• Transform magazine
  • December 07, 2023


Five minutes with John Nunziato

John Nunziato Headshot

John Nunziato, chief creative officer at Little Big Brands, speaks to Transform magazine about branding in sensitive categories. He discusses what specific elements need to be on packaging for sensitive categories, and how designers have to think about brand package design when there are restrictions and regulations.

What is the most important thing to consider when branding for ‘sensitive categories?’

A couple important things to know when designing for highly regulated industries. First, if you haven’t worked in the category then you better get up to speed real fast. If you’re someone who wants total freedom of design then these aren’t the projects for you. As a designer you’re going to need an account manager to help work with the client and guide the project’s smallest details because they matter.

An also important (and hopefully encouraging) note about designing for sensitive categories: while it might seem restrictive, one could argue that even greater creativity comes when working within totalitarian brand guidelines as it requires out of the box thinking when a box really does, in fact exist.

Strict obedience to guidelines is key - do not deviate.

What elements need to be on packaging for sensitive categories?

What elements or non-elements is more the question. Typically you’re dealing with a lot of additional information and have to consider designing with them, or without. It's like cleaning your closet while someone is tossing clothes back in. More copy, more revisions and a changing market will help dictate the graphics you’re able to work with.

Look at pharma and healthcare for an example: as anyone knows having watched a TV ad for a particular medicine, the government requires product packaging provide comprehensive information. This translates to a great creative opportunity, where the label becomes a tableau for an information-dense but aesthetically pleasing product label. It can be done!

How do these categories within branding differ from others? What limitations are there?

This isn’t a cool one off logo for a skateboard company. There are particular categories that are highly regulated (another word for “sensitive”) and going into it, designers will be required to do their homework. For example, in the healthcare/pharmaceutical/insurance industries, both the HIPAA and ACA acts outline how marketers may and may not package their products. In finance, the SEC sets the standards through which designers follow and of course the alcohol and tobacco industries, once notorious for pushing life threatening products on consumers, now comply with strict marketing guidelines.

Also an added layer of complexity emerges when working with global brands. Regulations can vary from country to country, so working closely with the product’s brand manager is critical to navigate the landscape when crossing borders.

In a category which is highly dictated by government regulations, how do designers need to think about brand package design?

Starting with the tactical: a designer almost has to block out areas of the label shape or structure they’re working on, knowing these are the “no-go” areas. Honestly it’s a good exercise -- make gray boxes and realize that complicated graphics won’t be able to live in those spaces. Consider the consumer, legibility and the sensitive nature of what needs to be communicated quickly.

Things get even more tricky when you think about multi touchpoint campaigns where branding weaves through websites, mobile and social media. This consumer journey - and I’m serious about this - requires the involvement of design attorneys.

And as with any good lawyer, in difficult industries you learn to say something without really saying anything. Meaning we can’t make claims that aren’t totally approved.

There are companies, like ours, that know the inner workings of these categories. We like to think we act as design scientists when it comes to brands in sensitive categories; if we research and design with meticulous precision and attention to detail, innovative magic can happen.