November 3, 2013

What Makes Some Packaging Designers Stand Out

What Makes Some Packaging Designers Stand Out

So what makes one packaging designer stand out over another one? Good question: some stand out because of their glorious pectoral muscles, radiant skin, impeccable wardrobe…

Wait, sorry.. that’s just us. [Oh, snap!] For the rest of the crowd, it’s their ability to design packaging that protects the product, elevates the sales of the product, uses as few materials as possible and wins prestigious package design awards. Of course, to potential clients, the most important quality a packaging designer can have is the talent for making those clients money. In order to make those clients money, the package you design has to have several distinct qualities.

Shelf Appeal

If you’re competing with a juggernaut brand whose consumer base has displayed an almost unflagging loyalty for the past, say, half century, your package has to be made distinct in order to disturb the typical customer’s ingrained 30-second grocery/drugstore shelf scanning process. Unique color combinations, bold and unusual typography and an eye-pleasing yet distinct shape are three tools packaging designers use to enhance a product’s charm factor.

Studying competitive products is essential. Remember, shelf distinction doesn’t necessarily mean visually loud; if your competitors all use a heavy design hand in terms of graphics and package features, a clean and simple package design will stand apart easily.

Don’t forget; the stores that will stock your product aren’t entirely infallible when it comes to product displays. If you have a frozen food item, it is very likely that the freezer case might frost over, making the contents difficult to see. If the retailer tends to hang discount tags off of the shelves rather than sliding them in the shelf ridge, crucial label details could be obscured. The stellar package designer will have those things in mind in the concept phase. One technique we particularly like for product distinction is the use of typography that can be read without necessarily picking up the product first. Products that can’t be identified during a cursory shelf glance are products that are going to be largely ignored.

User Appeal

What can a package designer do to enhance user experience? Depending upon what is known as the “purchase driver,” the brand has quite a few options. If convenience is one of the main drivers for your food item, you might want to think about a design that allows the buyer to use the item in several ways and in different environments. For example, if your product is a shampoo targeted towards athletes, think about a design that would make it easier for the customer to carry the product in a gym bag, use in a gym shower or defend himself in a gym riot.

Heinz recently unveiled a condiment packet that gives the user the option of either squeezing the ketchup from the container or removing the film so the user can dip whatever foods he/she likes into the ketchup. It was a relatively small adjustment, but it delivers quite a bit of noticeable user appeal.

Material Economy

When it comes to packaging materials, less is more – from both a cost standpoint and an environmental standpoint. The cost of production will factor into the cost of the product, and unless the extra packaging provides a distinct user advantage (i.e., the package becomes a part of the product itself), the flashiness of the packaging might only hurt sales.

Excessive packaging also leaves a bad taste in many consumers’ mouths. If the product is marketed toward people who have an interest in personal and ecological health, a surplus of packaging might actually offend the people you are trying to entice.

So, what have we learned today? We learned that effective packaging designers have an almost supernatural ability to hypnotize the shopper away from trusted brands in 30 seconds or less. We learned that Heinz dip and squeeze containers were a stroke of genius. Most importantly, we learned that supermarkets have to be watched and studied, lest they body-slam a perfectly good package design merely by stocking it.


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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