When it comes to packaging, there’s a lot more to it than simply choosing what type of container you’re going to put your product in. In fact, every single choice you make, from colours and fonts to the material itself, will have an impact on how consumers view your brand and your product. In addition to clearly communicating what the product is, what it does and who it’s for, packaging design can also appeal specifically to what your target audience is looking for. Well-designed product packaging can determine whether customers reach for your product or your competitor’s, and can improve the overall customer experience.
5 things to consider before you start your packing design
As with the other areas of branding, like a website and logo design, your packaging supplies need to effectively communicate what your product and company are all about, and why a customer should choose to buy what you’re selling. Even if you know that you make the absolute best product in your industry, potential customers won’t ever get the chance to find that out for themselves if your product packaging doesn’t convince them to make the purchase. That means that the packaging you choose is your number one opportunity to convince shoppers of your product’s worth and reliability so you can close the sale. Here are some of the key elements to consider before you jump into your packaging design.
There’s a lot that goes into branding your company and product effectively. Strong branding can help your product stand out and make a memorable impact, whereas poorly considered branding choices can lead to your company being seen as unprofessional and untrustworthy.
If you already have established branding for your business, including a registered business name, logo, slogan, and colour scheme, designing your product packaging will be a lot more straightforward. Simply gather the exact colours, fonts, and logo that you already use and apply them to your product packing design.
However, if you are just getting started in your business, and this product will be your first design opportunity, you’ll want to make sure that you don’t rush through developing your branding. A good way to get started is by researching packaging design for products within your industry that stand out to you, and establishing what common elements you are drawn to. Keep in mind, though, that your product packaging should be designed with your target audience in mind. Cater to what appeals to them, even if that’s not the same as what you would choose as a consumer. Likewise, try using words in your website, tagline and product descriptions that your ideal customer is likely to use when searching for your item, rather than the words you might use to describe it as the creator of the product.
Professional branding services can be expensive, but it’s not something that you’ll want to cut corners on. It’s worth investing the time and money into developing a brand identity that works. However, if you’re confident in your graphic design skills, you can always start off by designing your own branding and then revamp it further down the line when you have the funds to take it to the next level.
2. Target audience
In order to effectively market your product to customers who are actually going to buy it, you’ll need to determine who your target audience is. This will help you clarify not only the visual elements of your packing design but also the materials. Start simple: what is your product used for, and what type of person is likely to use it? Depending on what you are selling, your market may be very broad or extremely specific. For example, if you’re selling hand sanitizer, a large variety of types of people will make up your target audience. However, if your hand sanitizer is environmentally friendly, all-natural, and cruelty-free, your market narrows to people who value those things.
Marketing your product starts with packaging design. It’s the first thing customers will see, so you need to be able to let them know immediately what differentiates you from the rest of the items on the shelf. The more specific you get about who you are designing your product for, the easier it is to speak directly to what your ideal customer wants in your marketing and product packaging design. It’s up to you to decide if you want your product to appeal to a wide range of people, or if you want to cater to a specific niche market. Budget-friendly products will likely have very different packaging than a more upscale, luxurious brand.
Determining what type of store your target customer shops in can also affect your product packaging. Do they shop online, in big box stores, or small curated boutiques? Your packaging design will differ depending on how your customers will be encountering it.
3. Practical considerations
The story that you tell with your packaging design is important, but your packaging also needs to fulfill certain practical requirements. For example, an unusually shaped or largescale product may require a custom packaging solution. If you’re in the food industry, you may need to use specific packaging to keep your product fresh. What materials do you need to ensure that your product is protected during the shipping process, so it arrives in good condition every time?
In addition to physical packaging requirements, depending on your industry, you may be required to list certain information, like a barcode or nutritional information. If you’re working with perishable goods, your product packaging will probably require a best before date, which will vary from batch to batch. With this in mind, you’ll need to find a solution where the best before date is not included in your main packaging design, but can be altered as needed and stamped onto individual items.
4. Packaging layers
Product packaging can consist of any or all of three packaging layers: outer, inner and product packaging. Let’s break down the meaning of each of these layers so you can determine which you should use for your packaging design.
Outer packaging: this is the first thing the customer sees on the shelf. It needs to tell them everything they need to know about what they can expect to find when they get home and open the packaging.
Inner packaging: what keeps your product safe inside the container it comes in. This can be bubble wrap, tissue paper, packing peanuts, or similar.
