Saswata Das of Almond Branding
How important is design in building a brand?
Brands are all about how the audience perceives a particular offering (product/service) and design plays a critical role in building and nurturing that perception. Most great brands are built over the years through great design. Hence, I would term design as the life-blood of brand building. Good design not only helps to catch the attention of your audience but also creates a visual hierarchy of messaging to convey the brand story and develops a consistency in imagery which is vital for brand building in the long run.
It is said the brand is not a mere logo, it’s a feeling. Do you think designers and brands in India look at a brand beyond logo, product, and packaging?
Very true, a brand is much more than a logo. A brand name and a logo can be a good starting point for building a brand, however, we want the consumer to not only see your brand but to experience it. It’s how your brand makes her feel is what is going to be remembered or spoken about.
I think the scenario has changed for the good in the last one decade and more and more brands do believe in this notion and its brand design agencies like us who have been helping them create these consumer experiences. Very recently we at Almond Branding designed the ambience of a new food outlet format called Cafe Amul. The idea was to make the brand come alive at the outlet and engage with the visitors rather than just putting luscious food shots all over the place.
How does design language evolve? How many generations do you go through with the same design language before you have a dramatic shift in a brand’s design language?
I am a staunch believer of the fact that the design language should never have a very drastic shift. But yes, it should definitely evolve to keep pace with the changing sensibilities of the audience to stay relevant.
The entire purpose of a design language is to promote greater brand awareness by making it easier for the audience to recognise different products or aspects of a brand as part of the same family. When the audience interacts with a consistent set of design elements be it colours, textures or forms, it helps in defining a perception about the brand which will not be the case if the experience is fragmented and inconsistent.
However, consistency shouldn’t be interpreted as monotonous or dull. The design language has to be smart enough to be able to be modified as per context and still play within its scope. If this principle is followed wisely and the language evolves over time, I don’t think there ever would be a need for a paradigm shift.
Where do you look for design influences? Do you look outside the consumer product industry?
The internet is an infinite ocean of inspiration. Infact we let our designers spend ample amount of time to be immersed in social media to absorb the popular culture and especially Pinterest is a great source. But, design inspiration can come from varied places. Sometimes stepping out of the office to get some fresh air might trigger an idea flipping through a design book or magazine might do the trick. Almond Branding truly believes that work has to play. So here it’s completely normal to venture into cross-functional zones to get an inspiration. We encourage each of our team members to pursue something of interest – can be painting or music or anything – because again inspiration can flow from anywhere. We have regular sessions or workshops around these topics to boost inspiration.
One key element of Brand Design is to understand the users and the consumers for whom the design is being made. Hence, we encourage visits to retail spaces to just observe consumers interacting with products and services. Watching the latest play in town or visiting an art exhibition is also useful. Ultimately there has to be a connection between the people and their culture.
What unique characteristics of the Indian market have you observed? Do you think creating personalised packaging for a diverse populace like India is a nightmare?
Not really, it depends on how smartly you use the concept of personalised packaging. The diversity is at best a good challenge that can be knocked off with the right use of technology. With the advent of digital printing in packaging, the possibilities will be infinite.
In fact, in future personalised packaging will become one of the easiest and cheapest ways to build strong relationships with the consumer. Consumers will not only fall in love with the packaging but also trigger conversations and spread the love on all user-generated media.
Is the Indian market a challenge because it is so cost-sensitive?
India is a cost-sensitive market and definitely, that poses a lot of challenge for brands here. Most of our clients are from the FMCG world and they are under constant pressure to reduce packaging costs. However, we love challenges simply because challenges mean there will be innovation. While on one end, the brands expect the best in class packaging solutions from expert packaging design firms, on the other hand, the entire industry is on a constant lookout for newer, cheaper packaging materials to control costs. We have to be always ready to adopt the change and deliver solutions accordingly.
There’s a rapid move towards replacing buttons with touchscreens. Will this trend be visible in mainstream packaging design as well? How can packaging technologists be sensitised to design and aesthetics?
Well, the goal of developing smart packaging is to be able to deliver convenience and the right information to the consumer and help her in the buying decision. All devices, machines and physical assets are getting smarter by the day. Why should packaging be any different? The marriage between the digital media and packaging can help us here. Adding QR codes to packaging is already a reality, where consumers intending to read more about the product can scan with the ubiquitous smartphone and feel empowered.
I remember reading about a breakthrough done in 2016 by scientists at the University of Sheffield who developed electronic screens that can be used for paper-based packaging. While this particular technology might take its sweet time to be developed and implemented into large-scale packaging here in India, what I can see for sure that any digital technology that increases the interactivity with the consumer, will be explored and developed and there’s no stopping that to enter our daily lives.
What is the future of packaging design?
The expectation from packaging is only going to rise: it’s not good enough to just store a product. Consumers are expecting the packaging to talk to them, excite them, make their lives simpler, provide the right information and while doing all of that, also do the least harm to the environment. The future of packaging design lies in addressing these demands of convenience, fun, delight and sustainability all at once.
How did you go about setting up Almond Branding?
Almond Branding was born out of the vision to enrich brands with brand nourishment. We believe that brands are like humans and hence need nourishment at right junctures, for them to grow to their fullest potential. A start-up requires brand nourishment to make the brand foundation stronger so that a flourishing and successful brand can be built on top of that. An established brand too needs brand nourishment from time to time to rejuvenate and to remain relevant to the ever-changing consumer sensibilities. We believe in creating the intelligent design that not only looks good but works well in the market. Intelligent design is a design for impact – one that wins consumer’s trust and love and also positively affects the balance sheet.
It has taken years of hard work to win the trust of our esteemed clients like Amul, Dabur, 3M, Kellogg’s, ITC, Marico and many others. Almond Branding is an embodiment of years of experience gathered and the passion to deliver world-class design solutions to brands.
What are Almond Branding’s strengths?
With a passionate team of planners, strategists and creators and an experience of more than 10 years, Almond is the leading branding and design agency in India. Specialising in brand creation, brand strategy and development, we combine branding and design thinking to deliver disruptive brand design solutions. We study consumer behaviour and perceptions, built on consumer insights and research extensively to develop product packaging that engages the audience. Each product type, colour-coding, and representation of key benefits and USP holistically align and gives the brand an edge over the competition. That’s the power of intelligent design. With a strong focus on start-up branding, we also help them in brand building.
Do you think India is a tough market from a design point of view? Why? What potential have you anticipated for Almond Branding in such a market?
I like challenges and try and look at ways to turn it around in our favour. The same goes for design in India. Yes, there is a lot of visual pollution – the lack of beauty and visual appeal, that exists all around us. And we are so used to it, that most often than not it's accepted as the norm.
Thanks to some brands – international ones like Apple, who have demonstrated how simplicity is the key to great design and few homegrown brands like Paperboat, which have really raised the bar and force others to rethink and re-energise the industry. Yet there is a long way to go for great design sense to dawn upon India. And that’s the exact opportunity that we at Almond see in such a fast-growing and evolving market. We think it’s our responsibility to help Indian brands deploy designs of international standards. We are here to spoil our clients with absolute stunning design solutions so that great design becomes the norm. We like the benchmarks being set super high for ourselves. It requires a lot of convincing and perseverance, but we love that jig.