card, and b) the degree of intricacy of these elements. Starbucks’ card is minimalist, almost austere. That made it beautiful for me. On the other end of the spectrum, we have Darden’s card (the fifth on the stand). It has at least four different pockets of text, all in different sizes and fonts. I wonder if a consumer would actually spend more than five seconds looking at a card, any card. Because if she doesn’t, she certainly will not read any of that text. I’d keep design simple, to stand out in an increasingly cluttered world.
On a side-note, did MasterCard’s card appeal more to you than Darden’s? It did to me, even though the two are similarly complex. I attribute that to better color in MasterCard- the maroon diagonal creating a contrast to gold.
Retailers have long used product positions on a shelf to prioritize brands effectively. Manufacturers who want their products placed in an end mode, or at eye level on a shelf will pay a visibility premium for these positions. This is because consumers are more likely to look at, and therefore pick, products in certain areas of shelves.
However, in this context, I am unsure if the position of the gift cards impacted what we saw first. At first, I thought Starbucks caught my eye because it was placed in the top left – where my eyes would go when looking at an image, given that’s where I start reading English. But if that logic were true, why would I notice the Visa card last? What do you think?
So this was my take on why I saw Starbucks first on the card-stand. What factors matter, in your opinion? Take a look at this photo of a retail shelf. Which brands catch your eye, and why? KitKat, Listerine or Twix?