a little shot of inspiration

What makes a good piece of packaging?

What makes a good piece of packaging?

30th June 2016

In such a digital world where we communicate with our friends and family via sites like Facebook and Twitter, or by email trails and video Skype calls, it’s hard to think of a time before these platforms. However amongst all this technology, we are still surrounded everyday by a design area that has been around before the digital age. An industry that is as important as the websites we visit and the adverts we watch. Clothing the products we buy, of course we’re talking about packaging.

Over the years there has been numerous guidelines and rules when designing packaging, from maintaining the environment to what information is compulsory on our designs. However, no matter how many daunting rules and regs are created, packaging design has survived through the digital revolution and is still as big a part of a brand’s reputation as the rest of its marketing. But what is it that makes a piece of packaging successful to a brand and appeal to its audience? Having worked on numerous packaging projects in the studio over the last few months, we thought it would be great to share our findings of what we learned both practically and from a design pov that may help you when tackling the almighty packaging industry. So lets start with our top 5 ‘need to know before you start’ run down:

What we need to know before we start designing

1. Buyer anxiety

With platforms such as customer review sites and recommendations (see our e-commerce blog post for more of these) becoming ever more important in the product world, where reviewers, the everyday person, are having more effect that a company talking about their product, it’s clear to see that buyer anxiety is still very evident in consumers today. We continuously need validation in our purchases and if we can get it, 5 star ratings before we even book our holiday or consider a product. Consumers are cautious, especially when buying online as we can’t physically look over a product or have a face to face conversation to find out more. Although we now have devices such as live chat and high res photos of the products from numerous angles, it still plays on our purchase nature. This makes packaging all the more important to get right, to reinforce and give confidence to our consumers that what they have purchased is exactly what is says on the tin.

Furthermore, the packaging itself is the beacon of a brand, from the materials and feel of the product to how it looks can keep or retreat a customer. It’s easy in design to go full on creative, making something look beautiful when the truth of the fact is although very important, this needs to work with the information on the packaging and not against it. For example, there’s no point designing something that looks amazing, but the text is too small, too light a colour and hard to read. The design and information need to work as a team to create that reassurance and help answer the “how does the product work?” and “why should I buy?” questions for our consumers. Being aware before we start designing of this anxiety and packaging’s purpose, to inform in as much detail as the consumer needs will only make your product more honest and reinforce that bond with your consumers.

2. Know your audience and their habits

Generally speaking, packaging is a secondary device for a brand, where due to such a digital age, the majority of consumers will go online to do their research about the brand and product before they even go into a shop or online to order. Knowing these habits and how your audience will buy and expect your product to be available is important to making a streamlined customer journey that your consumer will expect. Packaging is an ad, a billboard for your company which continues the brand’s first impression online, so making sure that this secondary impression stays as important as the first will help your design work on more levels. Marketing is also key to working out who your intended consumer is for your brand as this will inevitably dictate your design. Who is your intended audience? Where do they work? What do they do in their spare time? These types of questions will help you adapt your design to what your audience expects, matching it to their lifestyle will mimic their buying habits and make them feel like you really know them and so your product will be relatable.


3. Let the product speak

As a brand you should be confident about your product, its USPs and be energetic in how well it will sell. This enthusiasm needs to be reflected into your packaging and what better way to do that than drawing inspiration from your product in the design. For example, have a look at the honey concept below.


Babees Honey
This is a beautiful example of using the honesty and beautiful natural characteristic of a product to create a unique solution. Here using the honey maker, who’s the reason this product is available. Almost like a nod to the little bee’s hard work. It tells a story and shows the brand’s appreciation, as well as cleverness of using the product’s contents/back story as the actual packaging, therefore reinforcing your relationship with your audience, making it stand apart from other products and become an endearing quality to its consumers. It also shows honesty and confidence about your product, laying your product bear for all to see will give your audience your feeling of pride which they will feed off from brands. If we are confident to trust in the product’s characteristics to define the packaging, this confidence will rub off on our consumers.

