Categories / Inspiration

How Designers Shop vs. How Normal People Shop

Kevin Whipps April 16, 2024 · 8 min read

You don’t want to go shopping with me. I don’t say that because I’m a shopaholic or anything, or because I have some kind of addiction to spending (although that’s something you could argue either direction). No, it’s because, as a designer, I’m a royal pain in the butt to deal with when I walk into a store. What I’ve learned over the years is that I’m not normal. Regular people go into a store, see what they want and buy it – no problem. Me? I’m looking at branding, checking out how the box itself looks and so much more. Seriously, it’s a problem. How much of one? Let’s find out.

Details and quality matter

So I’m out and about, shopping, and I see something I like. I study it. I look at it all over and make sure it’s as perfect as I need it to be. I check for consistency. And I do all this before I even see a box or a bag. Crazy, right? Look, you’re talking to a guy that debated buying an iPod Photo for six months before I finally pulled the trigger. I wanted to be sure that the quality was up to par, and that it was something that would hold its value to me. And guess what: I still have that little iPod, and the battery still works. It sat in the glove box of my old truck and held my music library complaint free for years. So when I start off shopping, I’m paying attention to the product itself, making sure that it’s just as perfect as it should be before I pull the trigger. And when I make a mistake, I’m sure to let everyone know.

Touchy feely

Me and clothes? Forget about it. I’m a wreck. First off, I hate doing it because my design sensibilities push my personal style into a weird place. On the one hand, it’s all about comfort, which means a pair of Dickies or jeans and a T-shirt. On the other, when I need to look professional, it’s a button-up shirt with nice jeans. But with all of them, I have to get in and touch the product. Look at it up close. Check the stitching. See if the colors work, and so on. What’s the difference between clothes and other products? For me, clothes buying is a tactile experience. I need to feel things to see if it’s soft enough for my skin. Or if I’ll want to touch it throughout the day just to remind myself of the quality. For example, I bought some nice shorts the other day, and they’re some kind of weird microfiber-ish deal where they look nice, but also feel super soft. They’re super comfortable, but I could wear them in a professional setting if need be. (And remember, I live in Phoenix, where people come to job interviews in tank tops, so shorts on casual Friday isn’t that big of a deal.)

All about the brand(ing)

When I was a kid, it was all about the brand of jeans that you wore. Guess Jeans were in style back then, what with their little upside-down triangle on the butt, but my mom wanted to get me Lee jeans. No, I couldn’t have that. Not because of the social nature of it all, but because Lee’s wordmark had a horrible font on the big leather patch, while Guess was understated and simple. Turns out I had designer sensibilities even back then. You may understand this struggle. Go into any store and check out some of the brands and tell me I’m not speaking the truth. Would you buy from a company that couldn’t spend enough money to get their branding right? I wouldn’t. And frankly, neither should you. I mean, it’s why I loved the name brand of Frosted Flakes versus “Lonny the leopard’s Sugar-Strips.” Ick.

Box it up

Packaging is everything to me. The way something looks and feels once you open it up is cool, sure. But for me the entire unboxing experience should be magic. Tolerances between the lid and the bottom of a box should be tight, but not so tight that they’re impossible to separate. It’s part of the magic of being a designer.

The gold standard here for me is Apple. Every Apple product I buy, from a keyboard to a computer, is packaged with the utmost attention to detail. Case in point: I bought a few USB-C to USB adapters when they were on sale in anticipation of picking up a new computer this year. The adapter comes in a plain and clean box, with a hang tag on the back. At the base of that tag is an orange arrow for a pull – and when you pull it, the tag separates the lid of the box from the rest, allowing you to lift up the top. Inside the box is another tag, and if you pull it, the product slides out, conveniently levitating in its own tray. It’s a simple product, but it’s delivered so perfectly.

Color matters

We all have our biases, and for me, sometimes it’s colors. I can’t stand blue and yellow together. I don’t know why that is, although I’ve theorized that it’s because of some show I watched as a kid with a lame superhero or 12. Regardless, blue and yellow together set my teeth on edge, and therefore I won’t buy products that use that specific combination on their packaging. Color is important anyway (obviously), but if a company has a crappy color combo on their gear, I’m out. Nope, not for me.

Book covers are critical

I live my world online, so you’d would probably guess that I prefer ebooks to printed. And you would be wrong. This week I’ve had three books shipped to the house because there’s just something about the look and feel of a good book. And you’d better believe that their covers are on point. They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but they’re full of crap because I totally do. And why wouldn’t I? If a book has a poorly designed cover, then what kind of detail is given to the contents? Is the kerning or leading going to be off from page to page? Are there spelling mistakes? Does it use an awkward font? No thank you, I’ll take my nicely designed book cover, thank you very much.

Bagged and tagged

Just as important as the packaging itself, the bag that everything goes in also holds some weight with me. Two great examples come to mind: The first is, again, Apple. Two years ago I bought an Apple Watch for my wife, and they delivered it in this super cool bag that she liked so much that she kept it for a long time. The second example is Verizon. I had to go into the store the other day to buy an accessory, and when all was said and done, they put it all in a kraft paper bag with a black and red “Verizon” on the outside. Now it was a nice bag and all that, but the printing quality stood out a ton. The red was so bold that it almost glowed against the brown, and that was impressive.

Putting it all together

Now take everything that I just talked about and imagine that we’re about to hit the mall together. We walk to the first store for clothes, and you get pissed off because I find an aisle of sweaters and get lost in a world of softness. Twenty minutes later, we walk by Sears, where you hear me complain about the downhill quality slide of the Craftsman brand, and how lifetime guarantees are only as good as the box they’re printed on. (And you totally miss the Tommy Boy reference, by the way.) We hit up the bookstore, and now you’re mad because I’m both loving some stuff and hating others, and after we grab some ice cream (the colors!), we walk by the Apple Store and it’s all over. Ticked off yet? Sure, of course you would be. Which, in hindsight, says a lot about why my wife likes to go shopping without me. Do I mind? Nope. Again, it’s all about the experience and everything else. Am I a deranged designer? Probably. But who cares, right?

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About the Author
Kevin Whipps

Hi! My name is Kevin Whipps, and I'm a writer and editor based in Phoenix, Arizona. When I'm not working taking pictures of old cars and trucks, I'm either writing articles for Creative Market or hawking stickers at Whipps Sticker Co.

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