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Product Packaging Design: The Forgotten Marketing Medium

Phil Forbes
Phil Forbes | 10 min read

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Consider for a moment, the packaging design of a ring box.

This traditional form of packaging creates the stage that presents the glorious product to the (hopeful) bride to be.

The design of the product box is simple - understated and inconspicuous.

But the packaging is also elegant, opulent and pleasing to the eye.

This is a perfect example of packaging design and product packaging working together to create an experience that enhances the product.

equre tube packaging example

Packaging of the world is vast, dynamic and a very very creative medium. It can be a simple box, it can be a mailer bag, or it can be a tube, just like you see above.

Product boxes fulfil many roles like identification, protection, marketing and transportation. So with these many roles to fill, you can see how quickly and easily the topic gets complicated.  

In this article, you'll take a deep dive into the relationship between product packaging and packaging design.

You'll also see:

  • What is packaging design?
  • How to pick the best product packaging for your product
  • How to design product packaging for your brand
  • Package box design inspiration

Let's clear up the definition of packaging design, first.

What is packaging design?

Packaging design is the process of designing product packaging to securely contain, identify and deliver a product.

Whether it’s food boxes from McDonald’s, Apple product packaging, the box that your new fridge comes in, or even tea bags, just about every product in a store has packaging.

Most of it is good, some of it bad

Designing product packaging

Designing packaging for products is a little more complicated than slapping a sticker on a cardboard box. First of all, you need to identify the packaging medium. 

Will it be a simple custom printed cardboard box, or will it be a high-end rigid box?

The medium of your packaging is very often overlooked.

Once you've decided on a material, consider the following:

  • Graphic and packaging design
  • Physical packaging design
  • Marketing and packaging design

Each one of these defines product packaging design in a different way.

Understanding these various points of views will also help you find the best packaging for the products you're selling. 

Graphic design and packaging design

From a graphic designer’s point of view, packaging design is how the brand's design is reflected in the product boxes.

white kraft packaging of eco polu products by packhelp

Click here to see more about Polu Cups

In this sense, the design concept needs to attract the attention of a customer, but also provide information about the product.

Packaging graphics should also take the brand's design and motives and show it off on the box.

Physical product packaging

The second part to consider is the physical design limitations of your product package.

Sure, you can have a box that plays the “Titanic” theme when opened, but not at the expense of product security.

No matter how 'out there' your custom product packaging may be, it needs to serve a purpose - and that is keeping your product secure.

Manufacturing limitations also need to be taken into consideration.

Sure, you can design a safe and secure box that plays 'My Heart Will Go On' every time it's opened, but can someone actually make that?

Below is an example from Intel of packaging that's probably a little too extravagant:

extreme product packaging

The best place to get an idea of what's actually achievable is to look at your competitors. 

Look at the shapes, materials and other aspects of their product packaging design, and consider working within those boundaries, as you know they work for your competitor!

Use the standard packaging solutions of your industry as a foundation, and innovate from there.

Other things to consider:

  • A printer's available printing types
  • The best packaging materials for your needs
  • Durability & weight of your final product packaging
  • Add ons, like embossing, hot stamping, UV finish etc

Sliding Boxes

See how BWM Poland used cardboard drawer boxes to deliver keys to test drive a new model to motoring journalists.

You can have the most extravagant packaging design ideas out there, but if your packaging bundles can't actually be manufactured, it'll stay an idea.

Marketing and packaging design

The third topic in the discussion about packaging design is marketing.

Marketing on product packaging, sometimes called 'Packvertising' is a crucial, and often overlooked part of box packaging design.

In a well-thought definition, provided by O’Reilly, you find that:

Packaging design is the connection of form, structure, materials, colour, imagery, typography, and regulatory information with ancillary design elements to make a product suitable for marketing.

To put that into a simpler form:

Your packaging is an element of your marketing strategy.

