You’re in the grocery store after work. You look for the same "curly hair" shampoo you’ve bought for months, but when you go for the familiar bottle, you find three new, infuriatingly similar curly hair shampoos to choose from. It’s a familiar scenario, driven by companies who hope that you’ll buy more products if they’re tailored to your "type." It’s exactly what Nivea, the German skincare brand, wants to avoid.
Nivea began with just one product, their iconic white cream, back in 1882. Personal care was in the midst of a revolution. The market for cosmetics—once the realm of the aristocracy who could afford such perishable luxuries—was broadening to include the average girl, and Nivea’s inexpensive cream led the way, with its Bauhaus-designed font and smart blue tin. Over the years, though, Nivea eventually fell prey to the pressures of a competitive market. By 2010, they had 1,600 products on shelves in 170 countries, with hundreds of different logos and packaging designs in play. "Unfortunately, the design wasn’t developed in a uniform way," explains Nivea’s Ralph Gusko. "We lost consistency."
By 2012, the company’s board was set on a major brand overhaul. They tapped Swiss designer Yves Béhar and his product design studio fuseproject to tackle the sweeping job. Béhar immediately honed in on the company’s strongest visual asset: its Bauhaus-era logomark, which hasn’t changed for a century. "Our early thinking was to reduce the complexity of the current form languages, edit the numerous packaging types to a minimum set and eliminate the proliferation of logo variations and typographic expressions" he explains. He cut away any erroneous iterations of the blue dot and focused in on a single, simplified mark. In printed form, it’s a flat blue circle outlined with a thin white band. On buttons and caps, it’s slight embossed and appears at an angle on every redesigned bottle so that it tilts toward the customer from the shelf. And it works: The new packaging, with it’s simplified label and bolder, high-contrast look, takes three less seconds to find on a shelf—a crucial metric, given how fickle customers are in the drugstore.
Over the next three years, Nivea’s hundreds of logotypes will be replaced by a single, simplified mark. Little by little—so as not to risk consumer confusion—the old iterations will fall away. "The graphics are evolving over a period of three years," explained Béhar in a recent interview with Co.Design. "When you have thousands of women using that product every day, you need that kind of recognition. One month they’ll go to the supermarket and see a slight change, the next month they’ll see another slight change." A bit like a graphic exfoliation.
But cleaning up Nivea’s graphic identity was only half the battle. The other half concerned packaging—and the sheer scale of Nivea’s global market proved to be both a challenge and opportunity. Béhar’s team designed a bottle that, by nature of its shape, is both lighter and stronger than its predecessors. Thinner walls and a stronger structural shape means that the new bottles use 15% less plastic without losing durability. Another major factor was the size of the pallets that carry Nivea products to the store: The bottles were designed to pack tighter on the wooden pallets. Every eighth bottle is one that wouldn’t have fit before, and Béhar says the changes will save at least 12,600 pallets per year and 585 tons of carbon emissions.
"It doesn’t happen very often that we, as designers, get to work on things that are on supermarket shelves in 170 countries and affect 500 million women," Béhar says. "So if we change the amount of plastic used in each bottle by 15%, if we simplify the logistics, if we can put more of these bottles on a pallet, then we’re in a much better place."