Staying on brand
One of the first things you need to consider is to make sure you are staying “on brand”.
If this is a completely new brand and product, you and your client will need to decide who the market is and how to appeal to them. Does the packaging need to be young and funky or should it be a luxury brand?
If however the brand already exists, you need to work out how it can sit within an existing product range while still standing out in its own right. There are no hard and fast rules for this. It could be as simple as a colour or product shot change or it could be pushed further. You will need to make sure you stick to any set font or style guidelines that may already exist too.
Looking at the existing packaging in the market
Whatever packaging you are working on you will need to do a bit of research to see what other products occupy the same niche. For example, imagine you are working on packaging for new clothes washing liquid, you would take a walk down a shop aisle to see what the other brands look like. Is the product going to be at the budget end of the market or is it more of a luxury product. You will want the packaging you create to stand out from everything else in the aisle, but there is the question of how far should you go. If all of the other packaging is very minimal and white, doing something completely the opposite could either make or break the brand. If it’s too far away from the other packaging you will need some sort of reasoning for doing that so that it won’t alienate potential customers.
I remember listening to a talk by the head of a supermarket in-house design company. When they designed cereal boxes they would always look to see what the brand leader was doing. They would then take elements of what they were doing as a starting point for their design. For example, if the brand leader had a cartoon character on the front, they would create their own cartoon and so on. Quite often the brand leader products are actually made by exactly the same people as own-brands, the only difference is the packaging and the price/perceived brand value.
Finding inspiration by looking outside the niche
After you have taken a good look at what your competition is doing, take a look outside your niche. The good thing about this is you can find products targeted at a similar customer, but the design is likely to be significantly different. Imagine you have been briefed to create packaging designs for a range of luxury biscuits. You could look at the packaging for luxury ice cream or wine and see if you can take any inspiration from what they are doing. Write down the name of the products you like and then put together a moodboard when you’re back at your computer.
Considering how it will be displayed
An important thing to consider is how your product will be displayed. For example, if you go into a DIY/Hardware store, some products will be displayed in dump bins (cardboard point of sale units). This means you may not be able to see the lower edge of the packaging, so you need to make sure any important information is displayed nearer the top. Tall products may also be displayed lying down so you only see the end. In this case, all the important information needs to be there too.
Does the packaging have a window/clear element where the customer can see the actual product? If it doesn’t you will need to have some good product shots on the packaging so the customer can see both, what the product looks like and how it works (that’s if it’s a product that does something rather than an item like food).
Designing your packaging
Once you have done your research and collected some inspiration it’s time to start sketching out design ideas. Your client may already have a box or label in mind that they want to use, or they may have asked you to come up with some ideas. If you are going to be working on how the actual product is packaged, for example, the shape of a box, you may want to create some rough cardboard mock-ups to see how it might work. Then work through your design process in the usual manner. Bear in mind how your packaging is going to be printed too. This might vary depending on the material you are using.
In the initial design stages, you don’t need to get too bogged down with detail, but remember that you need to consider leaving space for essential and legal elements on your packaging. Most packaging will require a barcode and address details for returns. Some packaging will require legal and safety statements, icons representing tests that have been passed and in the case of food, a panel with nutrition and ingredients.
You will probably need to present a few design options, I always think three is a good number.
How to present your packaging designs
There are several ways to present your designs:
- If you have the actual boxes, bottles or jars, you could print out your designs and apply them to the packaging.
- If you have a photograph of the box, bottle or jar you could then apply your graphics to the photograph.
- You could find or take a photo of similar packaging and apply your graphic to it.
- You could use Adobe Dimension which is a software which lets you create product mock-ups and 3D scenes.
- You could create your packaging visual using 3D software. I personally use Cheetah 3D, inexpensive 3D software for Mac.
Why you should leave the paper engineering to the experts
I mentioned before that if you are designing the shape of the box you might want to create a rough mock-up. However, I would recommend that once the general box shape has been approved, you get a structural packaging expert or a packaging printer to create your cutter. They will have software created especially for the job and will know all about the thicknesses and tolerances of different card and board. Not only that, but they’ll be able to create a cutter guide that uses the least amount of material as possible so it’s more cost-effective to make. If you decide to create the cutter guide yourself, if your cutter is just a millimetre out you may find that the flaps do not lock into place securely.
I hope these tips help you create successful package designs that your clients will love.