It needs to:

Below is an example of how Coco & Eve use their product packaging to remind the customer that they've made the right choice.

coco and eve hair masque benefits

Click here to see more about Coco and Eve and how they use their packaging as a marketing channel

Simon Preece from Forbes says:

Consumers act when a brand makes them feel something. When someone looks at you, you’re compelled to look back to determine the nature of the attraction. That’s your survival instinct at work.

Evoking emotions is key.

Packaging is the most natural medium to make customer care about a product they haven't yet bought.

A unique shape, pattern or colour can set your brand apart from the competition it's sitting right next to on the shelf.

After you've caught the customer's attention, the smaller elements take over.

Copy, imagery and communication that built that rapport and trust between product and customer.

But before you start designing your product packaging...

Your packaging represents your entire brand.

It informs the buyer about the product but also associates the product as being part of your brand.

So your product and brand needed to be tied together on your product packaging. 

Make sure you've got the following on hand as you design your product boxes:

Brand logo

If this is your first venture into designing packaging for products, then the central piece of your product packaging design will more than likely be your logo.

It may be a simple black logo on a kraft cardboard, as you can see below:

kraft product boxes - slopes and town

Click here to see more about Slopes & Town and their minimalist packaging design

Alternatively, you might opt for an intricate design that covers all internal and external surfaces, like this:

Loella Cosmetics makeup brushes packaging

See more about Loella and how they use packaging design as a branding channel

Either way, have your logo on hand and use it in your packaging design process.

Make sure you use a high-quality vector file to avoid pixelation!

Colours

Along with your logo, you've probably got a handful of colours that your brand associates with.

Echoing these colours onto your packaging is a great way to quickly convey your brand's presence.

sl;eeved mailer boix by alex ko fashion brand

Click here to see more about Alex Ko's fashion label and their branding

Above, you can see how Alex Ko uses a sleeved mailer box to create a minimalist feel, but still deliver the impression of their branding.

Using one colour palette in your store, on your product, on your website and on your packaging is a core element in branding consistency.

Fonts

Fonts are tricky, as a brand's logo may be nothing more than its name in a specific font - GMC, for example.

But you may want to use a specific font to list your products USPs on your product packaging.

In that case, know exactly what they are, the ideal weights for them as well as letter spacing.

space in logo design

Make sure your font also has the native characters you need. For example, ę, ¿, ß, æ and so on.

Other Imagery

Is there a specific logo used for products that are made in your country?

made in sweden logo

Logos that represent industry standards?

fsc certification logo

Click here to learn more about the FSC Certified Wood Pulp used to make Packhelp Products

 

These little elements are often overlooked but really bring your packaging design together.

Packaging design and materials

Next up you'll see the most common types of packaging materials used in packaging products. 

Corrugated cardboard

Cardboard is one of the most popular packaging materials. Typical cardboard fibre is made up of at least 90% recycled material and is common in both ecommerce and retail. 

It's great for products and industries like:

But what does the corrugated part of corrugated cardboard mean?

Corrugated cardboard means that the sheets of cardboard are joint together to create layers called waves. These layers provide cushioning and strengthen the box.

corrugated cardboard cross section

Source

Corrugated cardboard is the perfect blend of minimal weight and maximum strength.

This makes it the go-to product packaging solution for heavy items like shoes, but also many ecommerce companies, as it can handle most impacts. 

Corrugated cardboard is also the perfect blank canvas for packaging design.

The natural kraft texture can be printed onto directly, or a white canvas can be the foundation for any type of colour you need.

Biodegradable & compostable packaging materials

Plant-based materials are also used as the basis of many product packaging solutions.

Usually, these materials are just as printable and durable as cardboard but are also completely biodegradable, if not compostable.

Organic materials are also used in the production of packaging. This refers mostly to plant-based ingredients, which is a rising trend in the packaging industry.

Bruzel, a Belgian Waffle brand, sell their waffles in edible packaging that you can see below:

packaging design

While edible packaging might be a bit too ambitious many brands, packaging that does no harm to the environment is certainly a step in the right direction.

