July 19, 2013

You Should Have Paid Attention in Math Class

You Should Have Paid Attention in Math Class

No one expects you to have an Einstein/Archimedes/Will-from-Good-Will-Hunting-esque brain for mathematical concepts, but in order to be a good package designer, you should at least be able to differentiate various geometrical shapes – or at least not be thoroughly confused by them.

Apart from designing a package that is pleasing to the eye and durable enough to protect its contents during transport or vigorous shaking, a package designer must take the shape of the final product into account. The shape of the package will dictate the number of units that can be fit into a single shipping pallet, which will have a domino affect on what all else it affects: –>cost of shipping–>cost of the product–>likelihood a customer will purchase the product–>the business’ bottom line–>the business’ ability to spend lots of money hiring fancy and highly skilled package designers.

Of course, efficient transport is only one of the reasons package shape is so very important; structural design also communicates brand identity and creates shelf presence. However, brand identity and shelf presence are practically meaningless if the package design eats revenue like Pac-Man eats flashing Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde.

Shipping Economy

There is a reason that beverage bottles are bottle-shaped. If we were to allow our imaginations run wild, we could think of millions of different variables for the basic bottle that are completely divorced from tradition — bottles that are shaped like the core ingredient of the beverage [water?]; bottles that are shaped like the manufacturer’s logo; bottles that are shaped like our Doberman pincer, Chompers. The problem with these concepts is – apart from the fact that fabricating most of these packages would be more expensive than a flotilla of diamond-encrusted yachts – the awkward shapes would cause major shipment headaches.

For a small business, keeping shipment and manufacturing costs low is essential, as you might imagine. Many new business owners, in the flush of newbie entrepreneurial zeal, want a package so totally different from the norm that they fail to take basic logistic issues into account. For example: how many units can be shipped in a single pallet? Will the bottle/canister/box require additional packaging in order to protect it during shipment? Will the shipper be forced to charge extra for the additional precautions?


Now that we’ve discussed the folly of designing insanely original packages, let’s move on to the topic of designing sanely original packages. If you’re lucky, you’ll be working with a client who has given a great deal of thought to packaging and shipment concerns well before they’ve even met with you. If you’re like the vast majority of designers, most of your clients won’t have really considered the package until it is pointed out that their product label must surround a vessel of some sort.

Now, even if your package design is thoroughly reasonable in terms of cost of production in addition to being aesthetically pleasing and chock-full of shelf presence, you will still have to employ [ominous music here] mathematics.

You might have convinced the client to abandon his/her original plan of shaping the package like a crab spider, but the geometry of your alternate packaging will nonetheless need to be engineered down to the finest detail. Even though the weight and volume of the product are huge factors, naturally, the amount of space that must be dedicated to labeling concerns — the name of the product, the brand, the logo, all relevant FDA labeling guidelines, bar code, QQ code, etc. – must be taken into account. The difference between fitting units into a pallet safely and efficiently can mean the difference of the barest fraction of an inch in the shape of the package. Fortunately, there is software that can help the designer foresee potential shipping headaches.

A unique package doesn’t have to be shaped like a star cluster; even subtle variations in form can create an interesting and eye-catching aesthetic. This honey jar has a storage-friendly shape and a sequence of stripes that evoke the design pattern of a honey bee. Funny how we’re used to honey containers that are in the shape of bears. Why? Because they like honey? They eat a lot of honey in Germany, too – should we package honey containers in the shape of Germans?


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.

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