Packaging in an international environment

Guest article by Chris Penfold, CEO of packaging consultants & designers Design Cognition

Packaging has to perform a number of highly important functions. You need to account for these well before a pack ever lands in your customer’s shopping basket. Over the years there have been a number of varied definitions of packaging and all have a slightly different spin, but one thing is for sure and that is that an effective package will need to ‘contain, protect, preserve, transport, inform & sell.’ There are significant implications in all of these areas for packaging in an international environment.

From a structural point of view, the rigours of international transportation can put additional strain on a pack from shock, vibration, compression & crushing from all-manner of transport modes, but also from aggressive environmental conditions such as temperature, moisture, gas (oxygen & carbon dioxide) and attack from vermin such as rodents.

Culture and symbology on international packaging

From a graphic point of view, there is no doubt that the visual aspects of packaging design are critical to shelf standout & success. You need to consider all sorts of cultural needs. The most obvious one being language. However, there are others.These include colour, image and local barcoding requirements.

There are certain legal obligations for a manufacturer to provide health & safety information, instructions for use and increasingly, in some markets, requirements on disposal & recycling with all of the appropriate (often local) symbology.

A good international example appears in the healthcare sector. It concerns ibuprofen. In France, you are can legally administer much more to a child, than anywhere else in the world. This is based on mg per Kg of body weight. So, if you simply translate French text for use on a UK product, your pack will be illegal. This would be the same in any other market for that matter.

Another example is that of  ‘Red Crosses’. These represent ‘First Aid’ and ‘hazard’ symbology in the west. However these have strong religious connotations in some countries. The Arabic world for example has the “Red Crescent” rather than the Red Cross. The symbolism of the cross would be inappropriate to an Islamic audience.

The impact of colour on pack

Colour has a strong effect on human behaviour and feeling. There cultural linkages vary with time, place, as well as culture. Humans react differently to each colour, so choosing the correct colour for your product is extremely important. The colour purple, for instance, has many connotations of royalty, nobility and spirituality. Some markets however, (particularly East Asian countries such as Japan) associate purple with death. Therefore use it with extreme care!

These issues can be a ‘minefield’ for any pack developer, but luckily can be avoided by seeking suitable advice from relevant packaging translation specialists. Give us a call if you’d like to know more.

Chris Penfold

CEO, Design Cognition – packaging consultants & designers