The Do’s and Don’ts of Packaging Design

From a young age, we’re told not to judge a book by its cover. Savvy marketers know that this isn’t just bad advice – it’s contrary to human nature.

Brands only get one chance to make a first impression on shoppers, and packaging design is a crucial part of the earliest stages of the consumer experience.

You put so much consideration into your product, company values and brand voice. Package design allows you to marry visual elements with copy to tell your story in a compelling way. A single package presents countless opportunities for connections. Here are some ways to take advantage of all of them.


Mind the details.

Your product’s package is an expansive platform for brand storytelling, but it isn’t without constraints. You have limited space to create an accurate and favorable impression of your brand, so it’s important to make every feature count.

It goes without saying that your logo, tagline and product photos play an important role in catching the eye of the consumer. But what about the smaller details, like instructions for opening the package and advice for using the product?

Visual elements of packaging design may steal the show, but good copy is essential. Are there ways to address these finer points in your brand’s unique voice, rather than defaulting to bland standbys like tear here; store in a cool, dry place; and refrigerate after opening?

Consider all of the ways that the consumer will interact with the product from their point of view, and look for ways to enhance that experience, even in the smallest of details.

Consider the whole retail shelf.

No matter how well-designed your packaging is, it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. At retail, your product will join others (possibly many others) in your category on store shelves. It’s important to consider how your design will look in the context of the competition.

Some product packaging designs tend to pull from familiar themes. Bays of barbecue grill accessories, for example, are often overwhelmingly black and red, while the juice aisle of your local grocery store is splashed with bright, tropical colors.

The best way to get a sense of your design environment is to conduct a store walk. Visit retail locations that carry your products as well as competing retailers throughout your region, and take note of the way your product category is organized. What are other brands doing well? What gaps do you notice that present opportunities for your design strategy?

Look for ways to disrupt the array of expected colors, fonts and iconography in ways that are authentic to your brand. Offer consumers something intriguingly different, and you will increase the odds of capturing valuable moments of their attention.

Be bold but clear.

Use your design to break the boredom barrier, but be prepared to follow through. Consumers purchase an impressive 30% of all products that they take off the shelves for closer examination. If you can convince shoppers to hold your product in their hands, you can close the deal with clear, compelling messaging.

Successful packaging does a good job of keeping designs bold and sharp while providing shoppers with all of the information they need to feel confident in their purchase.

Utilize the principles of hierarchy of information to organize your design and eliminate clutter and confusion. Consumer research is crucial. In order to prioritize the key aspects of your messaging, you must have a solid understanding of what features matter most to your target audience.

Is your product eco-friendly, number one in its category or made in the USA? Ensure that your packaging prominently displays the information that consumers care about most. Use the back and sides of your package to house finer details so your front-facing design stays clean.

Use package design to show off your product.

Shoppers feel better about purchases when they are able to experience the product in some way before they buy. In fact, consumers will pay more for merchandise they can touch than items that are fully sealed within packaging.

Packages that allow shoppers to interact with products are good for business. When we can feel the texture of a paintbrush or squeeze the handle of a pair of garden shears to test the resistance, we are better able to imagine what the experience of ownership would be like.

Of course, not all products are well-suited to pre-purchase touching. Get creative with art, windows and cutouts to give shoppers a helpful preview of what’s inside when they can’t feel for themselves.

Create designs that support extension.

Be forward-thinking with your packaging design ideas. Consider how your current choices will play out if you expand your product line. How can you leave room for growth and innovation, while maintaining a look that is cohesive and distinct?

Choose themes that unify your brand while making it easy for shoppers to choose the version of your product they want without having to scrutinize too closely, and make it simple to introduce new SKUs.

If your brand sells merchandise in multiple categories, how can your design unify your different product offerings – or create separation? Remember that packaging design is an extension of your overall branding efforts. Work closely with your marketing and brand strategy teams to determine the role of packaging in your company’s overarching goals.



“Good design is as little design as possible.” - Dieter Rams

Cluttered, confusing and oversaturated design tends to happen when we are working without clear goals or trying to be all things to all people. Trying to include all of our ideas in a single design is a recipe for disaster. Fortunately, well-founded consumer research can pinpoint the best ones.

Make your design reactive to the needs, wants and values of your target audience. Maybe they are seeking a fact-based justification for what makes your product superior to the competitions’. Maybe they just want to be delighted.

Use packaging to understand and respond to the consumer, and you’ll come one step closer to a sale.

Stop at the point of sale.

The buyer’s journey doesn’t end at the checkout line. Once you convince a first-time buyer to take a chance on your product, consider how your package design can convert them into a life-long brand loyalist.

Does your packaging have a premium feel that imparts a sense of luxury and quality? Does it double as storage for a multi-use product? Or, like the fun facts printed on the inside of a Snapple cap or the inspirational messages secreted within each Dove chocolate’s wrapper, does it create new opportunities for connection when your product is unboxed?

Go with your buyer into the next phase of the shopping experience, and consider how you would like them to interact with and dispose of your packaging in a way that reflects your brand’s values.

Neglect online shoppers.

In 2021, approximately 20% of all retail sales took place online. As this figure is only expected to grow, it is increasingly important that package design considers consumers who buy online as well as in brick and mortar stores.

Digital consumers don’t have an opportunity to physically handle your packaging, so it’s particularly important that your design and copy can stand alone.

Think of the experience you want your end user to have when your merchandise arrives on their doorstep. How do you want the product to look, smell and feel in the hands of the buyer? Are there opportunities to include messages or other personal touches that support their relationship with your brand?

First-time purchasers who buy online won’t actually encounter your product until it ships to them. Use your packaging to add value and help buyers feel confident in their decision.

Confuse your brand voice.

Bold design choices can help you catch the consumer’s eye at retail, but they should never undermine the overall look and feel of your brand.

Distinguish your packaging from competitors’ by calling attention to the attributes that set your brand apart, and be judicious about the ways in which you break the boredom barrier. Flashy designs that clash with an established theme can feel inauthentic and encourage the wrong kind of attention--and often leave the consumer confused.

Lead with a deep understanding of your target audience’s aesthetic, and even its sense of humor. Stand out in your product category by leveraging that insider knowledge to create packaging that future brand loyalists will find unmissable.

Great design starts with consumer insights. Are you ready to identify your prime prospect and learn everything there is to know about how they choose products at retail? Let’s get started.