Product Packaging Design 101
Your Checklist to Creating the Perfect Product Packaging.
Whoever said good things come in small packages must never have received one of these.
But the commonly used idiom illustrates that product packaging is an important part of the customer experience. It’s the first thing customers interact with. Just like the contents inside, packaging has its own set of visual, textural, and even olfactory (think Scratch-n-Sniff) characteristics that impact how customers experience your brand.
So how do you start designing the perfect product packaging? Right here with this blog. We created this checklist to cover the logistical and creative questions that will help you create the best option. And we even walk you through the full process so you know what to expect.
PHASE I: GATHERING THE DETAILS
Picking your product packaging is kind of like a “choose your own adventure.” There are lots of interconnected factors like quantity and size that influence what options are available to you. Once you’ve gone through the questions below, you’ll have a better idea of what you need.
1) What’s your budget?
Your budget will quickly make clear what packaging options are available to you. Start by figuring out how much you can roughly spend per box. Take your starting budget and divide it by a few different quantities to gauge what you can afford. That’s a good number to start with, but know that the factors below will change your per box price. So let’s continue, shall we?
2) What kind of package do you need?
There are lots of packaging options and variations. Which best suits your product? Sometimes the answer is obvious (creams ≠ boxes). If the answer is less obvious, we wrote about our favorite packaging types in our blog, “Popular Product Packaging Options.” It will give you an idea of the most popular options used by different industries to meet specific goals or needs.
It’s important to note that packaging is not priced the same. Plastics tend to be pricier than cardboard. Rigid paperboard Apple boxes are more expensive than flimsy paperboard to-go containers. So anticipate your budget changing depending on your packaging type.
3) What size package do you need?
The size of the box should be proportional to the size of the product. This sounds obvious, but there’s nothing more disappointing than opening a huge box and finding a small trinket inside. Also, the proper size will protect your product from knocking around the inside of the package.
Another important question: What else is going inside the package? Paper inserts? Tissue paper? Product samples? Plan for enough space to include these extras so they don’t end up scrunched in the corner. Better yet, plan for enough space so the packaging closes easily!
4) What purpose does your packaging serve?
Every package has a purpose. Some, like this Juicy Couture Perfume box, have it easy. Their only job is to encase products. Blue Apron boxes, however, work a little harder. To prevent the arrival of broken eggs and suspiciously warm meat, they have two jobs: to protect and ship the product. Some packages act as safeguards, like press-and-turn bottle tops. Others serve their purpose more than once, like resealable shipping bags customers use to mail returns.
The lighter material used to make this Juicy Couture box is common for packages that encase products, typically found on retail shelves.
The point is that different jobs require different specifications. Whereas the Juicy Couture box can make do with a lighter, thinner material, a Blue Apron box has to be big and sturdy enough to hold heavy icepacks, thermal linings, and padding.
What do you need your packaging to accomplish? A big factor is whether customers buy products in-store or online. Knowing your packaging needs will help narrow down your options. And, it will change your budget since features like thicker materials and resealable strips cost extra.
5) What quantity do you need?
If you plan on distributing large quantities of product, you may need to use a cost-effective packaging option to meet the demand. Amazon ships millions of packages a day, so it makes sense to use cardboard boxes, an efficient, cost-effective option. Investing in a premium material would divert funds away from its operations, which makes it possible for them to deliver packages quickly. On the flip side, if you anticipate selling smaller quantities, you can likely afford a higher quality packaging material.
Most packaging wholesalers have minimum order requirements. While that number varies, it’s usually at least 100. Anyone who shops at Costco knows the power of buying in bulk. The same principle applies here. The larger your quantity, the smaller your price per unit. That’s why we encourage clients to find that sweet spot of getting the cheapest per unit price that they can afford.
Now that we’ve covered budget, packaging type, size, purpose, and quantity, we’re just about ready to move onto some of the more creative questions that go into product packaging. But before we do, we can’t stress enough how important it is to answer questions 1-5. This will tell you how much budget you have left to spend on creating the right brand experience.
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PHASE II: DEFINING YOUR BRAND EXPERIENCE
Packaging is equal parts logistics and aesthetics. You want to find a package that does what it’s supposed to do, but you also want it to stay on-brand. We started this blog by saying that packaging plays a leading role in the brand experience. Whatever your brand promise is, packaging helps you deliver that to customers. So how do you create a brand experience with packaging?
