June 26, 2019

Understanding Packaging Design Testing

If you’re going through a packaging redesign for your product, we’re willing to bet that you’re up to your ears in data, packaging templates, and stakeholder opinions about which design elements will give your new packaging that extra boost your brand needs. It’s all a part of the process, but really, how do you separate the good opinions from the bad? How can you be sure that your new packaging components will create enough brand value to justify the cost of the redesign?

The answer, of course, lies in a thorough understanding of packaging testing. 

Start With Your Options

If you’ve done your due diligence up to this point, you likely have several new packaging options on your shortlist. The goal of your packaging testing is to further cull these options and find the choice that produces the highest purchasing intent and perceived brand value from your target market. It’s a simple enough concept, but how do you pull it off? 

It starts with your current list of design options. At this point, you should have finished your initial design planning, where various packaging elements go through a qualitative review process to see which design elements are most crucial to the brands messaging. From here, you can take these choices and apply a structured testing methodology to each design that will give you actionable insight into which designs will produce the best ROI.

Let’s review this methodology in more detail.

Types of Package Design Testing

There are plenty of package design testing choices out there, each of which provides a different perspective on your options. You should have collected plenty of information already on your prospective packaging designs from your earlier customer outreach:

  • Observational research
  • Online surveys
  • Guided assessments
  • In-depth one-on-one interviews

This is the data you used to narrow down your shortlist of options. But during these late stages of your redesign, you’ll be going beyond basic research and testing your packaging options against your biggest competitors to see how your choices stack up. 

In-Person Displays

The most obvious testing strategy is to set up a physical display that mimics the target audience’s typical shopping experience. The goal here is to replicate how users react to real-life displays and see how each packaging option fares in the retail shopping environment. Look at how consumers browse the shelves, which products they examine, and how long they spend reading the packaging. Take note of everything you can, as this method will form the backbone of your decision. Without a doubt, the most productive packaging tests come from those performed in a product’s natural usage environment.

Virtual Storefront Displays

You can even set up online virtual displays that simulate the shopping environment and let viewers look at products side-by-side. This is an easy way to get substantial amounts of data for relatively little work. Compared to the hassle of setting up in-person displays, virtual storefronts for product comparison are super easy to implement.

Instinctive Responses

A great supplement to experiential tests is instinctive tests—or in other words, getting a feel for how consumers respond to packaging designs without giving them time to process. For example, you can set up a timed exposure that flashes a split-second image of a packaging option to a customer. Ask the customers how they feel about the product, which elements grabbed their attention the most, and what aspects were most memorable after the fact.

Collect Behavior Data

As your test subjects review each option, consider using more advanced tools to collect detailed information on their behavior. For example, you can use eye-tracking software to create “heatmaps” of where consumers look on each packaging layout and how long they spend looking at each element. When combined with the above testing methods, this provides great insight into consumer behavior that you won’t obtain by asking their opinions.

Things to Look For Throughout Testing

The above methods give you the means to find the data you need, but what data are you looking for?  If your goal is to develop a packaging design that attracts new customers and boosts ROI, you’ll want to focus on the marketing potential of each layout:

  • How engaging is each package design?
  • Which sparks the highest purchase intent?
  • Which aligns best with the consumers’ expectations of your brand?
  • Which ideas/concepts are being projected in the layout? 
  • How will the package affect purchase frequency?
  • What kind of pricing expectations do customers have based on the packaging?

There’s a lot to cover here, so you’ll need to make sure you perform enough tests with big enough sample sizes to make the data worthwhile. Aim for sample sizes of a few hundred customers per test, at the minimum. The more data you have, the better, though you’ll likely need to balance your need for data against your budget and redesign timeline.

Proper Testing Is the Gatekeeper of ROI

All the research in the world won’t produce a revenue-generating package design if you don’t have the means to see it in action. Look at your timetable and see how much time you can devote to packaging testing. It can be difficult to choose between a shortlist of great options, but the great thing about testing is that you won’t need to make the decision. When you know what data you’re looking for, the customers will make the decision for you. 


by Michael Keplinger
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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