What matters most in food packaging design differs depending on whether you’re a customer, a product manufacturer or a design firm.
To a customer, what matters most in food packaging design is ease of use, ability to reseal (when appropriate), a shape that is storage-convenient and great looking design. To a product manufacturer, what matters most is cost of production, brand identity recognition, protection of product integrity and distinction from competitors on the shelf. To a package designer, what should matter most is how well the packaging fits into the brand story, how unique it is and if it will stand out on the shelf when sitting next to the competition.
How, oh how, does one marry all of these concerns into one, beautifully designed package? Read on, my friend.
For the most part, customers want practicality in their product packages, but sometimes, practicality and distinction can go hand-in-hand. Take sugar, for example. Most sugars are retailed in paper sacks or small rectangular boxes. In order to make their brands distinct, some small manufacturers might use beautiful tins, or design their paper sacks in a way reminiscent of old-timey general store sugar bags. However, as beautiful as sugar tins are, they might be a bit more expensive than what the average shopper is willing to pay for sugar.
Sugar sacks, of course, are very difficult to reseal and are prone to leakage. The packagers for C & H Sugar came up with a solution, which was to package a line of sugar in a milk carton-type container, allowing for stability and ease of pouring and reclosing. The package is attractive to the customer on two fronts; it is distinguishable from its competitors, and that distinction offers the customer a benefit.
When it comes to food, it’s always advisable to have designed a package that clearly shows or states what is within said package – customers tend to want to know what they’re buying (call us crazy). Designers can choose a window (if the food product is fully realized and attractive enough), an artist rendering or a photograph.
Whatever makes the food product seem the most delicious and enticing is what you should use. If the food product is so questionable that no visual representation can save it, then just use the ingredients. If the ingredients are so offensive that they would put off even the most carefree buyer, then… well, you’re the designer – use your abundant genius! [That sounded convincing, didn’t it?]
Since the product manufacturer wants overheads to be as low as possible, you’ll want your package concept (and final design) to be as cost-efficient as practicable. This means designing a package that requires relatively few materials, creating a structure that protects the product and developing a package shape that can be packed and shipped for distribution in as high a volume as possible.
The food package design, obviously, must jive with the brand identity, as well as the market for whom the product is targeted. Good designers have the tools and expertise to work within the parameters of the client’s brand aesthetic. You may be in love with 19th century mercantile whimsy, but if your client’s products are quick, convenient and on-the-go, then glass jars with muslin tied around the lids probably aren’t going to fly.
Let’s face it; designer concerns are project quality, client referrals, repeat clients, high-paying clients and whether or not our impressive designs will win an award. If we’re lucky, we’ll be able to work with clients who have a solid grasp on what they want and are able to communicate it intelligently and succinctly, or just let us design whatever we want and pay us handsomely for it. Unfortunately, your not always lucky and you need to be able to create perfection in less than perfect situations.
In much the same way renowned chefs have more sophisticated palates than their non-food industry counterparts, designers have a different view of what works as a food packaging design concept than the average consumer.
This is basically why all of the fabulous and heartily applauded food packaging designs one usually sees on design websites are generally nowhere to be found in the typical Walmart or Vons. This may sound sacrilege, but a great packaging designer has to be able to imagine your food packaging design on a properly franchised drugstore or grocery store shelf. If the concept is excessively designer-y, it will live only in the online design showcase websites, and what client wants that?