With many parts of the world now (or soon) banning single-use plastics, the industry will only continue to innovate.

This presents large opportunities for brands that prioritse the environment in the way that they operate.

Polyethylene packaging

Polyethylene is a form of plastic used in poly mailers and other extremely light packaging solutions.

It is a type of durable, waterproof plastic layer that’s ideal for shipping purposes. Bags made from polyethylene can be printed on just like regular cardboard.

Poly mailers are being used more and more by brands that want to cut down on the consumption of raw material.

bio polymail bag

A simple polymailer bag is a durable and waterproof solution for something that's durable like clothing and other accessories.

Glass & Aluminium packaging

Glass is commonly used in food and beverage product packaging. Although it is completely non-biodegradable, glass can be recycled pretty cost-efficiently, as it's free of any plastics and petroleum-based materials. 

Glass is also limited in terms of package design. While various shapes can be formed, there aren’t any print options, aside from a traditional sticker label.

Finally, there is aluminium - a very light packaging material, which is mostly used in the production of cans, bottles, mailer bags and some types of food packaging.

halo brewing packaging design

Packaging design inspiration

Ok, so you've seen the critical components to quality product packaging design, it's time to get your creative juices flowing.

Here you'll see a wide range of packaging design, and you'll also see why these types of packaging are so good.

Innovative product packaging supplies

Innovative packaging design is coming along in leaps and bounds.

Whether it’s product packaging or sustainable packaging materials, innovative product boxes help show off your brand’s ingenuity and creativity. 

As you can see in the examples below, transparent windows that use your raw product's texture is very common and will always be interesting!

Packaging design

Source: bored panda

Giving your packaging a second use is also a great way to innovate, as well as extend its life. 

Below, you can see how shoe brand Saucony used a blank white canvas as the centre point of a competition.

Saucony customers were encouraged to design their own show box, with a handful of winners having their designs printed on mass.

colouring packaging

Click here to see how Saucony used product packaging to engage artists within their fanbase.

This concept from Saucony is a great example of tying innovative product packaging box design in with marketing.

Minimalistic packaging design

Minimalism is a design trend that favours bare forms, where nothing can be further removed without the expense of functionality, originating in Scandinavia and Japan.

We see minimalist packaging design most often in the form of a simple logo:

kraft mailer boxes monsieur du monde

Learn about Monsiedeur De Monde and the role minimalist packaging plays for the brand

From craft beer branding & wine bottle boxes to e-commerce shipping boxes, minimalism is a versatile and popular design trend.

It's an easy design concept to execute and a great way to cut design costs.

Take, for example, a cardboard box with a “handwritten” logo.

Minimalist packaging design is versatile and can work with most businesses, depending on the branding.

Packaging design inspired by vintage aesthetics

Everything old is new again - or so the saying goes.

The term vintage is always hard to define.

For the sake of product packaging, it's about channelling design elements that were common in the late 19th to early 20th centuries, around the time of the industrial revolution.

Many new brands like to use vintage elements in contemporary packaging designs.

Vintage-style packaging is a cunning way of saying to your customer “We're the brand your grandparents loved”.

 

Many male cosmetics such as hair care and beard oils take this route too, as it appeals to a man's 'manliness'.

Captain Fawcett is a great example of a beard oil brand leveraging this vintage branding concept:

vintage custom packaging design

Part of this image conveys the trust that comes from decades of operation and selling time-tested, high end and well-loved products.

Food products like chocolate, tea and coffee are regular users of the vintage aesthetic, often with a modern, contemporary twist.

Packaging design

Vintage packaging design evokes nostalgia and creates an immediate impression of tradition and craftsmanship.

Pattern-based packaging

The human brain is hard-wired to notice repetitive patterns.

Pattern recognition can make our brains feel attached to something without a specific reason - so it’s pretty simple to see why using it on packaging can be effective. 

