How to approach creative packaging design

Packaging design connects form, structure, materials, color, imagery, typography and regulatory information with additional design elements to create a branded product. Its primary goal is to create something that can contain, protect, transport, dispense, store, identify and differentiate a product in the marketplace. It needs to brand a product by communicating its personality or function. Successful creative packaging design creates a desire for the product it contains.

Step 1: Research

Today, brand awareness has become more critical than ever before. All brands compete for the first few seconds a consumer has to decide. It takes a consumer seven seconds to choose when purchasing a product. Research is vital to understanding the target audience and differentiating your design. First, research your client and ask the client for key information points: 

  • Which retailers, wholesalers and online platforms will most likely carry the product?
  • Which competitors have the most direct competition with the product?
  • What are the reasons for changing the current design?
  • What brand equity should be carried over from the existing packaging?

The last two may not be relevant depending on whether or not its a new product or existing product in need of a significant revamp.

Step 2: Exploration and inspiration 

Research is an important area of effort that should be part of any package design project. Information such as focus group findings and competitive audits can provide valuable insights to differentiate and align designs with the target audience. Additionally, doing an audit of successful package designs can provide inspiration and help jump-start your creativity. It also helps you add a layer of originality and awareness to designs already out in the world. Here are a couple of resources for inspiration:


Things needed before starting the design process

  • Size and shape of the product/products
  • Having a dieline will help you make design decisions.
  • What is the product for?
  • Is it a brand-new product, or are there existing products that you can use as inspiration? If so, what do they look like?
  • What kind of target audience is your product targeting? If this information is unavailable, try to create something appealing to as many people as possible.

Step 3: Design

Now you have the background to dive into design and layout. But first, you may have to understand the layers of the dieline. Check to make sure you are working in CMYK. Consider how the colors appear in print, on-screen and in various lighting conditions. For any specialty printing, create a spot color and label clearly.

When designing your product, be sure that it is clear what the product is or does. Consumers are buying this item; you want to ensure they know exactly what it does and why they should buy yours instead of that of a competitor.

The information on a package, such as the ingredients and usage instructions, can help you to set up your product correctly. Be sure to consider the impact of mandatory information like bar codes, nutrition facts labels and other regulatory items on your design. Research and understand industry guidelines in terms of font styles and sizes for critical items.. If there are any featured callouts, use custom iconography. Measure spacing for a clean and organized layout. 

Before giving it to the client, make sure you create a physical mockup to ensure everything is where it should be. Occasionally, an image looks fantastic while flat but awful when created (or vice versa). The flow of the design around the 3D form is important and a mockup is the only accurate way to review that aspect of your work. 

It’s best to address all of these things before sharing your design with the client. 

Packaging design is an exciting process that can differentiate a product in the marketplace and create a lasting customer experience. With the right research and understanding of its functions, you can guarantee your packaging design has maximum impact. Good luck!