A packaging design process that's enhanced with consumers co-creating design narratives offers possibilities for deeper consumer engagement compared to traditional marketing-focused research methods, according to study by Aalto University and Metsa Board

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July 13, 2023 (press release) –

Metsä Board has participated in a study on how to collaboratively create narratives for co-designing packaging with Aalto University, as it is valuable to find out how the design process could be further improved, and stories are an impactful tool in marketing. In this context the narrative means whatever a package says to a shopper – through words, graphics, material, and size.

The ambition of the project was: ‘How do you engage consumers in the packaging design process?'. 

The project concentrated on developing and utilising co-design methods to involve consumers in the packaging design process. “The objective was to look for effective methods and tools that allowed consumer input to create sensorially engaging packaging to enhance consumer experiences. These concepts were investigated for innovative food and cosmetics products with the use of four packaging design cases”, said Ilkka Harju, Packaging Services Director, Metsä Board. 

In a traditional design process, there are four steps: design brief, design research, packaging designs and packaging prototypes. This process was enhanced with the consumers co-creating design narratives, and consumers were also consulted at several stages during the design process. Consumers were chosen from appropriate product user target groups using remote workshops. “Preparation for the workshops was very important as the participants needed to be engaged, relaxed, open-minded, even though they did not know each other”, explains Heidi Uppa, Aalto University.

Various sensory stimuli were used to inspire, and to create feelings and stories which were then analysed by the consumers during narrative workshops.

The designers and the consumers were brought together with the prototypes to further discuss the ‘consumer point of view’ at the co-design workshops. As an example, for the cosmetic gift packaging case, there were three design sketches and prototypes, and the consumers were excited to be involved giving insightful feedback.

Key findings

The online narrative workshops worked well, and the participants shared their personal stories. Based on the participants’ feedback, the experience was very positive even though the narrative workshops could have been shorter. Narrative methods offer possibilities for deeper consumer engagement compared to traditional marketing focused research methods.

Based on our findings and learning, this kind of design process is particularly effective and suitable for established companies interested in improving the customer experience. Some challenges may come with the time spans and needs of the designs as there are more stakeholders and complexity.

The comments from participants were overall constructive: “The experience of the workshop was positive, the work was efficient, well-paced and engaging” and “The brainstorming was done with a good spirit. The pleasant atmosphere encouraged participation and good humor with unfamiliar people. There was stimulated creativity and a sense of belonging.”

“The consumers were more engaged and motivated to participate in the prototype testing after successfully going through the previous project stages: narrative and co-design workshops. Consumers were happy to participate and influence the design process. Participants felt they were listened to, and some of the ideas they had suggested were visible in the prototypes. It was easy to participate and gave a feeling of belonging. This improved their confidence – some participants even mentioned it was an empowering experience for them. Brand owners were also interested in the new approach as it gave a different perspective and provided useful information for their decision making”, concludes Leena Yliniemi, Product Management Director, Metsä Board.

Partners in this study were Aalto University Prof Masood Masoodian, Heidi Uppa and Ia Ahl.

Packaging prototype testing was done by Package Testing&Research LTD using Value Toolkit® evaluation.

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