1. Clarity and simplicity
Next time you go to a supermarket, pick a random shelf and browse through some products. Glance at each and ask yourself two very simple questions:
What’s this product for?
What’s the brand behind it?
You will be amazed how hard it is to find answers to some of these essential questions in less than 4 seconds, which is the maximum time average consumer will dedicate to any particular product on the shelf.
You’ll find products listing dozen of benefits with no clear brand name. You’ll find products that look great on the outside yet fail to explain what’s in the box. You might even find cleaning products in packaging more appropriate for kids juices.
Although some product categories allow for a bit of mystery (think perfumes and luxuries), failing to identify the product in terms of content, usage or brand identity is a horrible practice which usually results in a packaging design which doesn’t perform well in stores.
So remember rule number one: be clear about the product, be clear about the brand.
Beginners in packaging design, and I’m talking both clients and designers, often strive to depict the product in the most perfect way imaginable. They will show a cookie drenched in chocolate, when in fact you’re buying a simple chocolate flavored biscuit. They’ll show rich, fresh cherries on fruit yogurt with little fruit content.
By depicting a product ten times better than it actually is, you’re misleading and ultimately disappointing the consumer, which only leads to poor sales performance and very bad brand image.
This is where honesty comes in. Consumers have nothing against simple, inexpensive products, as long as they know what they’re buying! Of course they expect “face lifting” to some degree but not to a point where product appears to be something entirely different.
As a designer, your task is to represent the product in the best way possible but keep in mind that consumers – you included – deserve to be treated right.
Originality, character and memorability are at the heart of great brands and of course, great packaging designs.
It’s easy to understand why – there are hundreds of products out there, all competing for consumers’ attention. The only way to set your brand apart is to be different, to be authentic.
Because this is truly a matter of creativity and exploration, it’s impossible to give advice on how to “be authentic,”especially nowadays when people are faced with myriad of brands, looks and appeals.
If you’re stuck with a generic looking packaging design then apply an uncommon design style with strong “visual standards.”
For example, if everybody is going for product photography, use illustration or type-based design. If everybody is using a horizontal layout, reach for vertical. If most designs are rather contemporary, try introducing something retro with focus on quality appeal.
Be bold, be different and look into other product categories for unexpected sources of inspiration – spirit label designs can be a great way to brainstorm ideas for that new chocolate packaging project.
4. Shelf impact
From a shopper’s point of view, a product is never seen alone and never in great detail. Because of the viewing distance from shelves and the fact that products are arranged in rows and columns, all we see are veritable patterns made of various products. It’s not until a certain pattern attracts our attention that we decide to take a closer look.
This distinctiveness and appeal of the product when placed on an actual shelf is something retailers call “shelf impact,” and it makes a huge difference in product sales.
Shelf impact is something you need to test and explore in your designs. You can do this by imitating the placement of your design on an actual shelf and surround it by other products (for best results, use several rows and columns of each product). The more distinctive it looks, the better it sells.
Note: you will be amazed at the results – sometimes the best looking design will simply blend in and become invisible, while more simple designs “pop” in this environment.
A product packaging design concept should allow for an easy introduction of a new line extension (product variation) or a sub-brand.
For example, imagine you’re creating a packaging for new brand of apple juice. You and your client opt for a certain design featuring apples which looks really great. However, a few months later, the client decides to launch a cherry flavor under the same brand name.
To your dismay, you understand that the initial design concept you created heavily relies on apples to work and that cherries will not look nearly as good. Plus, cherries have some benefits to be communicated on the front panel, which works against your idea. You have a problem with extensibility.
To avoid this, you should always design product packaging with the future in mind. This means creating a visually systematic design which allows for easy changes of product visual or other information, so you get a fine looking family of products in the end.
Practicality deals with the actual shape, size and functionality of the product container, not just the label or wrap. The more practical the product, the more sales it gets – when Heinz turned the ketchup bottle upside down, sales skyrocketed.
Practicality is the most overlooked aspect of packaging design, simply because clients often pick the “tried and true” route which is a lost opportunity for innovation.
But if you get lucky and do get a chance to design the next bottle, box or a cup, always think practicality first – or in most cases, how you can make the product easier to use, carry or store.
Practicality alone can solve many of the packaging design challenges.
Packaging design is a large and demanding design field always looking for designers who can deliver both product originality and sales performance. Packaging is the last message a consumer sees and a last chance to convince him to buy the product. Clarity, honesty, authenticity and other rules described above play an important rule in this process but are by no means the final word on the subject.
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