4. Simplicity is key

Just like any kind of design, the audience comes first and is an integral piece to the product’s success, we want them to be happy with all the information we give them. So, by following familiar conventions such as where things are on a product and what information is usual to see, will also reinforce your reputation with your audience. The design’s simplicity is another major factor here. White space is king, breathing room isn’t a bad thing. After all information has been placed on your design, don’t be afraid to keep things simple and clean. One brand that does this brilliantly is Apple:


However, the one thing that Apple can do that most packaging won’t get away with, is the lack of information they have on their outer packaging. Apple get away with this for one major reason, they are nearly one of the only brands that allow their consumers to play with all their products in store before you buy. Also, they have a highly targeted market that already know about their products through and through, unlike many other products today. So remember, simplicity is a must in packaging but until you are at Apple’s level, remember to keep all legal info, nutritional etc visible to make sure you tick those consumer needs boxes.

Green Berry Tea
A beautiful piece of packaging that utilises the product’s purpose simply but enhances its features to showcase a clever and endearing USP.

5. Don’t forget to be creative

Despite these rules of thumb, don’t be afraid to try something different. Never throw any designs away, however remember to look at what’s out there, do your own research of what works and why people are doing what they’re doing and build on that to create your own solutions. The big must here is to ensure you check with your printers and production first especially before presenting to a client, to ensure you get a realistic solution that’s both creative and DOABLE.


Think about the negative space and make it work for you. Here the product completes the design. Look at the full picture.

Our quick practical checklist

1. Guidelines

Extensively look at all guidelines you can get your hands on. From government to recycling guidelines, make sure you are totally clued up on minimum font sizes, legal colour palettes, barcodes and legal info to ensure you not only comply with regulations but also reassure your consumers; as these qualities are also the expected devices to appear on their packaging. Know your facts and get these nailed so you can design around them, don’t have them as an after thought.

2. Know your packaging requirements

What does your package need to do? Can it be downscaled so you can fit more on to one sheet to reduce print costs and material wastage? It’s important to treat your printer and production as your best friends throughout the whole design process. This enables you to get the most top notch solution, just as you know your field through and through, so do they, trust them to help you get the complete picture. But also have the purpose of your packaging in mind at all times to prevent deviation from your product’s intentions.

Blog-Post-honey2The Bees Knees – Push the materials and production, think about solutions that are different. Is there budget to print double sided for instance. Bees Knees do this excellently, again using the main characteristic of the product and enhancing the design with its attributes. It adds character and makes the solution more unique and bursting with creativity.

3. Know your materials and production

Another printer/production relationship must. Before you deliver concepts, check with your printer if it’s viable, both cost and practically wise. Keep in mind your brand, what does the material say about your brand? How does it feel? What are the limitations of your chosen materials? If I use full colour in one area when it is scored and folded will it crack? By asking all these questions at the beginning will make sure you and the printers get the most of the process, keeping costs down and man hours to a minimum, free from mistakes.

Also, think long term. The product you’re working on today, will it evolve? Will a wrapper for instance go from opaque to transparent in the future? If so, what does this mean print wise? Will you have to use pantone or CMYK? Again it comes down to researching and knowing your product’s ‘shelf life’ (pardon the pun) through and through. And lastly, consider the green. There are many laws today concerning recycling, how products are disposed of etc. Design this into the process, again do a bit of research of what others have done and talk to your printer making sure you comply 100%. And remember, making sure your product is green compliant not only means you’re legally correct or that you are helping the environment, but there is a huge following consumer wise on this one subject area. By making your product recyclable will enhance your brand’s reputation and create another huge USP for your product.


Water in a Box
A great example of using the material as the USP by really thinking about the recycling label that not only helps the environment but also showcases the product in a considerate light. As well as being clever in the design and different material approach.


Del Monte
From a positive piece of packaging to a negative, Del Monte’s solution to freshness, wrapping each banana in its own packaging. A wasteful, hard to break down material and just not needed.

4. Do your research

Lastly, the biggest must in all design, do your research. Look at your competition, ask yourself, why have they designed it that way? Why didn’t they do it this way? Research why it was designed in a certain manner. If something seems an obvious design, but no one’s done it, there’s usually a reason, do your research to find out why, before adopting it and realising later your one USP to be different isn’t doable. Research your product’s competition to better equip yourself to create a better well thought out solution where you have understood your limitations.

Our faves


Nongfu Spring flavoured water
A beautiful example of using the material, product and design in synergy. Letting the product speak pulls out the USP but not to distract from its natural qualities, just to enhance it. Lovely.



Innocent ‘The Big Knit’
Why design your own packaging when you can get your consumers to design and supply it for free? Such a clever marketing campaign, really intuitive to your target audience, making them feel special, that their designs are chosen, but also incredibly clever through not needing to update your design, just using the supplied hats to do so.