It’s our weekly Sunday night dinner at the Johnson house. My mother usually cooks a healthy, organic dish, typically containing about 23 ingredients from Whole Foods. My brother sits on the couch working on his computer while my father teases me about being the “shopper” in the family. “Need help picking something out? Sure, ask Rachel to go with you. She’s good at spending money.” He is half joking, but he’s also half warning my fiancé of what’s to come in 130 days. (But who’s counting?)

Alas, I know there is truth in his joke. I’m sitting at my desk and there’s a terrible bag of trail mix to my left… a purchase I wholeheartedly regret. So, why did I buy the trail mix? Packaging.

You see, I’m a sucker for clever marketing, witty copy lines and solid typography. This particular package design is garnished with metallic, slab-serifed lettering and a simple color palette; it truly made me believe that this salty sweet snack was going to forever change my life. Turns out I’m still the same person, but now I have a slightly stale taste in my mouth. At least the bag looks pretty sitting there.

I’ve made several purchases based solely on aesthetic appearances: shampoo, wine, lip-gloss, you name it. Misleading or not, I am drawn in by the way a product looks on the shelf. What compels me to pick it up and put it in my cart?

Most likely it’s the details of the design. How does the typography sit on the label? Is it a bold typeface, nested in a circle and knocked out of a vibrant red that screams robust flavor? Does the organic texture of a tea packet make me believe that every sip I take will help me live to 105?

All design decisions bring life to a product, and all begin with questions — the very questions that I, and every other designer, should ask each time we begin choosing fonts, palettes, textures, etc.: what color communicates serenity? Which typeface conveys momentum and forward thinking? How does sepia imagery help tell a story of the past? In other words, each design decision should have a reason why it was made and should help relay a message.

As a designer, I make sure I am aware of what I am saying, without actually saying it. By being intentional in the way I design, I can effectively communicate a message to an audience. Naturally, this goes beyond packaging… whether it’s a print ad or a website, the design decisions I make have definite value and contribute to the way my work elicits a response, an emotion, or an action. Next time you’re in a store, look at the products around you. What are they saying to you? Then do yourself a favor and read the label. Otherwise you might find yourself with a package of stale trail mix sitting on your desk.