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The 7 Step Packaging Design Process

For your product packaging to become your unique selling platform, your design must capture your target audience attention and inspire them to engage with and ultimately buy your product. The pack design  must charge the consumers desire to discover more about the product and ultimately have them buy the product and put it into their shopping trolley.

Here is the 7 step packaging design process required to achieve this outcome ensuring your product gets bought.  

STEP 1- The brief

he first step of the 7 step packaging design process  – The briefing stage.

If things are going to go wrong with your packaging design…it’ll be at the briefing stage.

Designs will only ever be as good as the designers understanding of the brief.

Quality briefs are  the linchpin for the work a packaging design agency does. It’s the quality of the brief that largely dictates if the creative work which follows is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, good or bad.

Whilst the brief is never seen by the consumer, it is “the road-map” that states what needs to be achieved and what needs to be said in order to achieve it’s outcomes.  Often times a poorly constructed brief is put into your packaging design agency with the “hopes” that it’ll all get sorted in the design studio. WRONG!  Would you ever consider just jumping into an UBER without knowing where you’re headed? Well putting an incomplete or substandard brief into your design agency means that whilst you may hope to end up at a suitable destination, the creative work will often reflects the quality of the brief. It therefore becomes a frustrating and expensive exercise for all.

According to AAR research, the top three things preventing “right first time” work – cited equally by clients and agencies alike all had to do with briefing issues. As the old saying goes, “Garbage in…Garbage out!

“Prescription without diagnosis leads to malpractice”

The better the brief, the clearer understanding the designer has as to the expectations and strategy behind the brief. The better the quality of the brief, the more likely you are to get a pack design closer to your expectations.

There is a saying in selling circles which says: “Prescription without diagnosis leads to malpractice”. This is exactly what happens with poor quality briefs or interpretations of them.

A professional agency has written, co-written dozens of briefs and reverse briefs. They bring their vast experience and understanding of the strategic component of the design requirements. Experienced packaging designers also know how to unpack the brief and figure out what’s missing and what’s working and what doesn’t work regarding the brief. This is especially helpful when there are inexperienced brand managers or first time product developers involved in the packaging design process.

STEP 2 – The project plan

The second step of the 7 step packaging design process is the establishments of a project plan.

As with any project plan, a packaging design project must also be held accountable by timings, dollars and quality. A great project plan will in essence keep the designer honest and ensure the outcomes of the project remain on track, without blowing deadlines and budgets.

STEP 3 – Research

Research and discovery is the third step of the 7 step packaging design process.

Today many brands receive relatively little media and advertising support. Therefore the retail package on the shelf is the advertising campaign and has to do all the heavy lifting. In just few seconds, at the shelf,  the pack design must not only attract attention, engage the consumer, tell the brand’s story and convince the consumer to buy.

To make a sale, there are two battles at shelf you have to win. First, people have notice your product and reach for it (as opposed to something else). Secondly, people have to drop it in the cart. You have to win both battles. The product’s packaging is the only weapon you have to win.

The 2 battles that must be won

To make a sale at the shelf, there are two battles the design must win.

  1. The targeted consumer has to notice your product and reach for it (as opposed to something else).
  2. The targeted consumer must place your product in their shopping basket. To win both of these battles, the product’s packaging is key to winning.

The purpose of your research and discovery is to ensure you complete your homework so you can clearly win the two battles at the shelf.  Therefore the following questions need to be answered as a component of  the research:

  • What is the marketing strategy for the product?
  • Will media advertising play any marketing role in supporting the pack design ?
  • Which retailers are likely going to carry the brand/product?
  • Which brands/products compete most directly with the product?
  • Why do the brand stakeholders want to change the current package?
  • What are the marketing outcomes and business KPI’s required to be achieved by the proposed change?
  • What, if any of the core elements of the current design, should be retained?
  • What are the risks of changing the current design?
  • What are the territories that the product should sit in?
  • What are the cultural and lifestyle drivers reach the targeted consumer on an emotional level.
  • What is the USP for the product? 

