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Parsons the New School for Design: Analyzing Trends Product Mood Board Fall 2014

THE CHALLENGE

A product’s package serves more than as a brand’s salesman. How can we extract cultural codes and deeper consumer narratives from the words and symbols it uses?

WHAT I LEARNED

• Presenting a trend mood board. • Using semiotics to find patterns


The assignment asked us to shed assumptions and learn just from the details. We were challenged to catalog and decode a package’s language, then assemble a concise and graphic mood board that told a compelling trend story, with the product as its centerpiece.

Language

Trends

Antonyms

Codes

Use a thesaurus to build linguistic taxonomies. CONNOTATIONS.

List key words and phrases. SEMIOTICS.

Visuals

Synonyms

Consider logos and imagery. SYMBOLOGY.

What current cultural patterns emerge? THINK: CONTEXT.

Binaries reveal unexplored territories. “NOT-NESS”.

What broader narrative is being told? THINK: OPPORTUNITY.

Going in with just a product... A breakfast food: What macro cultural narratives does it capture?

Bob’s Redmill Steelcut Oats: How does the brand and product’s packaging seek to address these codes?


This was NOT a marketing exercise.

It was about the physical process of mood boarding, of seeing the product as a cultural artifact, not mere promotional material. Don’t give us a brand pitch.


The first workshop was spent on the basics we’re asked to simply Collect key Language and Visuals from the packaging. The goal was to avoid framing our product’s meaning in our own biases and generalizations.

The key words which immediately stood out to me included “Organic”, “All Natural”, and “Award-Winning”. It seemed that the Language used sought not only communicate the health benefits and quality of the package’s contents, but also to justify the brand’s superiority over rivals.


Embracing the Inductive Process

Starting only with no jumping to

what’s there conclusions!


Mood Board Materials

Multi-colored post-its and Sharpie pens.

Visuals - mere marketing fluff or artifacts of macro trend narratives? Does an image only serve to occupy blatant branding space, or could it suggest wider cultural phenomena? Separating the two possibilities from each other was especially critical when pulling the packaging’s graphic details.


Utilizing Pinterest

The perfect platform for building a visual inventory pinning related images and products to get ideas flowing.

Does help

including humanize

a the

The Man Behind the Brand

friendly portrait of brand in consumers’

“Bob” eyes?


Now it was time to Connect the dots - running thesaurus searches on all the key words I’d accumulated. Both Synonyms and Antonyms helped expand words’ linguistic connotations - thus serving as essential building blocks for later trend decoding.

Key words had been written on blue post-it notes; their Synonyms were given a different color. The process of laddering up linguistic analogues side-by-side helped reveal important code shifts - that is, how a word’s past meaning / connotations have markedly tranformed over time.


Thesaurus.com

An invaluable resource - my go-to site for forming my semiotic analysis.

Sticking

the

post-its

on

-

beginning

to

Mood Board Beginnings

craft

a

visual

layout.


[...] the anything comes

from

understanding knowing what it

of is

rather than what it is. We know about clean, only because we know about dirty. We understand the concept of “processed” food because we have a framework of “fresh” [...]

shows how we understand what is going on by splitting the world about us into pairs of

Virginia Valentine, Semiotic Solutions6

Understanding the role of linguistic polarities in meaning-making.

Hearkening to Virginia Valentine’s words of wisdom, I also made sure to collect the Antonyms of the key words pulled. These were written out on post-its of a different color.


Considering the “Not-Ness”

Similar product, different messaging: What does the brand not want to stand for? How does “Bob” differ from “the Quaker Man” in the eyes of consumers?

Trends: Past vs. Present

Exploring the “not-ness” of one of my key codes, “Authenticity”.


Too often, a firm falls victim to the marketing mind-trap: thinking what it’s selling are goods and services, when what’s actually being “sold” are the signs and meanings of its brand. The last step in the analytical prodess was to Curate Trends from key packaging details, then Codes from the trends.

What is the current state of the cultural story hinted at by the product? To answer this question, searches were run on key language pulled to uncover what overarching social Trends they could be capturing. For a brand, such insights are invaluable - they help them craft long-term strategies which are more sustainable than quick-fix solutions


Consumer is King

Inspecting how people craft their own cognitive roadmaps from brand messaging - how can firms translate motives into favorable behaviors?

Debunking Myths

Understanding codes by their historical context what do trend shifts hint at where they’re heading?


Final Four Codes

“Authenticity”, “Civility”, “Slowness”, and “Simplicity” - current codes with strong brand value. Tradition trumps modernity, but “realness” must be justified.

What separates Codes from trends is that the former is an affirmation of moving away from something that’s losing cultural relevancy. Brands which position consumers as their North Star in strategy planning need to be especially aware of such code shift signals - how else can they remain emotionally connected to their customers?


The Codal Shifts

Examining code legacies - new meanings for the new consumer, new opportunities for brands.

Final Mood Board

Key words and visuals, synonyms and “not-ness�, trends, codes... grouped and layered, side-by-side.


Slowth - The New Growth  

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