How to Design Your Product’s Packaging

blog-20-in-articleIn new product development, creating the next big thing is just the beginning. Package design and development are an integral part of the launch process – so much so that it can be helpful to treat packaging design as its own project.

And what a project it is. Far from simple, package design involves the identification of requirements related to structural needs, competing products, transportation logistics, quality concerns, legal regulations, end-use issues, and environmental concerns – and that’s in addition to manufacturing specifications. Package design has to meet so many functional criteria, from ease of use and attractiveness to ease of shelving and processing at checkout. It also has to meet production demands.

It’s a lot to think about but it’s worth investing the time necessary to get your product’s packaging right the first time. After all, packaging is also a product – and one that introduces and attracts customers to your offering before they ever hold it in their hands. What follows is a short packaging primer that will give you more insight into package design best practices.


1: Look to Your Competition

Your product will be sharing the shelf with those of your competitors, and their packaging choices can help you find ways to improve your shelf presence and distinguish your product packaging from theirs. This is important because consumers are treated to a barrage of options that can be overwhelming. If you have a design in mind, consider whether it will it stand out when sharing shelf space with the competition.

Distinguishing your product with compelling packaging is important because to consumers, the package and your product are a single entity. Packaging and shelf presence may drive buying choices more than the actual quality of your product, which means consumers absolutely need to be able to get a feel for your product without removing it from the package.


2: Make a Note of Material Options

Don’t forget that your product’s packaging will be a separate physical object that will have to be manufactured. While you may want to use the absolute highest quality materials and the best manufacturers, your budget may not allow it when you factor in the retail cost of your product.

Questions to ask at this point are: What packaging materials will keep your product safe while ensuring it looks compelling to consumers? How should the package be displayed on a rack or shelf for maximum impact? Will the packaging you have in mind require multiple parts or custom molds? Can it be scaled? Will it require cushioning or additional packaging to keep it looking pristine as it moves from factory to market? If the product is made in Asia and sold in the US, it will travel thousands of miles, so needs to be protected from temperature fluctuations, moisture and vibration scuffing. Don’t lose sight of the fact that the primary purpose of packaging is product protection. Many packaging manufacturers will offer a drop-testing service, to ensure your product is pristine and functional even if dropped from a reasonable height in its package.  

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3: Research Regulatory Requirements

For some products, packaging must meet detailed regulatory requirements. Are there compliance requirements that apply to your product? If so, make a list of how those requirements will be met by your packaging.

For example, any packaging that makes contact with food products needs to be verified as safe and permissible under applicable regulations by toxicologists and/or food scientists. For instance, some grades of plastic are food-safe and others aren’t. Packaging engineers will need to confirm that the package as designed will keep the product fresh for its stated shelf life. And the packaging processes, along with labeling and distribution, will also be governed by regulations intended to keep consumers safe.


4: Positive user experience

Opening the pack to reveal the wonderful product inside should be a delight. This is often the first physical interaction a user has with your product. Don’t miss this opportunity to make a good impression by making it difficult to open the pack. Many retailers won’t even stock your product if it doesn’t meet frustration free packaging criteria, which stipulates that the packaging should be easy to open without using any tools, such as knives or scissors. This excludes edge-sealed rigid clear plastic clamshells, and packaging with wire ties.

Safety is another concern. Your packaging should above all be safe and unlikely to injure a user, either directly or by rendering the product inside unsafe.


5: Getting Your Product to Market

As noted earlier, sometimes package design will require you to think about how your package is protected for shipping. For products that are being sold in stores, your package design should reflect the fact that products will be boxed and shipped en masse. There may be some packaging materials better suited to mass shipping than others. On the other hand, if you are shipping product directly to buyers, you may have more freedom where packaging is concerned. You might even be able to create product packaging that includes space for addresses and postage and so can be mailed as-is, otherwise you may need an additional protective box or bag known as a “shipper” or “mailer”.

A larger package can have a more impressive shelf presence, but your packaging should be compact so you’re not shipping air, which is a waste of money and resources. And if you’re sending your product in bulk to resellers, you’ll want to make sure that you optimise the outer dimensions of your box so that it stacks compactly on a standard pallet, “palletizing” without wasteful gaps.    


6: Be Retail-Ready

If you want your product stocked by retail stores, you can improve your chances by making it easier for them to adopt your pack. For instance, shelf-ready trays (SRT) are attractive, shallow cardboard boxes that securely hold and display your individual packs. So in order to re-stock, a the retailer simply removes the front of the tray and places it on the shelf, rather than individually placing each unit.

Many of the big retailers like Best Buy like the option of suspending the pack from a peg. So make sure you include a “hang sell” feature in the top of the pack. Also ensure that your pack isn’t too wide or too tall compared to the other products in your category, requiring store staff to re-configure the pegs.  

You should also consider whether you need tamper evident packaging. This is a package or seal that provides visual indication of being opened after it left the factory, and can be as simple as a sticker that can’t be peeled back without breaking. Tamper-evidence is essential for fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) such as food and medicines, but not necessarily required for products.


7: The Environmental Impact of Your Packaging

In countries such as Australia, forward-thinking companies are adopting a self-imposed Packaging Covenant to guide their decisions and make sure all their products are environmentally responsible.

Aside from businesses, the average consumer is now more concerned than ever before about the eco friendliness of packaging, and may even reject a product due to excessive packaging. Pack development should consider not only applicable environmental and recycling regulations, but also sustainability and disposal concerns. You may also come up against concerns related to the manufacturing of your product’s packaging and the packaging process itself.

Think in terms of the “three R’s” – reduce, reuse, and recycle – to help keep waste and environmental impact at a minimum. Can you use sustainable materials like recycled cardboard or soy based inks? Can your packaging be recycled in part or in total? What would happen if you scaled down your packaging (source reduction) or only used a single material? The good news is that in many cases minimization can reduce packaging costs without negatively impacting quality. See how Outerspace helped Sprout develop low-cost eco-friendly packaging for its range of cel phone accessories.


Never forget that while those of us in new product development tend to think of products from the inside out, consumers’ first interactions with our products are from the outside in. Of course you’re focused on designing and bringing the best possible product to market. Just don’t forget that how it physically gets to market and appears before consumers can be just as important as quality.

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Sergei Plishka
About the Author
Sergei Plishka
Sergei has a particular interest in eco architecture and design, including alternative materials and sustainable energy management. Following a passion for travel and knowledge he’s studied in Canada, Singapore and Australia, achieving degrees in commerce and industrial design.

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