The better the upfront research the more information the designers will have to support their understanding as to:

  • the product’s positioning in the market and how to enhance the emotional connection between product designs and purchase impulse.
  • how to blend both the qualitative and quantitative research and the complete data profile, in order to make better design decisions based on high quality insights.
  • establishing the appropriate perception of value in the mind of the target customer ensuring they feel good about the purchase even before they actually experience the product.
  • inspiring the desired emotion within the consumer such as excitement, intrigue, desire, passion, or even hunger.
  • selecting the most appropriate texture, color, shape and imagery. All of which defines the perception, the value and the shopping experience of a product
  • considering environmentally sound choices appropriate for the project budget.
  • communication and messaging. Unclear communication on your pack can cause lots of frustration for the consumer.
  • how to strongly communicate the brand and evoke an emotional response from the pack
  • Setting up hierarchy’s
  • Setting up the colour palate etc. and so many more….

Strategic Design Insights

The main goal of the research is the gleaning of insights and converting them into a design strategy.

The design strategy will map out the plan for achieving the visual goal of the packaging design. The design strategy is essential for laying down a strong foundation for successful packaging design and is based on research.

Given the overwhelming choice of consumer products that crowd the shelves in pretty much every category in the retail store, plus the increased market competition and diminishing consumer loyalty, a lack of effective design strategy has the potential for lower than expected sales or in some cases complete failure.

Understand purchasing drivers

Design strategy looks at shopability. Just like a moth to a flame, the pack design must draw the targeted consumer in for a closer look and compel them pick up and engage with the product on shelf. Regardless of the design style, the design strategy must consider all the key elements of color, shape, hierarchy and imagery which will catch the attention and evoke the relevant emotional experience at shelf of your target consumer. The designer will need to know the #1 and#2 reasons your targeted consumer should buy your product instead of your competitors’. This value position should be differentiated and relevant.

The design strategy must also communicate the core attributes and value of the product whilst that the same time building brand awareness and brand recognition. The design will also need to manage the expectations of the targeted consumer and build brand loyalty.

Getting what’s inside the customer’s head onto the pack

Sometimes consumers are very familiar with a product and other times you are looking to disrupt the category. Either way the designers need to understand how the targeted consumers will perceive and think about the brand/product when they see it for the first time.

So the objective is for the design team to get inside of the customer’s head to understand and anticipate how they will react to a product when they see it. The insights gleaned from the research must enable your brand to overcome hesitations and objections, understand the benefits that consumers care about the most  and what will compel them to make the purchase decision. Its important to note that its the customer that decides the value of your brand/product based on how your product compares with all the other packages on the shelf next to it. The design strategy must answer:

  • What is the articulated value proposition?
  • How do the targeted consumer will measure quality?
  • What are the specific “call out messages” the pack must answer?
  • Are they buying based on ingredients, flavor or variety?
  • How and where will the pack be displayed?

Understand the intersection between the brand/product and the targeted consumer insights.

  • Determine the alignment areas between the brand/product and its targeted consumers demands.
  • Determine the key variables of the product and where it sits in relation to it’s competitors.
  • Highlight and communicate a credible difference based on a significant product characteristic.
  • Map out a plan for achieving the visual goal of the packaging design
  • Exploring the most effective way to visually communicate the key concept connecting with the targeted consumer.
  • Explore design concepts to bring the project to life.

The key to effective package design is all in the strategy. This is where the real magic happens. The magic is delivered via a combination of experience, understanding design, commercialism and a hefty dose of natural talent and passion for packaging. For your packaging to have impact on shelf, a packaging design strategy is critical to success.

STEP 4 – Developing the concept

Once the packaging design strategy has been resolved the design agency creates multiple on-strategy design concepts for revision.This is the fourth step in the 7 step packaging design process.

During this development of the concept design stage, the needs of the target market are identified, competitive products are reviewed, product specifications are defined, refined until selected.

