They often lament the fact that they are brought in at a very late stage, when the product is named and the advertising is booked. A major food company, for example, might spend over a year developing a new product before making the assumption that a standardised packaging format need only be given a suit of colours, type and imagery within the space of a week and hustled out onto the stage of the supermarket shelf.
Alternatively, the package designer is given more time and then dismayed by the manufacturer’s demand that their carefully considered design have a ‘new’ flash plastered over it in a prominent place and in a size that rivals or even exceeds the name of the product and brand.
One graphic designer found that in her first year of practice she was frequently given the lowly task of designing ‘new’ flashes on packages designed by more senior designers. Her aim was to design the most appealing flashes, examples that were dynamic yet integrated into the design of the package as a whole, rather than hideous carbuncles on the face of the design.
In order to design these flashes that would draw consumer attention while not extinguishing a package design’s appeal, she began to assemble a diverse collection of ‘new’ flashes from products in the marketplace for inspiration and pasted them into a little book for ready reference.
Her success was such that a senior designer mocked up a little ‘Diploma of the New Flash’ in recognition of her achievement.
The habitat of the ‘new’ flash is the hardware store, the supermarket, the convenience store and the pharmacy. It is any shop where we are presented with a mass of competing products.
It doesn’t appear at the perfume counter, however, because it is crass and obvious. It is not about seduction or subtle promises.
The ‘new’ flash is ephemeral, often dropped after some months or disappearing when the product itself is dropped altogether. It may linger only as a glow on the retina when we encounter the package at a later date but we usually forget it was ever there.
The ‘new’ flash probably emerged in the 1920s. It is likely that its original source was comics while animation would have been another source for developments in its aesthetic. Designers have described it as a ‘violator’, something that disrupts the expectation of the horizontal and vertical grid.
While the ‘new’ flash is sometimes the final exasperating sign to a package designer that the manufacturer has a limited understanding of their ability to communicate effectively to consumers on their behalf, it does serve a set of useful purposes.
It’s a means of consumers saving face and allows them to be enticed by the new product, range or flavour. No you are not stupid for your ignorance of its existence – it’s new! Your boredom can be assuaged, it doesn’t matter that your life is routine – it’s new!
You’re jogging fewer laps around the park but – it’s new! On a more positive note it’s a means of consumers expressing their curiosity, their adventurousness and their pleasure in spending their money.
While there’s nothing new about the ‘new’ flash, the need to inform consumers that the different-looking package does indeed contain a promise of novelty in a sea of similar mass-produced products, justifies its flashy ephemeral existence.