August 11, 2014

5 Creative Ways to Get Around the Unspoken Rules of Food Label Design

5 Creative Ways to Get Around the Unspoken Rules of Food Label Design

We don’t necessarily agree with the concept of breaking design rules for the sake of breaking them, but if you have a good idea, by all means, explore it. For the record, good ideas do not include sucking yogurt from a tube or providing pre-shaped peanut butter and jelly slices.

Oh, don’t lose heart. Creative food label design is still a priority for packaging design companies and food manufacturers alike. The question is, how to lean away from trends in labeling that might be slightly overused or even clichéd? Here are a few things you can examine that might help your drink design, package design or label design stand apart from the competition.


We might be beating a dead horse with this one, but a package that has a purpose beyond just housing the product is definitely a good thing. Wine carriers that double as wine racks; snack chip canisters that can turn into bowls (this doesn’t officially exist as a commercially available package, but sweet idea) and, well… anything that can become something else. Since, when it comes to food, there really hasn’t been much undiscovered territory — we’re willing to bet that you are packaging and selling a product that is virtually identical to numerous others — you’re going to want to consider individuating yourself through the many ways your package is a benefit to society. A potato chip bag that doubles as a home bariatric surgery kit? Brave.

Food-Related Graphic Interest

Oh sure; pictures of food on food labels aren’t exactly revolutionary, but the way foods are graphically represented can be unique. If you can produce delicious-looking photos or renderings of the food in the package, by all means — do it. But, there is more than one way to skin a cat, as they gruesomely say. Why not take a look at producing a smartphone photo collage of your product in different applications? Huh… maybe not; we might use that ourselves. Forget we said anything.

Nonfood-Related Graphic Interest

You don’t have to have pictures of food across your label or package to whet your consumers’ appetites; there are plenty of colors, design schemes and textures that can induce potential customers to buy. Think of tangential images that we might associate with food but aren’t, technically, food. Gingham designs recall picnic baskets and lids for homemade preserves. Pastel colors make us think of confectionaries and bakeries. Images of cooking utensils evoke images of homemade meals. Just be cautious when using blue in your design; blue is an appetite suppressing color.

Packaging Shape

We know — fiddling with package shape is certainly nothing new, but there are always new ways of thinking about things. Thelma’s Cookies — a Des Moines, Iowa bakery — packages cookies in an oven-shaped box with a sliding cookie drawer. So basic and yet so unusual!

Food Lifestyle

Yes, enjoyment of certain types of foods can, in a small way, indicate certain lifestyle preferences. Clearly, people who gravitate towards protein bars are interested in hiking, paragliding, building huge amounts of muscle and climbing Everest with a Dodge Durango on their shoulders. Those who regularly buy Fleur de Sel sea salt very likely also frolic on the cobblestone streets of Montmartre while twirling frilly parasols and singing duets with cartoon birds. People who eat spicy, processed snack chips are also likely to be extremely edgy, hip and culturally tuned-in CGI cheetahs with vaguely continental accents. Of course, there are other examples, but we can’t think of any more flagrant stereotypes just at the moment.

Frankly, we can’t tell you how to package and market your particular product [then what the heck was the entire article about?], at least, not without talking about your needs first; you are the one intimately acquainted with your brand culture, identity and target market, so you are going to have to determine exactly how you want your food label design to appeal to your consumers. Of course, if you want to pursue the excellent package/home bariatric surgery kit idea, we suggest you have at least two attorneys on retainer, first.


by Kevin Smith
SmashBrand helps brands create, optimize, and launch successful products, services, and customer experiences. Our data-driven process is the key to accelerating sales and minimizing risks.

We use a strategic combination of market research, design, and consumer testing to solve complex brand problems more effectively, create differentiation, and forge more meaningful connections with customers.

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