Every single person has been walking through their supermarket or their favorite shop and had their eye drawn to some item that they weren’t looking for but now want, purely because of the packaging.
It is true that part of the reason people like antique items kept in their packaging for how it preserves the condition of the thing inside, but there is often something equally compelling about the packaging.
A good piece of packaging sells the item, and if you happen upon something as genius as a Pez Dispenser, the package can become the entire selling point. Not that you want to overshadow the product, but it does demonstrate how important packaging can be.
1. Survey It
Surveys are an invaluable tool when it comes to determining the best direction to go to satisfy a particular target audience.
You need to make sure that your sample base is big enough, and that you ask the kind of questions that are going to identify both those things that are desired, and those things which people really do not want.
Of course, no matter what the outcome, you are going to have to be the one to interpret the data and make the final design decisions, but having signposts to steer you in the right direction can be invaluable.
If you do not have the ability to do a large survey, then at least talking to some trusted people is a good idea. Surveying at different points in the process can be useful as well, as that thing you are in love with may be the very thing that needs to be struck from the design. Another viewpoint is important.
2. Make It Usable
Impractical packaging that looks nice but that people have to wrestle with to use is really violating one of the primary jobs that packaging has to do.
As well as telling people data about what is inside, and announcing that here is the product you are looking for, the packaging both protects and also makes it easy to access what is inside.
A lot of people were not fans of those milk cartons where you had to perform origami to get your milk, and still have a sealable container that was going to keep the milk fresh.
If you go for something that is inspired by your favorite surrealist and it won’t do anything but topple over, people are going to want to throw it out at the first chance. Something that looks great but doesn’t sacrifice the usability is the aim.
3. Make It Product Friendly
The product and the packaging need to be in a conversation with each other, and they need to be speaking the same language.
The consumer that you are targeting the product at is going to have certain demands, but the product itself is going to want certain things from a package as well.
When people are looking for packaging solutions they will have in mind what the demands of the item inside the package are. People may want to see that item; that item may need special measures to maintain its freshness; if it is liquid it may need certain qualities in the packing materials, and that may dictate the kind of visuals that you can apply to the package.
You cannot come up with a visual concept in isolation from the product – it really does need to be friends with the thing it is going to contain.
4. Simplicity Wins
There is a philosophy called Keep It Simple Stupid, and it is a yardstick that all designers should have firmly in mind.
It may delight and fascinate you to have something that resembles a Rubik’s Cube to hold your product, but when you imagine having that obstacle between you and your enjoyment of the product, as a customer, it can be pretty annoying.
Of course, if you are selling a product that is puzzle based, it may add an extra layer of challenge to the customer that they would love, and it would be totally appropriate. But in most cases avoiding complexity in favor of something simple is preferable.
This also applies to any information that you are providing on the packaging – do not make it so that the person has to hunt for data they need that is going to make it easier for them to choose your product over another.
5. Look At Current Trends
You don’t want to be the same as anyone else, but if there is a trend that is currently popular, riding the wave a little may not hurt. You can position your product in the same space with someone else’s product by using the cues that they use to suggest quality and innovation.
Take what you see out there as a starting point and then take it somewhere interesting. The ideas that you get may be something more practical than visual, or you may like the way that someone succinctly puts across information about the product.
There is a language that is used in design that constantly changes, and you want to be able to communicate to people, so you need to make sure that you are using the same visual vocabulary, and also that the materials you are using don’t send the wrong message.
6. Think About The Consumer’s Viewpoint
Your client obviously comes to the table with a particular viewpoint on the message that they want their customers to receive, and they are going to have a brief that encompasses what the package needs to do in a practical sense. Hopefully this is going to be derived from both experience and surveys, but in the same way that you can’t force an opinion you have about the packaging down someone’s throat, your client shouldn’t do the exact same thing to their customers.
If the consumer is in the older age bracket are they going to appreciate something in tiny print, or something that may present a challenge to arthritic fingers? It needs to be easy to read and easy to open.
Is a child going to want an essay on why buying the product is a good thing? No, you need to dial up the coolness factor to keep them interested.
7. Humor Helps
Having some fun with the product and the packaging, as long as you keep the previous points in mind is totally essential.
You are not going to stand out if you go with something bland and boring. Beige carpets and beige walls in a home are the choice due to ease and cost, but you don’t need to carry utility to the point where your package causes someone to fall asleep.
Your not going for a belly laugh either, just something that engages and makes someone smile. Check out this great Pinterest board to see what we mean.
8. Choose Color Carefully
Color is a very subtle language, and certain colors definitely have a lot of associations with them that you can use to your advantage.
You want to make sure that you package stands out, but you need to balance that with making sure that everything on the package is cohesive and clearly communicates what it needs to about the product.
If you are designing for certain products there are going to be certain colors that you want to avoid. Feminine hygiene products and diapers preclude the use of certain palettes for very obvious reasons.
Certain colors do not go well together, both in terms of the effect that they have on each other, and if you are using text of a certain color it is not going to work against all backgrounds. You can take cues from an existing color scheme in use as an existing brand identifier or a jumping off point as well.
Transparency can obviously have more than one meaning, and both are good ideas, and not unrelated.
When people are selecting a product, your more savvy consumers are going to want to know what is inside their product. If it is a food product this can be handled simply with a window in the package, and it is going to work equally well for toys, and it is a tactic a lot of electronics products use.
The other notion of transparency is obviously that of honesty. Being upfront about anything contained in the product, and making it easy for people to find things such as allergy information, and a point of contact where product questions can be answered is a great idea.
Honesty in a product is a great selling point, and a good packaging design can really speak to that.
Some people do judge a book by its cover. When it comes to making a choice about something, it can be a very quick process if someone is on a time crunch.
Your package is operating with several layers of communication at the same time. There is that initial announcement of it in the space, there is that first real communication when someone picks it up, and there is the deeper dive where people want to affirm that they are making the right choice. Your package needs to walk them down that path. Then, when they get it home it needs to be easy to use, and durable for as long as the product inside is designed to be kept packaged.
A great package will do all these jobs, and when you hit that winning formula, you will recognize it easily.