How to Design Product Packaging: An In-Depth Guide

How to Design Product Packaging: An In-Depth Guide

In between the products and consumers, the stage is set long before the first interaction. Picture this: your potential customer stands in a bustling store, eyes darting from shelf to shelf, making split-second decisions. Your product packaging can influence these choices, acting as the conductor orchestrating a visual and tactile experience that either captures attention or fades into the background.

This is product packaging design—where creativity meets strategy, and every shape, color, and texture can tell a story. More than just encasing a product; it’s about crafting a visual narrative that resonates with your brand’s target audience. 

Strategizing, creating, and selecting the final packaging design for your product is not a simple task. From conceptualization to execution and revision, the process takes time and careful consideration.

As businesses navigate today’s consumer preferences and environmental considerations, product packaging design becomes both a science and a brushstroke of creativity.

It plays a crucial role in your brand identity, competitive differentiation, and overall product marketing strategy. A deep understanding of its best practices will contribute to your brand’s success. To help elevate your product packaging design, use this infographic as a guide.

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what is packaging design

What Is Product Packaging Design?

Product packaging design is the integration of materials, structure, color, typography, imagery, regulatory information, and other design elements to render a product market-ready. At its core, it aims to create a vessel that effectively fulfills various functions within the marketplace: containment, protection, transportation, dispensing, storage, identification, and differentiation.

The primary objective of packaging design is to craft a functional and visually cohesive entity that not only safeguards the product but also aligns with marketing strategies. It serves as a multifaceted tool aimed at distinctly conveying a product’s personality or function, thereby enhancing its market presence and fostering consumer engagement. 

Ultimately, the measure of success for packaging design lies in its ability to effectively communicate, resonate with the target audience, and drive consumer actions, leading to a successful sale.

Understanding Packaging Design in 3 Main Layers

Depending on product type or nature, you may need one or more layers. Each of these layers has a particular function to complement one another, whether it’s design aesthetics or functionality.

1. Primary packaging

Primary packaging encapsulates the item directly and is the initial point of contact between the consumer and the product. This layer, be it a bottle, wrapper, or container, not only safeguards the product but also serves as a canvas for branding elements and essential information.

A folding carton for a bike helmet is an example of primary packaging, and so is a bottle of shampoo. Sometimes, primary packaging can’t be seen on store shelves. Thus, this packaging layer isn’t always branded. Consider breakfast cereal: the primary package is the interior liner bag that contains the cereal inside the carton.

2. Secondary packaging

Beyond the immediate interaction, secondary packaging encompasses the outer layer that safeguards and presents the product. It often takes the form of boxes, cartons, or containers, offering an additional shield and conveying crucial details, instructions, and branding elements.

Secondary packaging can go around the primary packaging or hold individual product units together, such as a paperboard box with a dozen cans of soda. In this case, besides protecting the product and primary packaging, the paperboard packaging can be part of branding, too, as it displays your brand logo and associated messaging.

Bubble wrap, shrink sleeves, and fillers also belong to this category since they keep goods in excellent condition for customer use later on. In the cereal example, the carton that encases the liner bag is the secondary package. In a 12-pack of beverages, the carton is the secondary package, while each can/bottle is the primary package.

3. Tertiary packaging

The outer or topmost layer of packaging. Expanding the perspective to logistics and transportation, tertiary packaging is typically designed for bulk handling and storage. It includes pallets, crates, or containers that facilitate the safe transport and storage of multiple products, ensuring they reach their destination unscathed.

Tertiary packaging materials include large corrugated boxes, pallets, crates, and other protective containers. In club membership stores, products sold in bulk may often require tertiary packaging for transportation or even display. For example, cereal boxes may be purchased by the dozen, which would potentially involve a corrugated tray or case to contain and transport all the individual cereal boxes.

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What Is Good Product Packaging Design? 10 Essential Elements

Effective product packaging design transcends aesthetics; it intertwines functionality with a strategic visual language that resonates with consumers. Here are the essential elements that distinguish good packaging design.

1. Functionality and durability

Beyond aesthetics, practicality is paramount. Well-designed packaging facilitates easy handling, storage, and dispensing. It should align with the product’s characteristics to ensure a seamless user experience. Good packaging also endures the rigors of transportation. 

Depending on the product inside, a package generally should be durable enough to protect against drops, electrostatic charge, shock, temperature shifts, or impact. It should seal the product enough to keep away dust, moisture, and other contaminants that may potentially damage the contents inside.

2. Clarity

Good packaging design conveys information concisely. Clarity in branding, product details, and usage instructions fosters consumer understanding. It ensures that the message is easily digestible, allowing for swift decision-making on the consumer’s part.

3. Visual cohesion

The integration of color, imagery, and typography should form a cohesive visual narrative. Consistency in design elements across primary, secondary, and tertiary layers reinforces brand identity, making the product easily recognizable on shelves or online platforms.

4. Branding

Good marketing involves using brand-specific design elements to help customers recognize that a particular product belongs to your business. From corporate logos to colors, fonts, images, and patterns, you need to supply these elements to your packaging designer, who will include them on the package mockups as the design project progresses.