Patterns can be used to create the feeling of a specific texture such as wood or fur.

Disjointed shapes laced with colour or patterns that perfectly tessellate are just a few ways that complex and intricate shapes can be used on packaging. 

If you want to use a specific pattern of your entire packaging, try designing on a box dieline. Packaging dielines make it easier to create high-resolution product boxes

designing packaging on a dieline

Dielines are a great package design template, as it’s a flat, unfolded view of your box.

You can see every surface at once and create complex, intricate designs that take up every part of your blank canvas. 

Culturally inspired packaging design

Using shapes, patterns and imagery that is tied to a regional culture or people group is a great way to appeal to that niche, while remaining culturally sensitive yet aware. 

Source

Limited editions and products that tie into specific cultural holidays or celebrations take really well to product packaging with similar themes. 

Source

Contemporary packaging design

Contemporary is a tricky term to define, but in its most simple form, it’s a trend or fashion that’s happening here and now. 

One contemporary packaging trend that’s becoming more common is an image or shape that’s spread over multiple surfaces.

One surface is complex and detailed, while the others have a lot less to look at. On the busy surface, contrasting colours are used to label the product and convey information. 

contemporary packaging design

Source: barber's kit 

This draws the viewers eye to the busy area, while the less busy surfaces give the feels of space and openness.

Another contemporary element of packaging design is wit and humour.

Being a little cheeky, you might say...

clever packaging design

Source: fruit twerk

Product packaging shapes and packaging design

Just as important to the graphic design of your product box is its physical shape.

There’s no point creating great-looking packaging for products if it doesn’t actually keep your product secure. 

The most common forms of packaging is usually a petroleum-based clear plastic wrap. This is horrible for the environment, and great if you don’t want your brand to be remembered. 

Other common types of packaging products are:

Keeping the contents of your box safe and secure is crucial, whether you’re selling in a retail store, or sending your products to the other side of the planet.

Use a packaging filler to keep your products secure. Wood wool or custom tissue paper is a great solution that adds a little class and branding consistency.

Use packaging tape to safely secure your box or even better - use a corrugated mailer box with a self-adhesive sealing strip.  

ecommerce delivery box

These boxes actually have two adhesive strips.

Why?

If your customer orders the wrong size product, or there's a fault, they can use the same packaging to safely and securely send it back to you!

Build an unboxing experience

Materials, design, shape - they're the most basic parts of product packaging design.

Now, you need to bring them all together.

And the best way to pull all 3 of these elements together is to build an unboxing experience.

What is an unboxing experience? 

An unboxing experience is a process that a customer goes through when they first get your product home.

mailer box with inside print

The attention being paid to your product (and brand) is at its highest.

This presents an opportunity to make a great first impression and blow your customer's expectations away.

No one remembers the brand that sells cheap phone covers on eBay.

Partially because they're cheap, disposable, and the packaging consists of little more than a clear plastic bag.

And chances are that if you're reading this section, your brand isn't like that.

Your brand offers value, and wants to deliver a product that solves a problem for a customer - and wants that custom to become a brand advocate.

And once you're selling a product that solves that problem, the unboxing experience is the way to turn them into a loyal repeat customer.

Want to learn more about designing an unboxing experience? Click here to read the article 'The Anatomy Of A Killer Unboxing Video: How and Why [Read now]'

Final thoughts

If you’re here, then it can only mean one thing - your brain is exploding with information.

As you can see, product packaging design is a lot more than a simple plastic bag or cardboard box.

It's a powerful marketing channel, a facet that can give your brand the professional image that it needs to survive. 

Product packaging that is designed using the above information can help your brand stay on top of its game. 

And believe it or not, Packhelp can help you with your packaging needs.

From cardboard boxes to rigid boxes with hot stamping, Packhelp has the best packaging solution for your brand!

Click here to browse Packhelp's range of custom packaging solutions!

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