This & That: Thoughts About Packaging

Kelsey Selis

Whether it’s a job interview, first date, or a marketing campaign pitch, first impressions matter. A first impression can mean the difference between a second date and being home by 7 pm. For businesses and organizations, a potential customer’s first impression can make or break a sale.

For companies big and small, the typical first impression is branding. The canvas for that branding? Packaging. The colors, the graphics, the language used on the packaging becomes the face of a company—its first and lasting impression.

Before we get into the fun stuff about packaging, however, we need to establish an important fact: Packaging has a baseline purpose. That purpose is to transport or protect product that is to be consumed in one way or another. This baseline purpose, however rudimentary, must ace functionality first and foremost. Real estate on packaging is gold and full of opportunities to tell a story, but only if the packaging itself does its job and does it well.

Outside of function, packaging is the spotlight for a brand to shine and get its message (and product) out into the world. It is a primary opportunity for the all the players in the market to stand out from one another and create brand recognition. With brand recognition comes loyalty. With loyalty, a successful and lasting brand.

Household name? Moving that way. We can’t all be Coca-Cola, but boy, we can get close.
Strong and consistent visuals are crucial layers of a good package design. One important factor is color theory (which we covered earlier, here). Color plays with psychology and can make a consumer feel a certain way. For example, certain hues of blue typically evoke sadness, calm, or are appetite-suppressants. Yet, other blues feel fresh, playful, and lively. Reds and warmer colors tend to entice more hunger, and are typically viewed as powerful, dominant, and sometimes aggressive or primal.

Most of the time the color palette chosen for packaging is a direct reflection of the brand itself. Which makes sense because the actual product needs to feature the company’s logo and be an indication of the image the company wishes to portray.

It’s also important to utilize and balance all the space on the package. Product packaging should describe the product, its purpose, the company, and other relevant information to allow the consumer to make an educated purchase decision. What is it, who is it by, why you need it, how to use it all need to be answered. If they are not readily available on the product itself, then there needs to be direction to where the consumer can find them.

Everything should be balanced to the eye. Meaning, the copy, color, logo placement, etc. need to be evenly-spaced, in the proper hierarchy, and sized appropriately. This is usually one of the most challenging parts of design. (If we all had a magic center-align button to force all the elements straight and balanced, we wouldn’t have these fun problems to solve.)

I like to think that there are three types of consumers: Those who are brand loyal, and would buy their brand even if the packaging design looked like ass; those who shop by price, and don’t pay attention to precision or how the colors are making them feel; and then there are those who shop by design.

I, personally, am the latter. Great design gets me all the time: “That label is @$$#%^! RAD, in the cart you go.” Sue me. Howdesign.com has a great blog covering the International Design Awards Winners 2019: Packaging. Read it and bask in the glory of beautiful design.

Whether or not you’re a design-lover, you’ve probably been impacted by package design and haven’t even noticed. So, the next time you’re picking out a product, be it hairspray, a box of crackers, or garbage bags, pay attention to what moves you to purchase. If you’re seeing a brand or product for the first time, ask yourself if that first impression will keep you coming back or will make you put it back.

For all the giggles and examples of bad and hilarious packaging that failed, please enjoy Howdesign.com’s blog here.

Some good references and reads for the curious:

  1. The Ultimate Guide to Product Packaging Design
  2. The Five Things Product Packaging Must Do
  3. 38 Standout Packaging Designs