Things to Think About When Designing Your Packaging

Packaging is arguably one of the most important pieces of advertising available to a business. It’s the first thing the consumer sees when viewing the product on the shelves (and often in advertisements before they ever even come into contact with the physical product); it’s the only thing that sets the product apart from the myriad other options on the shelves; and it even accompanies the product right into the home of the consumer where it will continue to be viscerally experienced during unpacking.

Knowing this, it’s essential to make sure that you’re doing everything possible to squeeze brand recognition and product value into every inch of your packaging. There is far more behind this game, however, if you want to grab your customers’ attention and see your products fly off the shelves.

The savvy packaging designer needs to understand what’s going on in consumers’ heads as they’re looking at a display of similarly-purposed products. With a wall of options eight feet high and Lord-knows-how wide, they most certainly aren’t reading each label carefully to determine which item will best fulfill their needs. In fact, researchers have found that you have about two to four seconds to broadcast brand cues and the value of your product before your target moves on to another selection.

1.    Looks Do Matter . . .

Two to four seconds isn’t a lot of time—so you’ve got to know how to make an impact and stand out from the crowd while relaying three essential properties: 1) what the product is; 2) why the customer should want to buy it, and; 3) and why the customer should choose it amongst the other products available.

KISS – Minimalism may be the trend of the moment, but the adage “Keep It Simple, Stupid” goes far beyond it-crowd tendencies in this case. You obviously don’t want to include anything beyond what the customer needs to know—you’ve put in the resources to procure an amazing design, so let the graphics speak for themselves and stay away from overcrowding the package with distracting and cumbersome text. What you may not have considered, however, is the fact that you can’t be all things to all people. Young or inexperienced entrepreneurs will put their energy into trying to reach all sorts even though they have one specific demographic covering 70-80% of their purchases. When you over-reach on message, trying to say everything to everyone, you end up saying very little to no one. Keep your eyes on one prize, and narrow your branding to target your most profitable demographic.

Creativity – For your design to display true shelf impact, you’re going to have to get creative and make your product stand out from the crowd. This is the time when you’re going to need to do a little reconnaissance—get out into the marketplace and see what your competitors are up to. What do you notice a lot of amongst your competitors? Come up with a design that features a contrasting color. Are designs busy; minimalistic; geometric; typographic? What will make yours pop amidst the noise? When your competitors are zigging left, you need to zag right. Use the concept, shape, color or the purpose of your product to display the unit in a creative way. Consider imagery and what your packaging says about you and your product. Animals, symbols, typeface, and color all elicit strong emotional and mental associations, so look into the meaning of the graphics you use. You can’t lead the pack from the perspective of a follower, so get out in front and make some bold choices that will set you apart from the masses.

Note: For a fun (and in depth!) look at color associations and their meanings, check out Zeven Design’s article on the subject.

Brand recognition – If you’ve begun to create a name for yourself as a trusted brand, then you want to make sure that your packaging reflects the branding you’ve worked so hard to establish. Create something that will be recognized easily by your loyal customers and take the time to consider reproduction and future designs: can a slight redesign be done while maintaining brand recognition? Your product and brand deliver an unmet need, so your packaging must reflect that need and help inspire a purchase (as opposed to a pass).

2.    . . . And So Does Substance

When planning your packaging look, part of the process needs to include a look at materials, shape and overall user experience. Studies show that the package that gets touched the quickest is usually the package that gets sold, so if you can inspire the consumer to pick the package up off the shelf, you’ll be one step closer to getting it to the checkout counter.

Experience – There are many ways to urge the customer into tactile exploration, and providing a promise of sensory engagement is one of the best. If there’s a way to let the customer feel, see, or otherwise experience the product, they will better be able to imagine using it to its full capacity. As any woman who’s ever pried open a pack of pantyhose to determine their cellulite-sculpting capabilities knows, being able to check the product out (even in a small way) is paramount to a purchasing decision. See-through windows and cut-outs allow for a tactile experience, but consider any packaging choices that allow your consumers to “test drive” the product before buying.

Materials – This is an area in which you would do well to think like your customer. For example: with the arrival of millennials has come the arrival of eco-conscious marketing choices and materials that look and feel natural. If your product is aimed at this demographic, you’ll want to consider looking into recycled materials or biodegradable and/or compostable outer packaging that screams, “We are eco-conscious!” Cost, functionality, environment, and durability all come into play here, as well. While cost-effective options that skimp on quality may seem tempting, think long term. Not only is it cheaper to package your product securely than it is to replace a damaged unit, but it’s also a lot more reputation-friendly to ensure every customer receives your product in perfect shape than it is to be known as the place that always delivers broken units.

Note: Remember to take into account how structure can help your product stand out. Is there a way you can use the shape of the product to influence the packaging and entice the customer? Consider texture, shape and weight to get the most out of user experience.

Honesty – While it may be tempting to err on the side of exaggeration, stay away from overstating the value of your product visually or descriptively. If you’re showing them something on the outside that’s better than what they’re going to get when they open the package, they’ll just end up disappointed and steer clear of your brand in the future. Let your product speak for itself and keep your descriptions clear and honest.

3.     Don’t Forget About the Retailer

Making a product “shelf ready” isn’t always the first thing on the mind of the average packaging designer, but it ought to be at the forefront of your thoughts if you want to keep the process smooth and easy. The only thing worse than having a mediocre package design is coming up with the perfect design and then having to scrap it because of retailer specifications.

To guarantee efficiency and a good business relationship, find out the specifications of your suppliers early on in the process and make them a priority. Storage, transport, unpacking complexity, stacking requirements, and shelving specifications need to be addressed . . . and, of course, the packaging should always be as light and compact as possible. In addition, you’ll want to do your best to ensure that the product can go from pallet to shelf with little to no unpacking by the store employees. One big goal of business is to save money on staff hours, so saving on unpacking, clean up and shelf maintenance is key.

Do your best to keep the needs of retailers at the top of your priority list, and you’ll find that they’re more likely to keep your products at the top of theirs.

Need help redesigning or launching your new product with some stand-out packaging? Contact 10twelve today to discuss!