What makes good packaging design?

We’re a tactile bunch here at Brandtastic and you don’t get much more touchy-feely than a nice piece of pack design. We have created packaging for small artisan start-ups and corporate giants alike and have built up a great range of skills and styles. But this demanding design area requires more than a good eye, so let’s see what our experience tells us makes (and breaks) good packaging design.

Clarity and simplicity

Next time you go to a supermarket, pick a shelf and look at some products… and ask yourself two very simple questions:

  • What’s this product for?
  • What’s the brand behind it?

You will be amazed how hard it is to find answers to essential questions in less than 4 seconds, which is the time the average consumer will look at a product on the shelf (we know, 4 whole seconds!).

You’ll find products listing lots of benefits with no clear brand name. You’ll find products that look great on the outside yet fail to explain what’s in the box (design over function). You might even find packaging that is so misleading it could be very dangerous!

Wow, Dave this new lager has quite a kick… That’s because it’s car radiator coolant John!
Mmm… Tasty and er, soapy?

Some product categories do allow for a bit of ambiguity (think perfumes and high-end luxury items), failing to identify the product in terms of content, usage or brand identity is a big mistake which is made all to often and results in a packaging design which doesn’t perform well on the shelf.

So remember: be clear about the product, be clear about the brand.

Be honest

Beginners in packaging design, both clients and designers, try to show off their product so perfectly that it ends up being pure fantasy and misleading the consumer. A cookie dripping chocolate, when it’s really just a chocolate-flavoured biscuit or a beautiful, nature-inspired design for a product full of artificial flavours and additives.

By presenting a product ten times better than it actually is, you’re misleading and ultimately disappointing the consumer. You might get a sale but they won’t buy again and brand image is damaged for ever.

This is where honesty comes in. Consumers have nothing against simple, inexpensive products, as long as they know what they’re buying! Yes, you make the packaging design beautiful and show the product in its best light – but it’s got to be real. What is that saying about a silk purse and sows ear?

As a designer, your task is to represent the product in the best way possible but keep in mind that consumers – you included – deserve to be treated right.

Be authentic

Originality, character and memorability are at the heart of great brands and of course, great packaging designs. It’s easy to understand why – there are hundreds of products out there, all competing for consumers’ attention. Set your brand apart and be different but make sure it’s authentic too by reflecting the tone and feel of your brand’s ethos… For example: don’t put natural products in super glossy bright packaging.

Keep it real but make it different – if everybody is going for product photography, try illustration or a typographic design. Competitors all seem to be horizontal or landscape layout? Experiment with verticals or squares. You can even look at other product categories for inspiration – 19 Crimes used wanted posters for inspiration on their wine labels – who thought that would work?

Shelf impact

From a shopper’s point of view, a product is never seen alone, they sit alongside multiple different brands. Because shoppers have to stand back and view from a distance to see the full shelf and products are arranged in rows and columns, all they see are patterns made up of the various products. It’s not until a design breaks that pattern that they decide to take a closer look.

This point of difference when experienced in-store, is what retailers call “shelf impact” and it makes a huge difference in product sales.

Shelf impact is something you need to test and explore in your designs. You can do this by imitating the placement of your design on an actual shelf and surrounding it with other products. The more distinctive it looks, the better it sells. You may find the results very surprising – sometimes the best-looking design will simply blend in while more simple designs “pop” in this environment.


Remember that your packaging design may be the first time a consumer interacts with your branding (especially if you don’t have an advertising budget) and the last chance to convince them to buy the product. Clarity, honesty, authenticity and the other rules described above are so important – also remember that the product is not for you (sorry!), it’s for your consumer, so believe the research data and take on board the professional advice you are given.

If you’re just starting out, blogs like Dieline give a great insight into the world of packaging design – or alternatively just give us a call, we’d love to help with your packaging design and branding!


Let’s talk...

Brandtastic, The Threshing Barn,
Hurst Farm, Taplins Farm Lane,
Winchfield RG27 8SL.

T:01252 627653

E: info@brandtastic.co.uk

Error: Contact form not found.