Package design

Think of your most recent purchase from a store. Why did you buy that specific brand? Was the decision based on impulse and emotion, or was it something you really needed? Now that you think of it, you realize that there’s a good probability that you bought the product because its package (design) sparked your interest. Yes, you might have needed shampoo, but did you really need that specific brand? The one with the elegant bottle, the one that looks expensive and high-quality. Maybe you didn’t need that brand specifically, but you bought it because it made you feel trendy, although the product per se has the same chemical formula as the cheaper brand.

Welcome to the world of powerful branding. What we’re talking about is actually the main goal of a package: to sell the product. That is if it’s correctly and creatively designed. Does your brand have a good name? Not enough. As it is not enough to just print your cool logo on a plain package. The whole thing should be consistent, should draw attention to itself, convey a message and make the customer feel a certain way.

In FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods), attractive packages play a significant part in making the buying decision. The package is a TV commercial on the shelf. Or think about it this way: the students in a class have to answer a question, but only the very confident or studious raise their hands. A brand that did its homework will raise its hand, and the customer will pick it up.

Long gone are the times when we used packages for printing out product specifications. Now packages have multiple functions, such as attracting customers and triggering the buying instinct. A package is a form of branding. Drawing attention to your product and making it stand out from the many similar products on the shelf is a tough job. But it has to be done. Because the market’s changed, and so have clients’ preferences. Nowadays, customers notice the package and deem it important. That is why its design has become a crucial differentiating factor.

Modern neuromarketing techniques turn your package into a media channel. Using a phone, you can scan the package and watch a video from its advertising campaign. Or listen to an audio with information about product ingredients and suggestions for recipes.

Our team has developed packaging projects for a series of Romanian brands in pharma, food, and cosmetics. We feel confident that we can answer any of your questions. More than that, we are able to help you create a compelling design for your package and differentiate it from the competition. Starting from scratch.

What is package design and why is it important?

The package keeps things in order.

Be it a pack of M&Ms, a laundry basket, or a beer bottle, the things that we use to pack other things are meaningful to us. So, what is package design? As broadly as possible, it is building the outside of a product. That includes choosing the material the package is made of (be it a box, a bottle, or any other type of container), its shape, the graphics, the fonts, and the colors.

Package design serves multiple purposes.

First of all, the package is a practical instrument. How else are you going to take your beer to your lips? But the package is much more. Like any good design, the package tells a story. It also constitutes a sensorial experience that literally implies all our senses: vision, hearing, touch, and eventually smell and taste. All these details help us understand the purpose of the product, how it should be used, who should use it, and most of all if we should buy it or not.

But like we said, the most important function of a package is to sell the product. That is why package design may be a crucial factor for successful sales: most buying decisions are taken spontaneously, in front of the shelf. The package persuades the buyer right there, among hundreds or thousands of other products. A certain kind of package sells the product because it is the perfect tool to differentiate and draw attention to your product in a good way.

How important is updating the package design within the brand strategy?

You may have noticed that big brands update their packages way more often than before. In recent years, updating the package periodically seems to play an important role in the overall brand strategy.

Advanced technology and social networking constantly expose consumers to new options. So people expect things to change by the day. Instead of keeping the same package for years or tens of years, many brands embrace change, but at the same time, they make sure to preserve a good balance between familiarity and the need to stay relevant through updates.

The high frequency of updating the package design fosters the ROI.
The ROI is always difficult to measure, as is the brand performance overall. As to the package, the cost of updating it may become, in the long run, higher than that of redesigning it altogether.

Revitalizing the package through design is an opportunity for brands to stand out and shine. The packaging should not be a one-time project, as it plays an essential part in defining the brand and making it relevant in the market. A lot of companies consider redesigning the package only when their brand becomes almost extinct or the competition launches something new. Don’t wait for that long to update your package. Think of it as a strategic choice that you have to reconsider periodically in the course of your brand’s life.

What is the process of creating a package design?

To create the package, you need to pass through the following stages: market research and brand audit (which means a comparison between your brand and its competitors, as well as an analysis of all your benchmarks), positioning (brand strategy), naming (if your brand doesn’t have a name yet), look&feel of the brand’s visual identity, packaging, and packaging architecture.

Package analysis and concept

What do we do at this stage?
We identify trends within the category, we go deep into research by types of users, we draw our conclusions, and prepare a list of recommendations.

There are three questions you need to answer before designing the package for a product:

  • What is the product?
  • Who buys the product?
  • How do they buy the product?

Let’s scratch the surface for each of these:

What is the product?
It sounds like a trick question, but it’s not. It actually means what you sell, what is the size of the product, what is it made of and is it fragile or not.

The question helps determine whether there are any logistical constraints we need to factor in when designing the package. For example, a fragile product needs a safer package. For a large product or one that has a more eccentric shape, a classic box won’t do. You’ll need a custom packaging solution.

Who buys the product?
Is it men, women, or both? Is it children or adults? Is it for people that are environment-aware? Low or high budget? A product package should appeal to its ideal buyer, so it is important to know the buyer well before you even begin the package design process. Why? Think of the specific case of senior customers: they need larger text on the box. Or think of the high-budget client: you’ll need to make her feel that she’s buying a luxury product. This has to show through the package design and materials.

