Packaging is not about outer beauty, but about presenting the soul within – James Chen

Magic Creative director James Chen has over 20 years of experience in branding strategy and design. In recent years, he has expanded his business to China, becoming one of the top firms in tea packaging in the region. What needs to be considered for tea packaging in the Chinese market? What aspects are unique?

Chen says that China is vast. The culture differs greatly between northern, southern, and central China, as do the perspectives on beauty. General cities also often have a different standard to those in Beijing and Shanghai. “You first need to understand the region in which your customer is located, and the products you create must be targeted to that region. Before you can begin a discussion about design, these factors must be clear. This is very important.”

From years of experience dealing with Chinese customers, James Chen says that in Chinese culture, there is a unique culture of “gifting.” Tea leaves are an especially popular gift. When it comes to tea packaging, he says, Chinese people prefer strong, dominant colors like red and gold to portray feelings of glamor, elegance, luxury and respect. The popularity of the color gold may be influenced by the value placed on the hue by ancient Chinese emperors and empresses, Chen suggests. If the design is too plain, too simple, it is not usually well liked. He also notes that ample communication with customers is key: to properly define the brand and product, the Magic Creative team will thoroughly research the market. “First you have to understand China’s ‘gifting’ culture, and only then can you move onto visuals and strategies. You have to help the customer to understand that red and gold do not always represent what they think the colors represent. Sophisticated elegance can be presented in many different ways; I think we can create a trend, and not follow a trend. Packaging is not about outer beauty, but about presenting the soul within.”

James Chen notes that a lot of his customers are from Wuyi Mountain in the Guangdong Province of China. The region is home to up to 250,000 tea houses, and there is even an entire street dedicated to the sale of packaged tea. “The tea packaging in China is actually very well established. It is here that Taiwanese designers have an advantage: they are able to use the story and history of a brand and connect that to the wider culture. Tea leaves do not just make a tasty beverage. Tea relates to Chinese culture as a whole, which includes a Chinese person’s life, beliefs, language, even Confucian and Taoist teachings. All of these systems are part of tea culture. How we convert an understanding of this culture into a package is the key.”

About James Chen

James Chen has worked in the design field for over 20 years and is currently the director of Magic Creative. He serves as Assistant Chairman of the Taiwan Graphic Design Association and is an assistant professor (visual communication) at various Taiwanese universities. He has been honored with numerous domestic and international awards including taking home Red Dot Award and iF Awards trophies. He was responsible for the design of the international promotional material for the 2011 Taiwan World Design Expo. His strength lies in brand image planning and design strategy integration.

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