In an article I was reading it has this picture:

enter image description here

It claims and rightfully so that one looks cheaper than the other. However the explanation says,

My old direct-mail client was correct in his assessment of whitespace for his particular product, because direct-mail packages need to appear down-market to work—and adding whitespace to his design would have lent his package an undesirably upscale quality.

But is this a correct outlook to have? Should a product deliberately use an advertorial style that looks like they have a small marketing budget?

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    If the design objective is to position the product to a certain market then I would say it's an acceptable decision to achieve that goal. However, whether it's "good design" for design's sake, I would say no! I often wonder if it's even necessary to position a product to look cheaper; are product advertisements designed to look cheap ever appealing would be my spin off question
    – johnp
    Aug 1, 2016 at 19:26
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    @johnp please leave answers as answers so people can comment/upvote/downvote/accept. You'll actually earn some rep too!
    – Ryan
    Aug 1, 2016 at 19:27
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    Isn't this the purpose of design? To achieve a purpose? But whether or not this should be done is opinion based... Aug 1, 2016 at 19:31
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    My printer told me once that one of his clients had to choose between two papers. One was cheaper but actually looked nicer, the other was more expensive but seemed cheaper. It would seem like an easy decision normally... But they were a non-profit doing direct mail to try and collect funds... It would look bad if they seemed to dilapidate funds on the mailer, so the client paid more to get the cheaper looking paper.
    – curious
    May 24, 2018 at 19:43

5 Answers 5


Sometimes yes. It so happens that companies sometimes hedge their bets by selling products both in bulk to chains and as premium under their own brand. According to Tim Harford (The undercover economist page 51 second paragraph in particular) the reason for cheap look is to get most out of the customers money. By selling same product at a premium to not so price sensitive buyers. This is called price targeting.

So basically the only difference for example between certain breakfast cereal and store brand cereal is in the package. So it stands to reason that the cheaper product needs to differentiate somehow. Usually the mechanism is to use a package that looks less glamorous, so that more brand conscious buyer buys the more expensive product, with more profit, while at the same time also getting money for those that couldn't afford the premium. Conversely some people might assume a premium on a product that looks too well branded.

So for me at least this was a eye opener. Stores are full of such products if you care to read the labels. Sometimes cross pollinated across store chains. There are also other interesting psychological effects such as not being able to ascertain price efficiency of products that have no competition.

Edity: Now that I'm home I see that my memory fails me a bit the book was not Freakonomics but rather the undercover economist instead. Fixed my reference and added page number. I stand corrected.

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    my wife works in a field that works with food manufacturers with respect to allergens etc. It is interesting to note how many of these companies are the primary source for massive amounts of private-labeled products, and not just store brands. While recipes do change, the packaging really is the differentiating aspect.
    – Yorik
    Aug 5, 2016 at 18:30

I think that certain points have to be taken into consideration, here. What is 'good design'? I believe that it is a contextual issue. Good design is the ability of the designer to draw people in to look at their work. This is irrespective of the amount of money that the product costs. Your target, after all, is not to make the product look like something the gods had produced - it is to make the product sell, and that is the clincher. Good design, here, is retaining all your knowledge on the technicalities of production and aesthetic, and manoeuvring it to the needs of your client.


Short answer yes.

This is really about branding and continuity. If the style of the brand is lower level, discount, goofy sort of things, Gorgeous marketing won't be as effective. If the pieces don't speak to either the customer or the brand it will end up confusing and/or disappointing customers.

When you see an ad for Tiffany Jewelry it is not the same as Walmart's Jewelry ad. Tiffany is not trying to convince their customers that their product is affordable to all customers. Their marketing is going to be higher quality photos, with sleek design. Where as Walmart is going to show generic photos in likely a catalog style.

From a Design perspective, this is frustrating, from a Marketing perspective, it is generally fact.


Old question I know....

There's a saying among those in direct mail and sales design...

"Ugly Sales"

It is often the case that a design which is less "high-brow" has a better return on investment (ROI).

It's really not about the product. It's all about the audience. If the target audience is more middle-class or just a broad, general demographic not specifically separated by financial means, then a perceived lower-rate, less formal, more "clichéd" design has a tendency to "sell" better.

To be clear, I'm a designer, not a marketer. So, I don't have access to solid statistical numbers to back this up. However, I am responsible for the control piece for many of my clients and they all range from "ugly sales" to more "luxury" design. And all that is based upon the target demographic. Some "ugly" pieces are reprinted every year and still get a great ROI. "Ugly Sales" doesn't typically work for higher end audiences. But barring that, it can work for almost all other audiences from opportunity seekers, to self-help, to security and health.

It's somewhat like intentional typos. They can be used to convey a less "slick and formal" atmosphere making the product or service seem "approachable" to everyone. Same theory that's behind some horrid local tv commercials you may see as well.

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    I can back you up on that, being another designer working on "Ugly Sales" projects. It works.
    – Luciano
    May 25, 2018 at 13:48

Yes, the needs of the client, as Paul said.

The client product's target audience should determine the appropriate design, along with the client's budget for that project.

Advertising and marketing are not the place for designers to impose their views of "good design". It should be all about the client's needs.

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