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February 13, 2013

Packaging Design Needs to Do More than Look Good

Packaging Design Needs to Do More than Look Good

How often have you judged a person based upon a ridiculously unflattering haircut; poor choice of dress shirt or superabundance of piercings? Whether we think it’s shallow or not, humans are a visually oriented species; we’re most comfortable evaluating things based upon appearance, whether it pertains to people, landscapes or dishwasher detergent. We’re particularly harsh when it comes to judging products, and if the packaging doesn’t speak to us, chances are we’ll walk right on by.

Product packaging may seem like almost an afterthought, but it is nearly as important as the product itself; particularly if the product is widely perceived as being more or less identical to every other product with which it is in direct competition.How will you express the uniqueness of your product to your consumer base? What will set your product apart from the millions of other brands of ketchup, toothpaste, styling gel or antibacterial hand wash?

Sell Your Product
Unfortunately, a good product doesn’t always sell itself; the packaging has to provide a little support. This can come in the form of a photo representation of the product on the package, a typographical description of what the product does and the problems it solves, an interestingly constructed product receptacle or attractive artwork.

Whatever decision you make regarding the packaging wholly depends upon the type of product you are selling, who the target market is and thestrength of the company brand identity. If you’re designing packaging for a client whose brand is extremely well known, you can get away with letting the brand speak for itself (Apple does this; they often don’t feature anything more than their logo and a picture of the product on their packages). If the product and the brand are new, then there will have to be more information as to why the customer wants and needs the item.

Practical and User-Friendly
When we buy a product, we want the packaging to serve its use. If it’s a perishable food item, can it be resealed for refrigerated storage? Is it easily stacked or oddly shaped compared to other items that would have to be stored next to it?

Is this product destined for retail outlets or online sales? If the product is likely to be shipped more often than not, then you will have to design the package accordingly, in order to maintain the integrity of the product during transit, as well as keep the cost of shipping to a minimum.

Clarify the Brand Identity
Unless your business is an industry juggernaut (in which case, well done, interested in doing a guest blog?), most products have competition. The packaging has to let the consumer know the company that is responsible for this particular product is different from all of the others; and if the brand identity isn’t well known, then the designer has to illustrate it clearly. What type of personality does the brand want to convey? Perhaps the brand wants to stress its dedication to eco-friendly principles. Maybe the brand would like its consumer base to think of it as rugged and outdoorsy, or tech-savvy and space-aged. The options are many, and the design of the package is the key to clarifying how the brand is perceived.

Know Your Demographic
Design innovations are useless if they don’t speak to your market. You might have conceived of the hippest, coolest packaging for a body wash ever, but if your market just flat-out isn’t into fashion because your market consists entirely of burly, plaid-wearing lumberjacks, you’ll only succeed in alienating your base without necessarily having attracted a new one. This may seem like it’s purely a marketing decision, but a graphic designer can finesse the aesthetic in numerous subtle ways. Make sure that the desire to create something cool doesn’t supersede the knowledge that the target audience simply doesn’t care about “cool.”

These are a few things to keep in mind when brainstorming packaging ideas with your team. It was once said that the key to political success is keeping a half-step ahead of popular tastes; the same can be said of package design. Too flashy and customers will be turned off; too similar and the product will be easily ignored. Don’t be ignored. And, if you need some help with ideas, get in touch with us and we’ll brainstorm together.

author

by Kevin Smith
Managing partner at SmashBrand. We're a group of experienced brand owners, thinkers and world-class designers united by an obsession for creating category disrupting brand experiences.

Purposefully selective, we work with brands that want to stand out and also stand for something.

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