Shelf motivation for those supermarket pack designs

Robin Mackie (Letters, DW 14 November 2002) puts an interesting perspective upon David Bernstein’s Private View (DW 24 October 2002), extolling the virtues of good packaging design on the supermarket shelves.

Mackie draws attention to the important relationship between the product on shelf and the environment it sits within.

However, in terms of consumer browsing he suggests ‘stimulating the shopper with a more invigorating floor layout that actually encourages the shopper to wander helplessly… and even get lost’. What does he mean? Comfy sofas? Foot massage? Or perhaps strategically placed vases of flowers while we stumble through a maze of feng shui-positioned displays? Surely not, I thought he was talking about a supermarket?

Unfortunately, here we the designers often shoot ourselves down in flames from our esoteric flights of fancy. Linear footage is key to delivering supermarket range and you just can’t beat straight rows for that.

Food retail is a rigorous business and relies upon a symbiotic marriage of many things, such as insightful buying, effective commercial selling, slick operating, clarity of offer and ultimately understanding what customers like and when they like it. It’s not just about good presentation and communication.

Designers generally do not think like customers and often forget design is not an end in itself, but one of the tools in the box to help retailers drive sales and clearly position their brand. We forget to holistically understand the client’s business or see things from the customer’s perspective. After all, customers are more interested in quality, value, range, freshness and good service than in design.

Design in supermarkets should not be an isolation of design disciplines. It’s more about the synergy between the brand, the environment, the merchandise, the people, the operation, the communication and their relationship with the customer. If we focus on this as designers we may get it right more often and understand our clients and their objectives better.

Mark Dickens



London SW18

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