designing for private brands


Private brand designers and strategists are faced with specific design challenges such as shelf awareness, the category span of the brands’ products, and presentation in-store versus online. In this article we explore these design challenges and give examples of how some private brands have successfully created brand equity through design. 

Shelf Awareness

The first question to be asked for a cross-category private brand is about shelf awareness. Is, in fact, shelf awareness the goal of the private brand? The answer isn’t an obvious yes, as you’ll see shortly. But, the answer will determine how the brand design will permeate the store, and how the brand’s products will present themselves in relation to each other. 

Let’s use Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s to explain. Private brands are ubiquitous in both grocery chains, in fact, a surprising 80 per cent of Trader Joe’s products are private labels. But you can’t tell, because they don’t apply umbrella branding. Product packaging designs don’t have the same look and feel, yet they express a consistent personality: fun, lively and bright, with a tongue-in-cheek style. 

Whole Food’s private brand design approach is exactly the opposite. Their label, 365, is intentionally recognizable. Products ranging from body lotion to ice cream sandwiches adopt the look, feel and messaging that marks them as a 365 product. 

A Case Study in Cross-Category Private Branding

In 2017, invok brands worked with Bed Bath & Beyond on a private brand initiative for their second-largest annual retail program, Back to School / Back to College. The July to September campaign included bedding, bath, lighting, furniture, accessories and storage. To create the brand design, we considered our client, and their ultimate end-user of these products 

The first time a student moves into a dorm room is typically the first time they need to outfit a space from scratch. They decorate it to personalize it, and discover a personal aesthetic while they establish a unique identity in their own space. Our private label brand took this unique experience into account by creating a design system that encouraged experimentation and discovery with bright color, bold typography and fun product in use photography. 

For the private brand to succeed for our client, we elicited some specific requirements. Our packaging and design would need to have the following. 

• Strong appeal because of its limited summer run 

• Highly recognizable identity across product categories 

• An appropriate tone for the college student and their parents 

• Detailed, explanatory packaging

Given the audience, and the short summertime retail window, this cross-category private brand campaign could be fun and less formal. You can read more about it at the My Private Brand news website and the Vertex awards website

Private Brands in a Single Product Category

When a private brand occupies a single product category it calls for a different approach than cross-category. For example, we inform our design strategy by conducting a deep-dive into the product category, and then determine what characteristics are the result of customer expectations. 

An insight we uncovered in the space of nutritional supplements and wellness in general was that consumers have evolved from understanding the ingredient they want or need in their supplement to being interested and knowledgeable about the type of relief it will bring them. For example, we used to identify Vitamin C and Echinacea for a cold – whereas now we might look to the label for an immune-boosting supplement. This kind of insight is valuable for a competitive product. 

Selling Private Brand Products Online

Now think about this. What if you can’t scan the wall of vitamin bottles in the store and pick one up to read the label – because you are online? How does that array of bottles present on your mobile device, and how can you easily pick out the one marked ‘immune boosting’? 

Here, our advice is to carefully consider the label, packaging, wording and photography for its online presentation. What looks good on the shelf isn’t necessarily optimized for a mobile device screen. Online, consumers prefer simpler branding in their packaging, imagery and messaging. 

Devon Luxmore-Rousset