10 Foundational Elements of Packaging Design

Varun Baliga

October 26, 2022

Getting into a packaging design project without the right structure can add weeks to your timeline. Today, we show you how adding just a few elements to your process can streamline your project!

Even the simplest of packaging designs can have a powerful, lasting impact. Whether it’s the pure joy of opening a Happy Meal or the warm comfort of grabbing your favorite Venti as you prepare to kickstart your day, the best packaging designs are the ones that bring out the best of our emotions as we make them a part of our lives.

Now, while packages have been designed on the same principles for years, these principles too, have seen their fair share of evolution over the years. And no design exemplifies this evolution better than the all-too-familiar Coca-Cola bottles. Starting with designs that focused mainly on functionality and preserving the product, the designs have evolved to merge with the brand’s identity. Today, the bottles effectively communicate Coca-Cola’s personality and engage effortlessly with their consumers. 

Source: Litmus Branding

The 3C’s of packaging — Containing, Caring, and Conserving — are no longer exclusive. As Coca-Cola’s evolution can attest, Communication and Promotion have become fundamental to packaging design in the modern age. But even with these guiding principles leading your design, today’s packaging designs call for a process that lets these principles shine through in increasingly meaningful and practical ways. If you want your packaging designs to reflect and amplify your brand value on the shelves, you will need to incorporate certain elements into your design process.

What are the essential elements of packaging design?

  1. Solving the problem
  2. Perceived value
  3. Budgeting
  4. Competitor analysis
  5. Engagement strategy
  6. Form factor
  7. Identity
  8. Compliance-first outlook
  9. Design flexibility
  10. The clincher

1. Solving the problem

“Design is intelligence made visible.”

- Henrik Fisker, Automotive designer and entrepreneur

With every packaging design you create, the primary goal is to address a gap in the market. Where the consumers face a problem, your designs need to step in and make their lives easier. Here are a few things you will need to note before you work on the right solution:

Whether you’re looking to make a splash with a new product or consolidate your brand value with a product extension, clarifying your goals early on will allow you to come up with the right market fit. You will be able to narrow down your audience and work out what appeals to them. When you find the right solution, you will be able to drive demand and maintain a firm grip on your product’s success.

2. Perceived value

The best packaging is the one that fully justifies the value consumers see in your product. For your packaging to carry your product from shelves to carts, you will need to estimate your product value in the market. 

Your packaging will need to reflect the benefits your product offers consumers. Along with a design that reflects your brand, your packaging represents an elevator pitch that convinces consumers to pick it up and give it a try, so a sharp and engaging strategy would go a long way towards helping you stand out. 

3. Budgeting

Once you clarify the value consumers see in your product, you will need to set a budget for your packaging. 

Do you splurge on packaging to attract more eyeballs? 

Or do you let your product do the talking? 

Your budget will depend on how you want to showcase your product and how much of your marketing communication hinges on your packaging design. To get a more accurate answer to this, you can conduct a conjoint analysis of your product and packaging. 

A conjoint analysis is used to identify the product attributes and features that matter to your target market with the help of a thorough statistical analysis. This will allow you to note the areas of your packaging that need more attention in your budget. You will then be able to allocate resources in a way that works for you and ensures maximum returns on your investment.

4. Competitor analysis

Before you prepare your packaging design, you need to know what you’re up against. Map out how your competitors are presenting themselves on the shelves. Do the hard yards exploring super markets and store displays to see what’s working for them and where you could do better on the design. 

When you have a complete view of your competitor’s strategies, you will be able to find a design identity that will give your brand a unique voice that connects with your audience. Here are some of the key aspects that you need to look at for a thorough competitor analysis:

5. Engagement strategy

It is crucial to pick the right engagement strategy for your product, because this will go on to define your packaging later on. How do you want your customers to engage with your product package design? Do you want it to show off your product or tell a story of its own? 

Deciding how you want to engage with consumers will decide your packaging form factor, as well as the design itself. You could go with interactive packaging that takes consumers on a little journey as they unpack the product, like this family trip kit package created by Olivia Paden from the Art Center College of Design. You can also engage customers with your design, like this box by Exotic snacks, which comes up with an interesting plan to showcase the snacks inside. Smirnoff also serves up some fine inspiration with their packaging, which comes in the pattern of the ingredients used to flavor the vodka and reveals the logo and the label as you unwrap.

