Anything but tea

Chateau Rouge Teas

I saw this nice set on  lovelypackage, and I immediately clicked to see larger images. What is so interesting is that I thought it was a line for perfume or accessories,  and to my surprise this sleek set of packaging was made for loose leaf teas. I love the striking imagery and beautiful type, but something didn’t sit right with me. I look at this and can imagine many things inside…basically anything but tea.

I believe there are certain visual cues people are used to looking for to help them recognize products within packaging. Cereals have bowls filled to the brim, or piles of fresh grains, snacks have clear windows or chips artfully displayed on the front. In the case of food, there are certain visuals that are an industry standard for packaging. You show the food on the box, you use splashes of color, you reference a food’s origin, etc, etc.  It’s been built into our culture to understand this typology of visual cues that indicate, “you’re lookin’ at food”.

As a designer who’s worked on snack and beverage packaging I can understand and see that it’s a constant battle to differentiate yourself from a crowded market (and aisle) while remaining true to your product. Chateau Rouge Teas, pictured above, definitely differentiates, but it also  alienates itself  from the food and beverage industry. When I found out it was tea, I tried to make the jump from diamond rings, peacock feathers and watches to tea…but I just couldn’t get there.

I so wanted to believe.

I even started to squint to see if their logo somehow hints to some visual cue of tea or it’s origins, but came up with nothing.  So then I went to look up their company, and here’s some of their brand messaging found on their website:

“Born out of a tradition of the finest food and drink, coupled with quality design and a spirit of adventure to take you to places you have not yet been – Chateau Rouge is a journey of discovery and sensous enjoyment.”

In this statement I see a few key brand attributes that should be reflected the Chateau tea line: adventure, discovery and sensous enjoyment. Sensous enjoyment, they totally nailed. The packaging in all sleek, and black, it even conjures up the word “sexy”  in my mind. Unfortunately, I see no adventure, and no discovery. I read this statement and then I see this packaging, and I just wonder, how did these designers link this imagery to the tea line? I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt and assuming there was justification for this direction of depicted luxury items, but if you have to explain it to everyone, would you even consider it successful?

I don’t feel like it’s necessary to fulfill every single brand attribute for each product extension. I do feel they should have the understanding that someone looking at a black box with beautiful imagery of luxury items might mistake these for perfumes instead of bespoke teas. I mean, if these were sitting in a store, I’d have a hard time distinguishing between the tea box and this tea light (via dieline)

chateau rouge tea

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I think with any design it needs to be created for the people who are going to use it. Making food and beverages easy to recognize should be a must-have when creating package designs. I think Chataeu Rouge Teas are beautiful but lack the communication that says, “hey, you’re about to drink some sensous teas”. I get sensous, just not tea.

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3 Responses to Anything but tea

  1. Ann, Great insight that, in packaging design, striving for beauty can’t be at the cost of usability and common sense. I wonder if it’s true for all types of design that we sometimes get tempted to design for ourselves and occasionally forget the end user?

  2. annmaryliu says:

    I think that that temptation comes into play far often than we really like to admit…or recognize, for that matter! Check out Tropicana’s story
    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/23/business/media/23adcol.html
    such a passionate backlash! I guess sometimes, when designer’s don’t pay attention to the people who use their stuff, passionate people will make their voices heard. It’s heartening to see Tropicana listening.

  3. Peter says:

    I’m worried that Tropicana could be other side of the pendulum in that marketing can be about listening to your customers and giving them what they tell you they want whereas design is about observing your customers and giving them what they really need but didn’t even know they wanted. A compromise in packaging design might be to evolve the brand gradually:

    http://www.rebrand.com/page.php/id/295

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