5 Rules to Follow for Your Packaging Design

According to FMI (Food Marketing Institute), the average supermarket in the USA carries roughly 41,000 different products on their shelves.... wow, right? That's why when designing your product packaging, it takes more than just a "good eye", and that's why our designers constantly examine the key things that can make or break your good packaging design.


1. Clarity & Simplicity

The next time you're in your supermarket, pick a random aisle and take a look at some of the products occupying valuable shelf space. Examine each package and then ask yourself two 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 average maximum time that a consumer will spend looking at any particular item on the shelf (according to data from FMI). You’ll find products listing dozens 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. So, remember rule number one: be clear about the product, be clear about the brand.


2. Honesty

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 a very bad brand image. Ultimately you want to represent the product in the best way possible while at the same time building trust about your product in the mind of your consumers.


3. Authenticity

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, AND 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. Be bold, be different and look into other product categories for unexpected sources of inspiration – labels on today’s spirits for instance can be a great way to brainstorm ideas for a new candy or other decadent product 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 a veritable array of patterns made up 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 the actual store 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 will sell.


5. Extensibility

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. A design featuring apples which looks really great is chosen. However, a few months later, the client decides to launch an orange flavor under the same brand name. To your dismay, the initial design concept you created heavily relies on apples to work and that oranges will not look nearly as good. Plus, oranges have some benefits to be communicated on the front panel, which works against the concept.


Developing packaging with the future in mind makes line extensions a breeze. This means creating a visually systematic design which allows for easy changes of product visual or violators, so you get a family of products that is visually appealing and makes sense in the end.


That's A Lot to Think About!

Packaging design is a large & 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 the other rules described above play an important role in this process but are by no means the final word on the subject.


Next week, we’ll take a deeper dive into our 7 Steps in the Packaging Design Process.