Packaging protects what it sells, and sells what it protects.
Let’s unpack that further – pardon the pun.
The selling part includes conveying not only the obvious branding, but also the information that is needed to comply with labeling standards.
Suddenly, packaging design becomes a complex issue.
There are a lot of elements to think about, and a lot of variables, depending on the product at stake, and the quantity of product being packaged as one unit.
Let’s explore what we should consider when coming up with effective packaging design, with a focus on retail products.
1. Think 3D and Scalability
Designing packaging is much more than getting good graphics together.
Remember that most retail products are tactile.
People pick them up, carry them, and use at least part of the packaging for storage.
Think of the practical aspects of shape, size and balance (does the container or carton stand up?).
For example, we are unlikely to decant our shampoo into another container once we get home.
So one of the demands of a shampoo bottle is that it is easy to grip, get shampoo out of it by squeezing it, and easy to seal, all with one hand.
Innovations happen all the time. Before the innovation of tea bags, loose tea leaves were sold in quarter-pound and half-pound packets.
Ketchup, mayonnaise and mustard never used to be stand “upside-down” in easy-to-squeeze containers.
They were once an innovation.
When designing or redesigning your company logo or brand graphics, you need to move away from viewing them on a 2D surface.
You need to test the designs out on 3D objects that are the same shape and size as the product packaging before making your decision.
To a large degree, visualization is made easier with 3D-imaging computer programs.
Not everyone can imagine what even 3D images would look like as objects. Enter the revolutionary 3D printer.
Not only do 3D printers perform the obvious function of helping to decide which is the best shape for a bottle of perfume, say, but they have also drastically reduced product development costs.
Customer feedback and ironing out design flaws of prototypes with the help of 3D printers has become more environmentally friendly, too.
Packaging follows not only the rules of graphic design but also those of signage in some respects.
Many food company giants have simplified their logotypes so that when writ huge (on grain silos, and tall building façades) their shape does not appear distorted.
2. Scope of Extensibility
Originally an architectural term, extensibility in design means that you need to make allowance for additions to the product range.
An example can be taken from the world of cosmetics, where packaging designs are extensible.
In other words, the same design serves for deodorants, perfumes, eyeliners, and lipsticks.
Were the cosmetics company to introduce a range of nail polish, the packaging design would still work.
Successful marketing campaigns use this scope of extensibility to transfer packaging designs to promotional items such as tote bags, caps, t-shirts, and other merchandise.
The trick is to imagine your packaging design on anything and everything and discard the designs that don’t work immediately.
3. Be Clear: Less is More
Avoid clutter at all costs.
This is difficult when you’re brimming with ideas.
Minimalist designs promote instant product recognition.
A Google-sponsored market survey revealed that the more complex a design, the less visually appealing it is.
Customers typically make their decision about whether something is appealing in 1/20 to 1/50th of a second.
Anything that distracts us psychologically from immediately understanding the visual elements we are looking at has a negative impact on our desire to purchase a product.
While packaging cannot always cater to the personal color preferences of customers (such as an intense dislike of the color orange, say), elements of composition need to be bold, clear, and simple.
Bold, clear, and simple is a winning combination and forms the foundations of packaging design basics.
4. Teamwork in Packaging Design
Collaboration is essential.
As a packaging designer, you need a clear brief from the client.
Ask the client lots of questions right from the outset.
In the creative professions, you need to develop your ability to interpret what the client wants.
Often, the client is not sure what they want, or has difficulty in expressing this in words.
It’s a process that requires clear communication, insight, and persuasion to arrive at clear basic definitions as a springboard to begin the design.
In terms of achieving clarity in design, the process involves honing in on the central idea, and whittling away all extraneous matter.
A good packaging design company has the ability to translate the established brief into a visual language that sells the product.
And that’s what businesses and their customers want.
Other forms of collaboration occur with other designers in your team.
Their feedback, suggestions, ideas, and opinions are invaluable when it comes to discarding the unnecessary.
With creative input of this nature, getting to the true core of a design that complements the product can give rise to some surprisingly pleasing results.
5. Hat-Tip to Trends
Okay, a historical example: In the early 1970s, profits from the sale of toilet paper shot through the roof. It was all down to packaging.
Single rolls of toilet paper were packaged in a black cube box.
Each of the sides of the cube featured a large, plain circle.
The plain circle was a single color: either purple, olive green, burnt orange, mustard yellow.
The roll of toilet paper inside was nothing special.
Plain white, like thousands of other toilet rolls.
The colors featured in the circle were all the range in clothing and soft furnish fashions, so people were prepared to pay more for the product just because of the innovative packaging.
The packaging incorporated a cool decorative feature, and moreover, was stackable in bathrooms everywhere.
Fast-forward to today’s trends.
If you are not using eco-friendly elements (or suggesting them) in even high-end products, your packaging design runs the risk of being less popular than those that do.
Package inserts allow you to keep labeling on the outer packaging to a minimum.
Be mindful of font size: not everyone has good eyesight.
Things that are hard to read detract from an otherwise excellent design.
While some labeling is essential to comply with industry standards, make sure the essential information is printed large enough so that even short-sighted people will buy the product!
7. Protect the Product
For protection purposes, many products have two layers of packaging, both of which need to incorporate the package design.
Establishing exactly what type of packaging materials will be used from the outset might influence the type of design you come up with.
So, first things first, then the rest will flow more smoothly.
In packaging design, it is hard to define what a good design is.
Sometimes, it comes down to gut feel.
You know when something looks good, and if others think so too, then you have done your job.
In our multimedia world, web design has influence packaging design and vice-versa.
Check out our other articles to improve your visual vocabulary and see which ones appeal to you most from the design point of view.