Richard Shear: A New Way To Evaluate Branding and Package Design

How Evolutionary Search Patterns Influence Consumer Purchase Decisions – And How To Design For Them


Richard Shear is a professor at New York’s School of Visual Arts and teaches in the Masters of Branding program. He is Chief Creative Officer at Invok Brands, where he uses his consumer search pattern framework to help clients get an edge.

Invok Brands has conceived a new way to evaluate branding and package design that considers how consumers locate, assess, and select categories of products. These four consumer search patterns are universal and based on the history of consumer behavior – even before retail. This is the first in a series of articles that will help you find the technique that applies to your brand and use it.


Part 1: Let’s Go Back – How The Familiar Search Pattern Influences Consumer Decisions.

We are in the early stages of the most dramatic change in branding and package design in over a century. But brands can meet the challenges of a digital lifestyle as retail/e-tail blended environments grow – if they understand the four patterns consumers use to locate, assess, and select brands.

Successful search techniques have always been pivotal to the survival of our species, from the ancient skill of divining water to our instant ability to locate and purchase the newest hard seltzer. Innovation, invention, and evolving tools and technologies have refined human search patterns over millions of years.

Over a century ago, the self-service grocery store was an innovation that dramatically influenced how we located, assessed, and selected brands. Ever since, the purpose of retail package design has been to purposefully influence consumer choices at the purchase decision point, aka the moment of truth.

But branding and package design will need to evolve to meet consumers where they are today. To understand which consumer search pattern applies to your brand, follow our articles in the following four issues of GDUSA.

The first consumer search pattern we examine is called the familiar search.


Imagine you have been camped along a riverbank all winter — you’re thirsty — and you know that the river has predictably supplied you with fresh, clean water under the ice. Almost without thinking, and certainly without any hesitation, you go down to the river and drink.


This search pattern is predictable, safe and comfortable, and the outcome is reliable. It’s similar to buying everyday products like milk, paper towels, and toothpaste. In these categories, most of us are on autopilot as we fill our baskets.


These categories are characterized by an incredibly high level of trust and brand loyalty, like the baby diaper category, where 85% of purchasers typically select between one or two brands. There is very little search experimentation within this type of product category.


The visual characteristics of these brands are incredibly predictable, as they should be when searching for the safety of familiar products. Many brands share overwhelmingly universal imagery. In the baby diaper category, the visual equity of all major brands includes:

  1. Soft pudgy, baby-like typography for the brand logo, because it naturally supports the warm cuddly nature of product usage.
  2. Each brand typically owns one bright primary color, which is key in a category where most design architectures are pretty similar, and some brand differentiation is necessary.
  3. Package architecture that contains soft, gentle shapes. Again, this is predictable given the product category’s brand experience.
  4. Baby photography. Who doesn’t love the image of a cute baby? In this instance, one of the key visual elements that make the brand image safe, comfortable, and expected.


Illustration demonstrating the predictable visual brand characteristics of the diaper category



The challenge is for marketers and brands to sustain the historical let’s-go-back impulse in a blended retail environment. They can do so by using all the brand’s intrinsic visual tools of familiarity, warmth, and ease of connection. The brand must look like it belongs to the product category, yet it is unique enough to capture interest. The familiar-search brand thrives on intentional uniformity and should enhance and encourage that comfortable consumer connection.

And so be sure your bleary-eyed parent-consumer can find your brand as easily online as they can in the grocer’s aisle. Consider the best brand identity and package design elements for both. In the end, you’ll benefit from understanding how your consumer searches for your brand so they can find you.

Chart demonstrating how familiar search variables appear in design in the diaper category