Inspiration Behind the New Packaging Designs: An Interview with the Designers

Little's coffee new plastic-free recyclable packaging design

2019 sees the launch of our jazzy new recyclable packaging which couldn’t have been a bigger hit with Little’s coffee fans. Bright, eye-catching, colourful patterns along with the elimination of plastic from our packaging entirely means we are ready to take Little’s to the next level in 2019.

To see what the packaging design inspiration was, and how the new look came to life, we caught up with the designers behind the rebrand – our very own Will & Caroline Little.


Why did you decide to rebrand?

There were several catalysts to the rebrand. Our main challenge has always been, and probably will always be differentiation in the market. We are a tiny (compared to our competitors), independent company, but we share shelf space with some of the biggest food companies in the world. We know our products taste great and they offer our customers something above and beyond what our bigger rivals offer, but we have always had the challenge of communicating that to our customers. Basically, we need to look better, more interesting and different, while at the same time looking familiar and not alienating. That’s a tough task.

In every supermarket there are a wonderful selection of independent challenger brands across many categories. Just look at what Pip & Nut have done in nut butter, or what Oatly, or Rebel Kitchen have done in dairy alternatives. These brands promise the customer something different, something more interesting than their conglomerate competitors. In instant coffee though, this hasn’t happened. Almost without fail all the instant coffee on the supermarket shelf comes from a handful of very large producers, and most of it is a bit dreary, boring and predictable. We wanted to shake things up and lead with quality.

We started by asking our customers what they thought of our current packaging. The problem with consumer research is that people generally fall into two categories. There are the ones who want to shout about how much they love what you do; the true brand advocates. These guys massage your ego but struggle to be critical because they haven’t imagined how things could be improved. Then there are the ones who “think” they’re being honest and feel that because you’re asking them of their opinion, they need to critique what’s in front of them, and will find holes in whatever they see. Neither of these groups are necessarily very helpful. However, if you really ask the right questions and really listen to what people are saying you can get the truth.

The results were interesting. We realised that our packaging design could be working harder for us. People liked it, but when pressed, the plastic cap was problem, both aesthetically and environmentally. The colour palette we were using wasn’t working as well as it could and the design, whilst very attractive in isolation was a bit busy for the supermarket shelf.

It was clear we needed a revamp. The brief was simple; improve shelf presence, lead the market with environmental credentials and communicate our quality credentials to a younger, more millennial audience.


Walk us through the design process, how did you go from start to finish on this project?

Alongside our creative inspiration for the packaging design, we also started with a clear brief; improve shelf presence, lead the market with environmental credentials and communicate our quality credentials to a younger, more millennial audience. There were so many ways of executing the brief, but I guess partly because of our backgrounds, we had already imagined what the next generation of Little’s packaging would look like. As a visually aware brand owner it’s something you think about over time and archive in the back of your brain. Thankfully the idea we had was the result of observing the packaging industry for several years, and so much of the material that inspired us fit our brief.

The concept was simple; assign each flavour a simple, but strong colour and shape. The idea was to go right back to design basics and explore colour and pattern. This was to be coupled with strong, timeless typography. Usually, the simpler the idea the more difficult it is to execute, and this was definitely the case. We started work on the rebrand in May 2018 and finished in November. In this time, we did hundreds (if not thousands) of variations. The priority was to nail the concepts and for this we’d work in to the top four flavours first; French Vanilla, Rich Hazelnut, Chocolate Caramel and Island Coconut. We knew that if we could get them looking strong and working well it would be easy to propagate the rest of the range. Caroline would focus her attention on the pattern design, and I would mainly work on layout and typography. Colour we worked on together.

In the latter parts, the process became very collaborative with us sharing the daily progress with the other guys in the office to get their opinion.

I was once taught that when you’re happy with a design it’s important to step away from it, take 5 minutes, and come back to it with fresh eyes. Ask yourself if there’s anything you can do to improve it. Is the balance right? Is the typography spot on? Do the colours work as well as they could? I bet nine times out of ten you can find some way of improving it.

The label design was the main challenge of the redesign, but we knew that to really stand out in the category we needed to improve the structure of that packaging as well. By this we mean, get rid of the stock plastic cap. One of the challenges small brands face is availability of bespoke, recyclable packaging. Jars, caps and bottles, for example are made in very large quantities and to get something customised usually means very large minimum orders, or huge up-front investments in moulds. We took the decision to work with a very experienced packaging consultant. We tasked them with finding a recyclable alternative to our plastic cap. They quite quickly suggested aluminium. Everything stacked up. There was a manufacturer in the UK, the minimums were sensible, but most importantly – aluminium is the most recyclable material available. In fact, 75% of all the aluminium ever produced is still in use today, with most of that having been mined in the 1800’s! It was a no brainer. We had to do it.

The redesign was complete. We have a range of stunning, eye catching labels with premium looking, 100% plastic-free and recyclable packaging. Bingo!


How did you approach the different colour palettes?

We love colour in the Little’s office and get a little bit excited when we find a new pairing we love. We’re forever taking photos of colour combos and using our Adobe Capture app to use new colour palettes we find out-and-about in our design work.

In the redesign, we chose two colours to help tell a story for each flavour. Like with the island Coconut for example, we used the tropical hues from the Caribbean & Miami of turquoise and coral pink. The Cardamom Bun uses colours from 70s Scandinavia with the deep muddy green and orange. Where possible, we tried to keep the colours similar to the previous designs to help our existing customers with recognisability.


How did you decide on the pattern for each flavour?

We’re not gonna lie… it’s kind of difficult to come up 14 different colour/pattern combos which look equally amazing and also tell a story. We spent ages switching and changing colours and patterns around for the different flavours. We knew when we finally hit the sweet spot and we’re so pleased with how each and every one of them turned out.

In some cases, the pattern is obvious and linked to the flavour, like Chocolate Orange with the orange segments. In some cases, the pattern is a little subtler, but still related to the flavour. Like you know those yellow triangles on the French Vanilla? They’re actually ice cream cones. And those rectangles on the Havana Rum, they’re an abstract take on sugar cane. Then there’s the more abstract patterns… Chocolate Chai has a wacky tiger print because chai originates from India. The rainbows on the Irish Cream are nothing about whiskey, or coffee for that matter, but more about ‘the luck of the Irish’.


How did you tell Little’s brand story through the packaging design?

In our 30 years so far, we have always strived to produce great-quality products that go above and beyond people’s expectations. We have never and will never launch anything that we are not 100% proud of. We used classic, timeless typography to help tell this story. The bright colours and abstract patterns help communicate that we’re making a bold change to the instant coffee category and help set us apart as the independent and alternative option to other instant coffee brands.


Finally, which design is your fave?

Will – Mine is French Vanilla. It epitomises the concept and still feels familiar if you’re used to the old design. The ice cream cone pattern and colours used are beautifully subtle at subliminally evoking a sense of the flavour without being obscure. Something about the black front panel really works nicely with the colours also. 

Caro – Mine is the Gingerbread Cookie, the wave represents the lines in a stem of ginger. I love the colours in this one especially the pastel tones mixed with the vibrant turquoise. It pops!