Such designs all find ways to engage with their customers, while also affirming the message the brand intends to convey. Ultimately, however you decide to engage with your customer, you will need to be clear on the purpose of the engagement and avoid diluting your communication in any way.  

6. Form factor

The form factor of your product is the shape and form of the packaging containing your product. Once you have a clear picture on what you’d like the packaging to accomplish and how much you can spend on it, you now go ahead and choose the form that will fit your product perfectly. 

However, this process can be trickier than you might think. The form factor you assign will dictate how you look at your product in the market. It should introduce customers to your brand, while ensuring a smooth customer experience with the product. You will also need to consider the resources at hand to ensure your design does not take up too much of your budget without compromising on quality. 

To avoid any issues post-printing, you could run a 3D mockup of your product package design online before you go ahead with the print. This would ensure any changes needed can be made before the designs are sent to the printers and there would be no surprises once the prints come back.

7. Identity

Source: Swedband Group

Now, as you begin your design, you cannot proceed without clarifying your brand identity. What color scheme would work best for your brand colors? How will your design talk about your brand? You will need to be sure of how your brand needs to be represented before you go ahead with the design.

Apple presents the perfect example of how good packaging can reflect your brand through elements used in the design and their lack thereof. Every Apple packaging is clean and minimal, clearly cutting through the clutter in keeping with the brand’s values and the benefits they offer to their customers. The sensory experience highlights the product itself and directly communicates what customers can get from it — all efficiency and no fluff.

8. Compliance-first outlook

Whatever packaging you create, there will always be regulations guiding its design. Your design needs to begin with compliance in mind before anything else is formulated. More often than not, these requirements significantly influence the layout of your design as well as the elements you use. 

If you sell food, your product package design will be guided by FDA regulations. From highlighting your product strength to the finer details of your ingredients, you will have to dedicate most of your planning to finding the best way to comply with regulations without affecting the quality of your design. You can make things easier for your team with automated compliance checks and transparent feedback loops. Your designers and legal team will get the freedom to do more without having to manage the heavy burden of regulations on their own. 

Maintaining a digital asset library will also strengthen your compliance process. You will have a log of every change made to the design, along with an audit trail of the entire process. With an organized digital library, you will soon be managing an efficient, optimized process that delivers impactful results.

9. Design flexibility

If you’re selling your products in different sizes of packaging, then your designs will need to be able to adapt seamlessly to all of them. Design for scalability. Maintain consistency in brand language. Keep only the elements you need as you develop a design that can fit all forms of your product package.

Using digital tools like the color extractor, font finder, and measurement scale will allow you to create more flexible designs faster. You will be able to transfer elements with greater accuracy, ensuring efficiency in the process. 

10. The clincher

Today, your product package design is a sales tool in itself. Your design will need to tease and entice consumers into picking up your product. It needs to build interest without giving away too much about the product. This is where you will need to find the X-factor that gets your product glowing on the shelves and turning heads!

Going with a bold but simple message often helps establish a firm identity early on and allows people to associate more easily with your values. In this popcorn package design by meshkenas on Crowdspring, for example, every packaging comes with the promise of “wholesome goodness” from its key ingredient, adding weight to their message. It also helps to have a design identity that can be instantly associated with your brand. Whether it’s a personalized art style or a consistent design language of your own, creating your own identity will set you apart from your competition and help you carve your share in the market.

Wrapping up

Creating a new packaging design is a massive project for any organization. Most of your efforts will be spent ensuring the process moves forward without a hitch, leaving you with little room to go above and beyond on the project. 

Today, it is easier for you to automate most of your design processes over the cloud than it is to manage your own process over emails. Together with a digital asset management system, a complete creative collaboration solution like Artwork Flow will allow you to build and scale complex workflows, communicate seamlessly across departments, and complete error-free projects in less time than before. To find out how Artwork Flow can fit your business needs, get started on a free trial now or book a demo with our experts today.

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