How do people buy the product?
Do they buy the product in a super-market? In a convenience store? Online?
Let’s say the product is selling online and is being shipped. The package plays a different role than in the case of a product that has to stand out on the shelf, in a store. Shipping safely becomes very important. So we have to make sure that the product doesn’t have a lot of extra room inside the package, which could cause the product to bounce or jolt during shipment. This might damage the product or the package. You don’t have to worry so much about shipment with products that people buy from a convenience store. In that case, you focus on being appealing to a buyer that sees a lot of other options, and a lot of other package designs.

Some other info we need at this stage:

  • Brand standard. Sometimes we deal with a stand-alone product, other times we have to deal with a well-known brand.
  • If the package design needs to comply with certain brand aesthetics, we need to make sure we have all tools right from the start. Meaning:
    • colors: the CMYK values, the Pantone Matching Values (PMS);
    • fonts: the right fonts and all usage instructions, like size or weight of a font;
    • logo: we need the vector file format;
    • whatever copy goes on the package:
      • this is a sensitive issue because in some industries there might be legal requirements for describing the product functions;
      • so the copy on the package could be anything from the product name to taglines or lengthier descriptions
      • images: do you want to show photos on your package? Those should be chosen before starting the package design;
      • other required graphic elements: depending on the product or industry, we may need to include bar codes, nutritional info, or temporary content association marks. Some products, like foods or cosmetics, need further information on various lots (ex. expiration date or lot number);
  • styling preferences: if you prefer certain types of packages, it is wise to show them to us beforehand; let us know what you like and why you like it in terms of fonts, colors, materials. The style of a package should not be based on personal choice, but you know your product best, so it’s your call.

Package graphic design

Once we’ve gathered all the relevant info, it is finally time for the fun part: the actual design process. That means that we build the graphic design of the package based on what we learned from the previous step.
If there is a story to tell through your package, we’re here to help you tell it. People love stories and they like to be surprised with non-familiar information. So the way you pack your product may create an interesting story about your brand.

Generally speaking, the process of designing a package takes several steps:

Define the package layers clearly

There are three layers of the package: the exterior package, the interior package, and the product package. You may need all or only one of these.
The exterior package is the first thing a client sees when getting your product. It may be the shipping box or a shopping bag/box that the product sells in from the shelf.
The interior package keeps the product safe from external, potentially damaging factors.
Finally, the product package is the actual toy box, the labeled bottle, the label on a coat, the candy bag, or wrap.
Each of the package layers offers you the chance to tell your brand story. Have you noticed that several yogurt brands now use a type of package that allows the label to be detached from the container? You can read all sorts of curiosities on the inner side of that label. You may use that space to share a brand story, some info about the source of the product, or your entire portfolio.

Choose the right container: glass / paper / plastic?

Let’s say you’re selling soup. Does your competition sell it in a tub or a cup? On the one hand, if you choose to sell it in a glass container or some other fancy package, you might stand out. On the other hand, your potential customers may be used to buying soup in a cup or tub. Also, grocery store logistics may favor putting paper cups or plastic tubs on the soup-section shelves. Your glass container might need to fight a battle too many to get on that shelf. Is it worth it? Your decision should be based on functionality and on the actual procedures for manipulating the product from the production facility to the shelf.

Finalize design and test initial versions

To check this box (see what we did there?), first you need to make sure you’re telling the right story. When you look at the package, you have to be able to quickly understand what the product is and what it is for. People only buy what they understand. Plus, they buy what they believe it’s true, so make sure the photos you use on the package are true to life. Best if they’re actual photos of the product and look as close to the product as possible. Don’t make the peanuts in the photo way larger than the peanuts inside, or the buyer will feel cheated. The photos help the buyer make the purchase decision because they either present a serving suggestion or what it actually is inside the package.

When finalizing the package design, we also factor in how the proposed package will look on the shelf, in the store. This is the most important criterion when choosing a package for a brick-and-mortar product. There’s also a catch with simulating the product on the shelf: usually, when the products are aligned next to each other on a shelf, people only see one side. We have to make sure that the most important and compelling information is there on the front side of the package.

In package design, color is one of the most decisive factors in attracting the buyer. Color is visible from a further distance than other elements such as text, illustrations, or graphics. It is often one of the first things that people notice. If your product comes in vivid and bright colors, we’ll probably use those on the package as well. But we also have to base our decision on further details, such as the existence of a recognizable pattern in the design, the package being recyclable or not, and so on. Quite a lot of details to keep track of, really.

Presentation of the project

We present the creative routes to the decision-makers with arguments extracted from the first steps of the process: research, brand audit and strategy.

What makes for a good package design?

Generally speaking, a good package design is clean, simple, customized, and suitable for the brand. It makes for more than a package that you throw away after using the product.

A good package design is truthful to the brand’s essence. Redesigning a package requires the brand to be very specific about what values it needs to express. The structure and graphics of the package intertwine with one another and sometimes they become the only brand differentiators.

Package design favors a sort of complex simplicity. The buyers are oversaturated with advertising messages and buying options, so they don’t have the time or disposition to internalize superfluous details. The consequence is that they decide not to buy. ‘I don’t buy what I don’t understand.’ If the package is over-complicated, the buyer will move on in a matter of seconds.

Simple ideas are best understood by customers. When you don’t have the millions to invest in marketing a big idea that is not immediately intuitive, keep it simple.

How do we do that? We identify your strategic communication priorities. The branding teams often create briefs that list 7 to 10 strategic priorities, even for a tiny label. Buyers don’t catch more than three of those (we know they sound great from behind a desk). That’s why we think a great package design will prioritize the most important 3 features of your brand.