If you sell a product, odds are, it needs to be packaged. Depending on what the product is, this may differ. It’s easy to think that packaging is somehow a modern invention, especially with our plastic and modern printing methods, but even the earliest humans were fumbling to break coconuts and peel bananas, so the idea of a valued good sitting inside a protective shell of some kind has been around forever.
Thankfully, these days we have many inspiring changes and parameters that designers have to think through in order to achieve the best result. This keeps the discipline competitive, and also leads us to a better future, with our reduced reliance on plastic, our improved focus on sustainability, and even values like reusability, packaging is going through a revolution and yours can, too.
In this post, then, we’ll discuss the very many design insights that can work perfectly in achieving great packaging. But what might that look like in practice? In this post, we’ll discuss all of that and more, and hopefully curate the best outcome for your needs going forward. We also hope the advice in this post can be applied to many different outcomes given your design focus, as opposed to dictating a particular method which is the antithesis of good design.
As any designer knows, less is more. So, let’s cut the preamble and get to the good stuff:
Understanding Your Target Audience
It’s always important to be clear-headed about your target audience and what their needs might be, or to pre-empt what their needs could be in the future. Let’s take a hallmark of design and UX considerations, Apple, designs most of their device packaging as sleekly, cleanly, and robustly as possible.
They understand that their audience not only believes but wants to see Apple as standing at the pinnacle of design. Once you’ve already purchased the product, you’re rewarded for that impression by opening a streamlined, simple but high-quality and well-presented package. For example, when you open an iPhone box, you’re immediately greeted with the phone screen standing proudly, segmented from the other accessories and paper inserts as standing on its own.
Is this style over substance? Not particularly, because through style the substance of presenting a certain image, and catering to an audience’s tastes have been achieved. It’s measures like this that are working because Gen Z is more likely to favor Apple’s products over its competitors.
Prioritizing Functionality and Protection
Of course, packaging isn’t solely about looking good and achieving marketing aims, but ensuring the product lands in the hands of your consumer in its best quality condition. For some products, the condition insight matters but isn’t something you have to carefully plan around, for example, a squeezing tube of super-glue can be packaged in one of many ways because outside of heavy pressure and piercing, the item is relatively robust. But a carton of eggs? Well, the material needs to be spongy enough to withstand light pressure and hold the eggs in place, while also accepting refrigeration without damaging the integrity of the product.
Most often, packaging should be robust, closed, and require human interaction to open (as opposed to flapping open sporadically), but it should also be simple, too. Excessive ornamentation should be reserved for gifts or treats or brands that offer indulgence as part of their remit – for example, no one is going to complain about a gift hamper being packaged with too much flair.
A Note on Simplicity
Simplicity may not always be the best word to use, in fact, consider the term “brevity” in style. To put it simply, brevity means communicating and achieving more with less. Originally, the draft title of this post was “The very many design principles for achieving effective, meaningful packaging.” This works as a title, but “The very many design insights of effective packaging” is much shorter, easier to read, and communicates the exact same message.
Designers can use this universal principle when curating packaging. Put simply – box the product well, brand it correctly, ensure stability and robustness, and consider any brand-specific flairs that can work best for it. Even if you undergo multiple renditions, you will have used functionality, brevity, and protection as the foundational elements to work from.
Incorporating Sustainable Materials
Sustainability is the new revolution in packaging. Even if your customers aren’t screaming out for it, you can bet they’d appreciate it should it never detract from the standard they’ve come to know. Wood from sustainable forests, reducing plastic as much as possible, recyclable materials that can be used again and again, and removing eccentricities like zips in favor of rope ties or other small adjustments can be ideal.
This can also speak to your environmental drive, and you’ll be able to calculate the exact amount of plastic you might be saving thanks to your efforts each year. You can also help the environment by using non-toxic printing measures. Now, it’s important to note that not all products can be packaged using completely sustainable methods, so looking at the constituent elements of each piece may help you find opportunities you wouldn’t have expected.
Consistency in Branding
Even the most incredible and worthwhile designers will struggle to present your brand correctly unless the design adheres to your corporate image. To use Apple as an example again, their packaging boxes tend to align with the color of the device you’ve purchased, or on a broader scale are the same space-grey color palette we expect from their flagship products.
Sure, the Apple logo is quite unmistakable, but it’s impressive how only that logo can adequately describe who the box is from and what it may contain. Using consistent colors, fonts, and design principles you used to curate your graphic design will help you inform the overall aesthetic of your package, but it’s also important how the design speaks to your company values, so the two feed into one another.
For example, you may be able to save costs by using the most basic multivitamin box for your pharmaceutical packaging services but using a small tub could be more robust, take your label more clearly, and last longer in the cupboard. If you’re considered a premium option, or hoping to position yourself as one, having that room to maneuver can make a big difference.
Focusing on User Experience
UX (user experience) designers are some of the most sought-after professionals in the design space because it’s their job to take a cohesive look at any product or package and determine how exactly a customer might interface with it. They consider perspectives like safety, age-appropriateness, how intuitive your design is to use without explicit instruction, any unnecessary steps that can be removed, and how the overall design cohesively achieves your goals.
They also care about ergonomics, which refers to how well a product adheres to the natural utility of the human body. For example, if packaging takes much more lever force to open than it should, could this enhanced protection alienate those with lesser grip strength, for example, the elderly? If you’re selling health supplements or medicines to people with arthritis, to the extent they can’t open the package as well as they could, a primary goal has failed despite how good your actual product is.
This is a simplification of what these professionals do, but it’s true to say they offer a very necessary and bespoke service, especially if you’re trying to determine the full scope of your packaging effort, to begin with, or are looking to refine the final drafts more easily. User experience, practically, is about how substance can be accrued from every design decision you make, and how a lack of substance can lead to our aforementioned virtue of design brevity.
As such, outsourced professionals like this can give you that final sign-off worth appreciating.
Aesthetics That Evoke Emotions
We doubt you’ve ever hunched over unable to compose yourself thanks to a piece of packaging, but that doesn’t mean it can’t affect your emotions. From excitement to wonder, interest to comfort, packaging can offer all of this and more.
For example, depending on the kind of product you sell, you may have a “this is a gift” option on your website, allowing you to send the package out in special containers or wrapping that will be appreciated by the recipient. For Apple, our previous example, the overriding emotion they’re looking to generate from you is awe and wonder, especially as you open up a device package for an item that will connect you to the world. Consider the emotional response to your package and don’t ridicule it, even negative emotions such as frustration emanating from confusion can be important to understand as you move forward.
Bonus: Legal Compliance and Safety
Of course, packaging always needs to be produced with the regulations of your nation-state. Certain materials may be banned, environmental considerations must be adhered to, and safety, among all, is key. That’s why it’s important to use outsourced regulatory compliance staff to help you refine your final product and make sure all and any design is in keeping with the market laws you’re hoping to operate under.
With this advice, you’re certain to enjoy the many design insights of effective packaging.
Photo by Cats Coming: pexels.com