The art of package design: A comprehensive guide on product packaging

Last Updated on September 22nd, 2020

First impressions are indeed the last impression, especially in the context of consumer psychology.

The first introduction to the product is product packaging. It is a multi-faceted aspect of organizing the product into categories.

Do you remember the first time you saw a packet of Hershey’s kisses?

The luxurious gold package filled with foiled drops of delicious goodness? It seems like a promise waiting to be fulfilled the moment you twist the ‘kiss’ open.

From your beloved Seasonal Starbucks to the distinct yellow ‘M’ from McDonald’s, each product packaging is a balanced combination of imagery, copy, and positioning working in action. But what defines product packaging design?

Product package design is the process of creating the exterior of a product. It combines the choices in graphics, form, material, color, and fonts on the type of container chosen for a product. It is a practical requirement for transporting and preserving the product.

How else would you purchase your favorite boba tea? Not in a coconut case, of course!

But more than containing a product, the packaging also plays the responsibility of the product story.

It is a moment of sensorial engagement that appeases the mind while informing you about the wares encased within the package.

Sight, sound, and smell are the tenets of an excellent product experience that helps a user decide whether the product is worth their while or not. Because at the end of the day, the package design that engages human psychology is only one that succeeds in the long run!

Here is a story that will help you assimilate the information being shared in an even more appropriate method:

Meet Marisol. Marisol is new to the business and has just come up with the perfect combination of fragrance and texture for her soothing lotions. Since she is a lawyer, she is not aware of marketing and branding. Let’s help her package the product.

Marisol Product Packaging

Why consumer psychology matters?

If you are trying to communicate your brand’s message through the product itself, you are not limited to word choice alone.

You are blessed with an entire arena of opportunities to express the brand story through the subtle elements of color, typography, and creativity.

The point is that the human mind subconsciously responds to visual stimuli. This implies that your product packaging is no restricted to fulfilling the purpose of the practical containment of your product.

Your product packaging needs to engage the viewer’s mind in a way that resonates with the brand message on the subconscious level without being blatant or over the top.

You can use the principles of consumer psychology to boost the performance of your packaging.

Marisol needs to make sure that our lotion is presented in a way that entices the consumer to purchase it immediately. 

Why consumer psychology matters?

The objective is to ensure that the product’s usability must be considered a primary concern as opposed to the creativity involved. Remember, you have to sell the product in the packaging and not save the exterior of your product atop a memory cabinet.

Here is a comprehensive guide on product packaging, where we discuss the art of package design. We will help you break down the package design philosophy in simple steps that will help you win at the packaging game without trying too hard.

So are you ready to play smart? Then grab an art pad and pen to get to work!

Understanding the three pillars of product packaging

Before we proceed with the stages of design, let’s take a step back to establish an understanding of the three pillars of packaging:

  • Intuitive
  • Protective
  • Informative

Understanding the three pillars of product packaging

Be as intuitive as IKEA

When you look at the packaging of Ikea products, what is the first thing that comes to mind?

For us, it is their simplicity that enables easy transportation. The oblong and square shape of the plastic package is not able to deliver the message of ‘easy furniture’ as a wild stroke of luck. It has been designed that way for a purpose.

The lesson from Ikea packaging is found in the three primary benefits it offers: ease in transportation, stacking, and storage. That is all that design has to be!

It is practical, easy to use, and highly intuitive. From a marketing perspective, you must be mindful of the fact that the lesser space your product takes, the better your returns on investment are! Less shelf space equates cheap and practical transportation, stacking, and storage.

Be protective of the perfume within

The packaging is for protecting the product against the evils of temperature, light, and time. Before you begin the design process, you must ensure that you have a proper definition of what you are looking for in packaging.

Perfumes from Paris are an ideal example in this case.

If you read up on Parisienne Perfumery, you will notice that their exuberant fragrances are not packaged in glass bottles due to their inability to protect the perfume.

It is said that glass erodes the luxurious notes of exotic fragrances while also increasing the evaporation rate when placed in the proximity of sunlight. What good is packaging if it fails to keep the fragrance secure from erosion?

However, that is not the case for commercially sold perfumes in the mass-markets. Large scale perfume brands continue to package perfumes in glass bottles to keep up the metaphor of fragility behind cheaper packaging costs.

The fact is that designers like Dior choose to coat the glass bottles in metallic coats to prevent scent erosion. But their creativity in bottle design and perfume architecture phases the user’s attention into the experience it offers!

This means that the product packaging design must please the aesthetic sensibilities of the consumer before anything else.

Be informative about the expiration and nutritional validity

Information is a critical aspect of packaging for edibles and perishable goods. Deciding the copy and other information that needs to be printed on the package may seem like a part of the design process, but it is a decision that needs a lot of foresight and precision to execute to perfection.

In the case of food items, you need to publish the nutritional values and ingredients. For cosmetics, you must print the ingredients and allergens, weight, and expiration dates according to your country’s legislative rulings or state.

Each industry tends to have its requirements for the information needed to be published on a product label. Since it is a lengthy process, that’s why you must be mindful of the choices you intend to make at a very early stage.

So the next time you unwrap a granola bar, don’t forget to give a cursory glance on the nutritional values published on the package. A design team might have spent weeks finalizing the position and font for that one product packaging element!

Methods of packaging design

There is a basic distinction between two package design methodologies: you are either selling a 

Bespoke packaged product or an off-the-shelf package. There is nothing in between.

Choosing a side on this spectrum enables you to make practical choices concerning the budget, product type, and target consumer segment.