If you’re establishing a company or brand for the first time, a brand book can serve as the basis for your company’s design work moving forward.

5. Authenticity and uniqueness

Authentic packaging design genuinely communicates the brand’s identity. Uniqueness sets a product apart, creating a memorable impression in the consumer’s mind. Whether through innovative shapes, materials, or branding, a distinctive identity contributes to brand recall.

6. Sustainability

Sustainable packaging designs utilize materials that are biodegradable, recyclable, compostable, or reusable. It may also include materials that have been previously recycled or sustainably manufactured or harvested. This sustainability attribute is important because it reduces the ecological footprint of a product’s life cycle across all its stages of production, use, and disposal.

With consumers’ increasing awareness of sustainability best practices, more are inclined to be loyal to brands using green packaging. Your business must get the right message across to your target market: not only is your product of high quality and good value, but you’re also doing your part in social responsibility through sustainable packaging design.

7. Creative content

The text and visuals on your packaging can help educate customers about your product, so it should be as specific as possible. For example, written copy describes the name of the product, what it is, how to use it, and so on. Images, codes, and other unique markings are also part of packaging content. You may also want to consider including a QR code to direct your customers to more detailed online content.

Preparing these content assets is vital in ensuring a smooth design process, as the designer will need to think about where to place them on the packaging. However, remember to note any content restrictions.

8. Optimal budget

Your packaging can’t be more expensive than your product. Break down the packaging costs before designing your product’s wrapping or product label. Product packaging costs typically fall into two categories:

  • One-time costs – upfront, non-recurring costs, so you only have to pay for them once. Design fees, cutting dies, and print plate setup for litho/flexo printing jobs are some examples.
  • Unit costs – represent the cost of your materials and labor to pack each piece of your product. For example, the squeeze bottle containing your dish soap product, the label that goes with it, and the packing cost combined result in the packaging cost per unit.

Materials, printing methods, sustainability, size, and design are all factors that have cost/benefit trade-offs that must be considered.

9. Compliance

Meeting regulatory standards is non-negotiable. Good packaging design ensures that all necessary information, warnings, and legal requirements are prominently featured, indicating transparency and compliance.

Depending on the product category and market, your brand may also need to include health and safety warnings, environmental or nutritional information, usage instructions, language requirements, sell-by dates, or metric/imperial measurements. The bottom line is you should know the legal and regulatory requirements for certain content to be placed on the package.

10. User experience

If your packaging is effective, it contributes to an overall positive brand experience for the consumer and is differentiated from your competitors. While bold colors and a clever design structure can be eye-catching, creating a multi-sensory experience can attract more customers and build brand loyalty more effectively. Start with the visuals and work out the tactile features. Remember to design for an engaging user experience—both inside and out.

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How to Design Product Packaging Effectively: 8 Best Practices

The art of designing effective product packaging requires a nuanced understanding of industry dynamics, consumer behavior, and the ever-evolving marketplace. Here are practical strategies that can guide businesses in creating packaging that not only attracts attention but can also convert interest into sales.

1. Consumer-centric research

Before diving into design, conduct thorough research on your target audience. Understand their preferences, buying behaviors, and visual aesthetics. This foundational knowledge forms the bedrock of packaging design that resonates with consumers.

2. Brand consistency across channels

Ensure a consistent visual language on your brand’s packaging design across various touchpoints. Whether on the shelf, in advertisements, or online, maintaining brand consistency reinforces brand identity and facilitates instant recognition.

3. Focus on the unboxing experience

Capitalize on the emotional impact of product unboxings. Consider the sensory elements—texture, scent, and visual appeal—that contribute to a memorable and positive unboxing experience for the consumer.

4. Typography for readability

Select fonts that align with your brand personality and are easily readable. The typography on your packaging should communicate essential information clearly and succinctly to assist consumer understanding.

5. Strategic use of color

Leverage the psychology of color to evoke specific emotions and associations. The color palette should align with your brand identity and resonate with the intended audience.

6. Incorporating sustainable practices

Embrace sustainable packaging materials, practices, and regulatory standards. Communicate these efforts transparently on your packaging and partner with a reliable, sustainable packaging manufacturer to align with the growing consumer demand for environmentally conscious products.

7. Adaptability for eCommerce

If selling online, design packaging that not only stands out on digital platforms but also protects the product during shipping. Consider the size, weight, and structural integrity for a seamless ecommerce packaging experience.

8. Quality testing and feedback loops

Prioritize quality testing to ensure the durability and functionality of your packaging. Establish feedback loops with consumers to gather insights on their experiences, enabling continuous improvement.

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Promote Your Product’s Value Through Great Packaging

By harnessing the best practices of product packaging design, brands can create packaging that captures attention and transforms that into enduring customer loyalty and sustained sales success.

Each best practice contributes to a comprehensive approach that goes beyond aesthetics, fostering a connection between your brand and target audience. As the packaging landscape evolves, adopting these strategies positions your products for success in a competitive marketplace.

For professional guidance tailored to your unique business needs, connect with Meyers experts. The team is ready to bring your packaging visions to life and help elevate your brand through custom packaging solutions where innovation and impact meet.