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How to Shine in the Beauty Aisle

Beauty is such a fun market to play in, and a smart one to play in too. Lipstick and nail polish, though not considered true economic indicators anymore, are still some of the most stable consumer items, seeing healthy sales even through financial recessions. Beauty is a small-ticket indulgence that can be scaled up or down as consumers flow through lifestyle transitions.

Why is beauty so fun? Because it’s full of emotion. It’s vibrant. Moody. Dramatic. Playful. It has personality, because it exists to inspire. Celebrities are often called on to show off the products, serving as aspirational role models for glamour.

But strangely, as much fun as this segment is in terms of brand imagery and inspiring, dramatic advertising, the cosmetics retail aisle for these products feels disjointed and definitively uninspiring.  Why is that?

Part of the challenge is the nature of the packaging; beauty products come in small sizes that collectively form a busy mosaic in the aisle. Color cosmetics are wisely packaged to maximize view of the product inside; while this leaves little real estate for branding elements, it doesn’t mean the outer packaging can’t be better utilized.

Brands sold in beauty stores like Sephora have the benefit of displays that showcase their product offering. If the packaging isn’t cohesive the display still gives the product a brand halo effect, but once the product gets home it has to create that brand experience all on it’s own. Many products lose that brand-glow once they leave the store display. It’s surprising how many brands, even high-end brands, rely on glossy black, gold and silver for their structural packaging, taking on a generic “makeup” aesthetic.

At big box retail and drug stores, cosmetics live in close quarters and rely on hang tags and space-efficient bins. Brands are grouped together, but you’d be hard-pressed to know which brand you’re standing in front of because they all seem to rely on the same packaging formats and colors. The effect is overwhelming and disorienting, and it takes a concerted effort to find the product you’re looking for.  

Individual products fight for attention even among their own brand set. There are a few iconic products that are easy to spot, but this impact doesn’t flow over to the other products in the brand family.
Let’s consider some examples of cohesive cosmetic packaging that both build the brand and extend the brand essence into the consumer experience. These examples could easily translate to the retail cosmetics aisle. Let’s take four basic design aspects and consider the impact these can have.


Color blocking is a great way to bring cohesiveness to a brand, while still allowing room for sub-brand differentiation. 

Kaja does a nice job within a pastel color family; each item feels like a treat reminiscent of candy and macarons.
A well-defined color set gives a brand room to differentiate between distinct products, while preserving the style and emotion of the brand within a color family. The products all work together, making sense as a collective statement.


Unique, iconic fonts are incredibly effective at unifying a diverse portfolio of products. When it lives as a consistent banner on the front of each product, it has the powerful effect of organizing them in a visual pattern. This makes the brand set easy to view and easy to sort your way through. The brand name serves as the logo, a clean visual that is adaptable to any sort of package or display.

This is a smart way to knit together a sub brand that needs to express itself uniquely from the umbrella brand.


The way a product feels is yet another way pull together a portfolio. When the consumer uses your products, texture can create a subtle but powerful brand experience that feels consistent across a full range of offerings. Embossed logos, raised ribs or nubs, a soft-touch finish or a glass-like frost finish are examples of impactful, tactile sensory connections for a consumer. 

Within the same color scheme, variations in texture can work to distinguish product sub-brands while nicely retaining the over-arching brand feel.
The Nars logo acts as a unifying visual across a diverse range of packaging. The soft-matte finish on each product creates a distinctive tactile feel that users then associate with the Nars experience.

One of the easiest ways to bring brand energy to a product is with pattern. The mood of a brand can dance across the surface of a pressed-powder compact or a mascara wand, reinforcing the personality of the brand with every use. Specialty cosmetics leverage pattern beautifully, but few mass-retail brands seem to leverage this.

Milk provides a great example using all four powerful elements in their product design: color (in their case, white), an iconic font, texture, and a consistent pattern of graphics. Using a specifically curated theme, they reinforce their brand vibe even with alternate product formats and sub-brands.

Bringing it home

Specialty brands deliberately leverage these design features to create a high-end beauty experience, but these features are not exclusive to specialty products. Building a cohesive look in the retail aisle does require a harmonized effort, which is no small undertaking for established brands with dozens (if not hundreds) of active skus, but it would be incredibly powerful. Imagine connecting the shopper to the imagery and emotion of your brand as they peruse the aisle, drawing them in and reinforcing that emotional connection even as they use your products at home.

For a great example of cohesive retail-aisle cosmetic packaging, take a look at this vlog episode!

If you’re interested in bringing more design energy to your cosmetic packaging, let’s talk:


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