5 Principles of Packaging Design
February 6, 2020

By Kyle Kaseta

Product packaging holds its significance as the final interface between product and consumer, but more importantly, it’s a marketing tool that allows manufacturers to distinguish their brand and product in a saturated market. When around 70% of consumers’ purchase decisions are still being made at the shelf, the success of your packaging design plays a vital role in turning shoppers into buyers.  

Beyond standing out on the shelf, the design of your packaging conveys your brand identity, promotes confidence in your product, and influences perceived value among consumers. Think about it—if your grandmother sends you to the grocery store for some prune juice, something that you hopefully have no experience purchasing, how do you decide? It may be subconscious, but as consumers we’re drawn to eye-catching design that conveniently provides the information we’re looking for (even if it’s prune juice).

From colors to shapes to typography to design and copy, there are seemingly endless decisions to be made when it comes to the package your product will live in—choose wrong and it could mean the difference between a wildly successful product and a product that falls by the wayside. With this daunting task, it’s best to consolidate the most important aspects of packaging design into five basic rules:


1. Get Noticed

First and foremost, consumers have to see your package as special amongst a sea of similar ones. Before a potential buyer even inspects a product for the information they’re after, they’ll have to decide which one to pick off the shelf.  Bold colors, vibrant design, and unique shapes can all be used and manipulated to provide this stand-out factor—but beware of going overboard. Think of the iconic packaging of Toblerone chocolate. Chocolate bars likely comprise one of the most saturated markets in the consumer world, so how can you possibly make your brown rectangle unique amongst thousands of brown rectangles? By making your rectangle a triangle, of course. This is a perfect example of how a subtle design touch has a big impact in distinguishing a product. The rest of the Toblerone package is pretty basic with minimal colors, imagery, and copy, but you’d be hard-pressed to find somebody who doesn’t recognize the brand on the shelf.


2. Present Effectively and Concisely

Once you’ve created a reason for the consumer to pick your package off the shelf, you now have to show why this product will be effective for them.  Using a hierarchy of information in your packaging design so that the most pertinent attributes are the most visible and digestible will allow consumers to quickly check off the things that they need this product to satisfy. Back to the prune juice—when you’re deciding on a bottle for your sweet old granny, you’re not likely to care about the life story of the poor guy who decided to make a living off prune juice.  You (and granny) are much more concerned with whether or not the juice is from concentrate, has reduced sugar, or is made from organic prunes. This is the kind of information that should be front and center, and easily legible, which may even save room on the back panel for the riveting tale of the prune-juice-company-founder.

3. Know and Reach Your Audience

It may seem like marketing to anybody and everybody would translate to more product sold, but finding out which niche market your product belongs in and constructing the packaging accordingly will achieve a higher rate of engagement and also help in solidifying your brand's identity. Marketing to the consumer base that will benefit most from a product will save your creative efforts from being wasted on an audience that’s just not interested in the product. Take energy drinks as an example—why is this packaging so homogenized (neon camo patterns, skull graphics, etc.) among brands? Because the consumers of energy drinks are receptive to the same things. People who gravitate towards coffee as their primary source of caffeine may respond to a peaceful Sumatran landscape, but for the special psychos who prefer their kick in the form of orange soda, neon camo is obviously the proper choice.

4. Be Practical and Functional

Similar to the convenience of information that defines a successful package, it also needs to be convenient to handle and operate. Keep in mind that no matter the time and effort put into the design of your package, consumers are ultimately shelling it out for what’s inside. Create a package that showcases the product, but also one that’s logical and relevant to the environment it’s in. The traditional glass Heinz Ketchup bottles found on restaurant tabletops are quaint and classic, but unless you enjoy the battle of trying to shake out a small dollop and ending up with a plate full of ketchup, the modern plastic bottle that rests on its enlarged cap for easy ketchup access is likely your preferred choice in packaging.

5. Disregard Rules 1-4

Tying yourself down to any specific rule or rigid structure can be detrimental to the creative process, and packaging can be successful by explicitly flying in the face of one of these rules, so the final rule is to disregard everything you’ve read thus far (within reason). If somebody had told Chris Pringle (the Pringles guy) that all chips had to be in plastic bags, where would we be as a society?

From candy bars to toothpaste, the packaging that your product makes its journey from shelf to consumer in has a direct impact on your brand. Your package needs to get noticed. The information on that package then needs to be delivered to the consumer effectively and concisely, which requires you to know your audience. Now that it’s in their hands, it shouldn’t take a rocket scientist to open and operate. Finally, remember Chris Pringle—don’t be afraid to break the rules and try something unconventional.

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