Product packaging: the innermost packaging that contains the item itself. For example, the dispenser that your liquid soap comes in, the jewelry box holding your handmade earrings or the label on your candle.
Each of these packaging layers needs to be carefully considered. Look at how your competitors are packaging their products, but don’t let your creativity be stifled by the way things are usually done. If you have a great idea for a revolutionary way of packing your product to be more useful, environmentally friendly, or visually appealing, go for it! Just keep in mind that custom packaging solutions will probably increase the cost you need to spend on product packaging per item.
Before you get down to the nitty-gritty of designing your product packaging, it’s a good idea to take an honest look at your finances to determine a budget range that you can afford. If you have a small budget, you may choose to go the DIY route, whereas larger budgets can be used to outsource various aspects of the packaging design to professionals. For example, you can rely on your own graphic design skills instead of hiring a packing designer, and transform standard bulk options sold by packaging companies by adhering your branding to it rather than designing your own packaging from scratch.
When figuring out your product packaging budget, make sure that you remember to consider both the initial, one-time expenses as well as the cost per item. Initial costs can include things like paying for design work (or accessing a design program if you’re doing it yourself) and setting up your offset print plate or digital print files. The cost per item refers to what you will need to pay for the packaging of each individual item that you are selling. This can include things like cardboard boxes, printing costs, and even tape. Plus, you’ll need someone to actually put together your product packaging, whether that’s you or an employee whose labour will be an expense.
You may have great ideas for your product packaging design, but your budget determines whether you will actually be able to achieve what you’re picturing. Having a firm handle on your budget allows you to understand what is feasible and what will be outside your reach as you research various packaging solutions. While you may need to keep your budget relatively low, make sure that you aren’t sacrificing quality in order to save a few extra dollars. Your main focus should be on creating quality product packaging that protects your product and communicates to your audience, and you may need to get creative in order to keep your costs low. It can be tempting to cut corners, but remember that your product and company will bear the blame if your packaging is insufficient or does not meet industry standards, and your sales may suffer if the design doesn’t stand out and win over customers.
Your budget should also reflect your ideal customer. If you’re creating a luxury, high-cost item, using inexpensive, basic packaging will cause your customers to lose trust in your product. Budget products can rely on simple packaging design, as long as it speaks to your customer, whereas unique, handmade and artisanal goods should have packaging that appropriately reflects your product and brand.
How to design your packaging
Decide if you want to outsource design or do it yourself
Once you’ve got a decent understanding of the different elements that go into product packaging, it’s time to get into the actual packaging design process. You already know what your budget is, so use that information to decide whether you’ll be hiring a professional product packaging designer or using your own graphic design skills. An experienced professional designer will make the process much simpler, as they already know how to navigate things like 3D design and print requirements, whereas you might be learning these things as you go, resulting in a less professional final product. On the other hand, outsourcing your packaging design will significantly increase your costs, but may be more effective at creating packaging that clearly communicates the message you want to convey.
Find a packaging designer
If you decide to hire a professional designer to create your packaging design, make sure to do your research and not hire someone just because they are offering a lower price. When it comes to designing your brand, if you’re going to invest the money into working with a professional, you want to end up with something that you’ll be happy with, and that will last your company a long time. Choose a designer whose portfolio includes examples of past product packaging design, rather than just graphic design. Sometimes designs can look great when they’re flat but don’t work when printed on 3D objects, and vice versa. An experienced packaging designer will understand this and know how to plan for it.
Talk to your printer about file requirements
Before you or your designer get to work on your packaging design, you’ll need to get the specifications from your printer about what kind of file you will need to provide them with. If you start designing before you have this information, you will be making unnecessary extra work for you or your designer, resulting in loss of valuable time and money. Here are a few things to ask your printer about.
Dielines: Find out if your printer provides templates for your packaging so that you or your designer can line things up perfectly and avoid having to do reprints.
File format: The printer will likely need a vector file format, but should it be layered or include cut-lines? When you send a file to your printer, it needs to be print-ready, or you risk going over budget in order to fix easily avoided issues created by incorrect formatting. If you don’t understand the specifications your printer is asking for, you may want to turn to a designer for help, unless you have the time, resources and desire to devote to learning to create print-ready files.
Colour: Printers can use a variety of colour modes, including RGB, CMYK, and Pantone. The mode your printer uses will affect how your colours come out in the final packaging, so knowing the mode ahead of time will allow you or your designer to work in that same mode from the start instead of having to adjust colours later on.