What are your options?
Packages are like blank canvases just waiting to be customized. As FabFitFun has shown, you can take a plain brown corrugated box and transform it into something glamorous.
Fab Fit Fun transformed the corrugated box with a fun, on-brand design that elevates the brand experience.
Each quarter, FabFitFun ships a curated assortment of full-size products to subscribers. Shipping full-size products requires the sturdy support of a cardboard shipping box. But brown cardboard couldn’t be further from the glam brand experience FabFitFun promised customers. So the company uses colorful designs to make each shipment feel like a box of “Wow!”
That brand promise continues after the box is opened. Inside, the products are wrapped in tissue paper and sealed with a sticker the way high-end presents are wrapped. Fun, crinkled paper confetti also adds a decorative pop.
This is just one example of how you can elevate your packaging so that the experience of opening it is on-brand. Once you’ve identified your packaging type (e.g. corrugated box), explore all of its customizable options. Can you print a full-color design on the entire box? If that’s not in your budget, can you print in one-color? If you have enough budget, think about the experience of opening your package.
We think it’s really important to mention that your brand experience may not require all the bells and whistles. The plain ol’ brown box works really well for Amazon. The company’s brand promise to Prime members is to deliver products within two-days. The cost-effective brown box helps them keep that brand promise. They’ve decided to simply customize the packaging tape they use.
What are your content requirements?
Content is essential to the user experience. Customer-facing content like images, text, and logos (e.g. Certified Organic) tell the story about your products and how to use them. Internal-facing content like shipping labels and barcodes help your team get the product to the customer seamlessly.
Another thing about content: it has a BIG impact on design. Knowing up-front what content must be on your packaging is essential. When designing HK’s 180 Skincare packaging, we applied a green accent to highlight the active ingredients in each product. This called out the product’s unique quality, but using it across the line gave the collection a cohesive look. We wouldn’t have been able to think up this creative and functional design element if we didn’t have all the required text at the start.
What are your brand requirements?
Let’s say your package finds itself alone on a park bench. Someone random comes along and picks it up. The test of a good package is if that person can identify your company and the general use of your product just by looking at the packaging.
It’s a given that your logo should be on your packaging. But what else? Consider your brand fonts and colors, or perhaps even your tagline.
Whatever branding elements you decide on, you’ll need to share them with the designer creating your packaging. (Preferably high-res logos and images!) They’ll be able to use your brand elements in a creative way that maximizes the space of the package.
PHASE III: PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
Remember when we called this process a “choose your own adventure?” Product packaging from start to finish is an “adventure” in every sense of the word. The journey is long, filled with ups and downs, but the hero prevails in the end (sometimes with the help of a trusty side-kick agency).
During phase I, when you’re finding the best package for your product, the benefit of working with an agency is that we’re not intimidated by the endless packaging selection. When we work with clients, we let our experience guide us and help us narrow a list of endless options down to 3-5. Another benefit of our experience is that we know how to gauge the actual price per unit. There are design and print factors that drive prices up and minimum quantity requirements. Knowing your budget upfront, we can find the customizable options that work best within your desired quantity.
When we work with clients during phase II, determining the brand experience, it’s important that we see for ourselves how the product will look in the packaging. That’s why we make time to order packaging samples and test how your product fits inside. We can see whether you need details like tissue paper or paper inserts to enhance the experience. When designing the packaging, we combine your content and brand essentials to create 2-5 concepts. Our goal is to test out variations of color schemes and layouts and see which the client likes best. To save our clients time, these concepts are just of the front of the packaging. Later, when the favorite concept is selected, we apply it to the rest of the packaging.
The final phase is production, fulfillment, and shipping. A lot of clients will ask us to manage this phase for sheer convenience. We order all of the materials from the vendor, send inserts to the printer, create mailing lists, and ensure that all of the pieces arrive to the fulfillment center where they’re packaged. A tip we like to share is to always order 1-2% extra boxes. If a box arrives damaged or your mailing list grows, you have extra to cover you.
If you want to continue the conversation, drop us a line!
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