You cannot sell fine leather belts and bags at a farmer’s market on Sunday? Nor can a crate of strawberries be sold at a high-end diamond jewelry boutique.

Imagine finding a few crates of strawberries being sold beside the timeless beauties from Tiffany’s. Or what if you saw Burberry being sold on your farmer’s market. What would be more bizarre?

While most brands gravitate towards the bespoke packaging design philosophy, they tend to end up working with the ‘folded carton’ packages that are a flagbearer of off-the-shelf packaging.

The difference between the two indicates the brand ideology. The folded carton packages are often mass-produced, uncut, and unlabeled, sent to a printer of our choice. This implies that the product is being marketed to a larger audience.

However, when you choose a bespoke packaging, it is meant to be customized, original, and creative with a capital K. Your goal is to ensure that your product is delivered in the optimum state without any damage due to the type of packaging chosen.

Think of Lunchables. This may not be the time for nostalgia, but its packaging is the optimal example of bespoke packaging for a mass-produced good. 

A checklist for all that needs to be known before design.

Here is a list of a few questions that you must answer before going ahead with designing the artwork for the package. The questions expand over a wide range of areas that encompass every attribute of your product.

  • What are the measures required to keep the product secure and legally fit for sale?
  • What are the elements that can ruin the product?
  • Is the product package as intuitive as Ikea’s packaging philosophy?
  • Are you opting for a bespoke or off-the-shelf packaging?
  • Do you have the appropriate references and inspirations ready for the design?

This is the phase where you bring out the design journals and vision boards to fix the design attributes that are required for your product. 

Be mindful of your intended audience in an all-encompassing perspective of economic status, lifestyle, and consumption preferences. This will help you efficiently finalize the connotations. Remember, you don’t want to evoke the wrong emotions amongst your audiences.

Think of the market and your position in it. What are the choices made by your competition and how are you planning to sustain your product are all questions that must be answered before you go ahead with the production of the first batch of packages.

Layers of product packaging

Understanding the layers involved in product packaging is an essential step. It helps you decide the positioning of the design elements while also establishing the key points of concern. There are two layers of product packaging.

Outer Product Packaging

From envelopes to boxes, these containers are used to ship the product. It is used in transporting the goods to either small local boutiques and merchants or perhaps the final consumer. In either case, you need to remember the effect on customization on the consumer.

The product box design must be precise and practical because this is where the mailing address and stickers will be placed. You cannot send ugly packages to your respectable consumer. That is the unwritten rule in the book of consumer sciences!

Outer Product Packaging

Inner Product Packaging

The next layer is the inner product packaging. This is everything within the packaging that is not the product itself. It could be packing peanuts, shredded paper, or mail inserts to keep the product in place along with pamphlets, informative booklets, or even print advertisements for the brand.

Practicality is the key concern here.

How can you ship a Parisienne Perfume to New York without breaking it in the box intended for shipping? You need to place something around the product to keep it safe, after all!

Understanding these layers will help you budget accordingly without underestimating the costs. This means you have to brand each element following the product story to make sure that the user has the best experience when they receive the product.

What goes on the packaging design?

Now that you are past the secondary planning, it is time to begin the packaging design process. For this, you must be aware of the basic elements necessary for a product to be viable in the government and consumer views.

There are four elements that go on the package:

  1. Titles: the product name that must be placed on the product package.
  2. Copy: this entails a tagline, product description, instructions for use, and care.
  3. Visual stimulus: from logos to any other design elements deemed necessary by the design team.
  4. Necessary information: labels of nutrition, safety, bar codes, and batch numbers for references.

The packaging design process

The packaging design process

Here is the step by step process of package design. We hope this will enlighten you about better practices without wasting time and resources on the process of trial and error.

Research

Research is a necessary step in every stage of running a business itself. From the audience’s preferences to the top trends in the market, everything must be looked up before a design is created. This helps in the development of relevant and attractive designs.

Container type

The container type is dependent mainly on the product itself. But you have the creative liberty in some cases. It is obvious that you won’t choose to sell a lotion in a carton or a cake in a bottle. But then, imaging the fun!

You need a container that looks phenomenal is aligned with the industry standards, functions efficiently, and is practical for the purpose of shipping.

Creative elements

The next step is where all the creative juices are liberated. You can hire the best designers for a one-time investment.

From deciding the color scheme and imagery to the attractive copy that sells, each dot and line contributes to your product’s appeal. The goal is to place everything visibly on the package so that the consumer is not left scratching their head when they come across your product on the shelf.

Print choices

Once you have the design ready, it is time to align it for printing. It would be best if you had a printer that is appropriate for your product. This choice depends on the container and your plans about outer and inner packaging to ensure the delivery of perfection.

Final thoughts

For Marisol, she has chosen to package her scented lotions in ethically extracted plastics for increasing the longevity of the packaging. She has chosen to ship her product in cartons and packing peanuts that helps her product get the Marisa vibes from Maid in Manhattan, which was her favorite movie from the early 2000s.

The product is named Marisa to stay true to the brand and is packaged with love by Marisol herself due to the bespoke packaging she has chosen for the budding business.

The product packaging design is a tedious process that requires a lot of planning and creativity to be executed to perfection. It is responsible for making or breaking your brand because the strategy involved in the process defines the budget and survival of your business itself.

  • A Picture of Waqas D.

    Waqas D.

Waqas D. is the co-founder of the branding and website agency, FullStop™. He supercharges brands by crafting memorable logos, brand identities and engaging websites. Besides thousands of startups and medium-size businesses, FullStop has worked with likes of Microsoft & L’Oréal. View our portfolio or get in touch.

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