Packaging Design: 10 critical considerations

Does your product packaging capture attention? Have personality? Communicate the attributes of your brand — instantly? Is it recognizably yours?

Remember: Packaging is your brand rendered in 3-D. This means that, to many customers, the product is the package — and the package is the product. “The physical manifestation of a brand is shockingly important,” says renowned management expert Tom Peters.

Whether your product is consumer or business-to-business, a strong, consistent packaging strategy is a must. Before you roll out a new packaging design, take a minute to consider these 10 tips — to ensure that your packaging has real presence.

1. Know your competition

Scrutinize the size, color, brand positioning, and messaging of competitors’ packaging. What’s successful? What’s not? Visit numerous retail environments. As you look around, ask yourself: How will our package stand out in this context?

2. Know yourself

Do you have a clearly defined brand? What’s your product story? Do you know — precisely — how you wish to differentiate your product? Make sure the impression you’re making is coherent and intentional.

3. Establish design criteria

Create the standards against which you will measure design options. What, exactly, do you expect your package design to communicate? What are the technical requirements? How will your package be oriented on the shelf? By nailing down clear criteria up front, you can move more swiftly to consensus — and completion.

4. Distill your message

Packaging is not a brochure. Resist the urge to put your entire brochure content on the package. What’s your key sales message? State it prominently. Too much clutter obscures your message.

5. Tell a consistent story

Step back and take a look at all your marketing communications. Review your literature, website, and advertising. How does your packaging fit into the marketing mix? Don’t underestimate its role. Most buying decisions are made at the shelf.

6. Hammer out the details

Packaging requirements can be complicated. What technical language must appear? Which legal language? Do you require space for translations? Be specific. These important details affect the design.

7. Test design options

Use focus groups. Seek feedback from your customers. Ask your sales representatives. How does the package look? Function? Feel? What does it communicate? Rigorously examine design options against the criteria you established.

8. Strive for production value

Use the highest-quality materials available within your budget. At minimum, your packaging must look as professional as what it houses. Customers judge products in an instant, based on the quality of the packaging.

9. Stay current

The lifespan of packaging is typically measured in years, not decades. Your packaging must appear current. It must highlight product attributes that satisfy current consumer demands. Make sure you don’t communicate “yesterday.” (Unless, of course, that’s your brand story.)

10. Dress your product well

Give your packaging due attention before sending it out to work for you. How will it withstand handling? Resist fading? Stand out on a crowded shelf? Catch the eye of a passing consumer? Dress your product well. It will be away from home for a long time.