Print type: Will you be using digital or offset printing? Find out from your printer about the cost difference, minimum order number, and cost scaling in order to make an informed decision.
Create and compile written information
It’s a good idea to figure out what written information you’ll need to include on your product packaging before you start designing so that you know how much information you need to include and create your design around that. The copy on your packaging design will include things like your company name, product name, tagline, ingredients and explanation of what it is and what it’s used for.
Choose your photos or design elements
If you plan to include a photo of your product on the packaging, choose one that paints your product in the best light without misleading the consumer with false advertising. Your goal should be to accurately represent the product; otherwise, you may make sales upfront but wind up with unhappy customers who are more likely to leave negative reviews online and dissuade others from purchasing from your company.
Figure out your colour scheme
There’s more to choosing your branding colours than simply using a colour scheme that you like. In fact, there are scientific studies that show that different colours can evoke specific emotions in viewers. If you have some colours in mind, you may want to research the effect they have on shoppers to determine whether they are sending the message that you want to put out to your potential customers. Create a vision board of brands and packaging with values and aesthetics that are similar to yours, or use tools like Coolors to generate colour schemes and spark your inspiration.
Emphasize what’s most important
While you may have a whole bunch of text and design elements that you want or need to include on your product packaging, your customer needs to be compelled to pick up your product in order to see most of that content. Your first priority is to initially draw your customer’s attention, so focus on emphasizing the words and images that are most important to communicate what your product is all about. The key elements of your product packaging will depend on the product itself. Still, they can be an explanation of what the product is (i.e. soup), the fact that it’s organic, grain-fed, or hormone-free, or if your product belongs to an already well-established and trusted brand, the brand name.
What are packaging inserts and why should you use them?
Packing inserts are usually small items included inside your product packaging for no extra charge, in order to spread awareness about products and sales and to offer extra value to your customers. There are a few different types of packing inserts.
- Discounts on future purchases to encourage return customers
- Product samples of other items that you sell
- Free gifts related to your product (this can be merch like branded t-shirts, stickers or tote bags that can also result in free advertising) or a low cost item that you sell, included for free to increase customer goodwill
- A personal note or thank you card
Packing inserts are a great low-cost way to advertise to the people that you know for sure are interested in what you’re selling, because they’ve already bought it. You can use them to cross-sell similar items from your product line with free samples or discount codes, or you can encourage return buyers by including a handwritten, personalized letter. While big companies may include coupons or similar packing inserts, they usually won’t spend their time on small personal touches. You can make your small business stand out and show customers why it’s worthwhile to shop at your local business rather than patronizing a big brand that doesn’t care as much about their individual customers.
Making your customers feel special and valued is a great way to encourage brand loyalty, and they’re more likely to recommend you to their friends and family, too. You can also include a packing insert that tells your customers where to find you online and on social media and asks them to review your product online to build up your brand’s credibility.
Product packaging examples
Tiffany’s packaging design communicates at every step that they are a luxury brand worth investing in. The robin’s egg blue colour of their boxes and bags are instantly recognizable and carry a reputation of high quality.
Rather than creating a new product, Miller used a retro packaging design referencing the past to encourage a wave of sales in spite of no change to the product itself.
Apple products are known for their sleek, minimalist design, and this extends to their packaging design as well.
In contrast to the minimal colours and design of Apple products, Pad & Quill sells artisanal laptop bags and tablet cases, and this is reflected in their carefully hand wrapped packaging.
Yoplait’s Go-Gurt is a great example of a company transforming traditional industry-standard yogurt packaging and creating a new product that reinvents the wheel. They created a new market by eliminating the need for a spoon and making use of innovative packing to turn yogurt into something easily consumed on the go.
As a personalized subscription clothing box, TrunkClub emphasizes the needs of the customer by tailoring their choices based on a style quiz, and includes handwritten, personal notes explaining what they included and why.
Galen Leather is based in Istanbul, Turkey, so their packaging inserts include items from Turkey, like local tea and coffee samples.
Dollar Shave Club’s simple packaging echoes the fact that they are a low cost alternative to traditional razors.
By using fun, bright colours and sassy, quotable taglines in their product packaging, Glossier makes the experience of unboxing their products unique and easily Instagrammable, resulting in free advertising.
Another company that changed up industry packaging standards, Capri-Sun drink pouches stand out from their juice box competitors.
Now that you understand how to prep for your packaging design process, the steps you’ll need to take and some examples to get your inspiration flowing, you’re all set to design your product packaging and get your product to market!
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