When developing concepts the following should be considered:

  • Brand identity: What is the brand essence? What does the brand stand for? What is the distinctive personality? What image it the brand trying to convey?
  • Positioning: Packaging often portrays the products positioning of price and quality. Where is your product located on the product positioning map Price vs. Quality?
  • Consumer persona: Who is your target customer? How can you use design to make an emotional connection?
  • Colours: Packaging colours account for nearly 85% of the reason why someone purchases a product.
  • Fonts: The most important thing here is to get the right balance between legibility and visual appeal.
  • Images: There are occasions where an image picture of what is inside the packaging can increase consumer confidence. However today’s trend is for simple graphics and symbols.
  • Checking design elements against brand guidelines
  • Proofreading all copy carefully.
  • Paying particular attention to regulations

The initial design concept/s does most likely will not include specifics. Instead it will focus mainly on color palettes, shapes, graphics, materials and other material options that appeals to the consumers many sensory levels: visually, tactility, emotionally.

Once designs have been submitted they are rationalized down the ones that most hit the mark. For most marketers and clients there is very little room for error. So selection is key. Once the design had been selected then the design goes through a process of refinement.

STEP 5 – Design refinements

Step number 5 in the 7 step packaging design process is all about refining the design/s

The selected packaging design is now polished and refined for the last time, determining the necessary finish. Client’s may request changes to color, typography and even graphic imagery. The objective is to ensure the final design communicates the intended deliverable’s.

Careful attention and consideration is given to:

  • The final brand identity
  • Shapes of the letter forms are balanced, and the spacing are refined.
  • Structural dimensions, secondary copy
  • Layout and positioning
  • Colours, and imagery are all reviewed.
  • All copy is proofread.
  • All legal and regulatory requirements are checked and approved
  • Slight alterations to the selected design

Here are some key points which must be ticked off the design checklist.

Does the design:

  • Deliver shelf stand-out
  • Differentiate on shelf – Clear differentiation from competitors and line segments and varieties of complex product lines
  • Align with the brand persona- The design must graphically support the brands color palate and persona
  • Clearly convey positioning
  • Communicate communication hierarchy and product attributes including usage, qualities,size, benefit, flavor and characteristics
  • Call out features, benefits or changes
  • Create emotional connection

STEP 6- Design the Dieline

Step six is the creation of a dieline.

The dieline is the template for a package. It’s a flattened outline of the cutlines and folds.

You cannot create a product package design without one!

  • A dieline is the flat template for the package.
  • The dieline is the digital document that contains the precise drawing indicating the shape and structural specifications of a package.
  • The dieline serves as a package template that ensures proper layout for the printed product.
  • The dieline is a diagram showing all the cut lines and folds of a package in flattened form.
  • The dieline is usually put together by the packaging designer in a vector program, like Illustrator, using simple lines and shapes.

If you took apart a typical box bought from a supermarket, flattened it out, you’d be looking at the dieline. This includes the box edges (cutlines) and all the seams and creases, folds and overlaps. Dielines are most often created in Illustrator and must be perfect. Often designers won’t start a package design without a finalised dieline because this could lead them to make expensive guesses and wasting time and money.

STEP 7 – Design Production- Finished art – Bringing packaging concept to reality

This is the last step of the 7 step packaging design process. This is where the design goes into production and the approved packaging design concept becomes a reality. This is where the integrity of the approved design is maintained all the way through to the printing process. This is where design production takes layouts from finished art to pre-press and digital ready states.

The role of finished art –

is about taking elements from multiple sources, such as clients, image libraries, Creative Graphic Designers or Art Directors, laying it out on a page with appealing typefaces and images utilizing a variety of layout techniques. The finished artist is often more technical than creative.  This vital function, done poorly, will greatly increase the risk that the visual aspects of the chosen packaging design will be “off brand” and can send production and print costs skyrocketing.

Finished art means getting artwork ready for print taking into consideration a deep understanding of the printing and finishing processes to make sure that the selected design is faithfully reproduced with the correct creative and brand requirements. The Finished Artist’s role requires exceptional attention to detail and the ability to take layouts from finished art often to pre-press and digital ready states.

The biggest mistakes that hurt great packaging is when corners are cut in production to save time and money. The other big error is not telling the designer upfront the printing method and medium to be used for the job. This process must also take into account the type of equipment the product will be packaged on.

NOTE: Set a pre-production meeting early to troubleshoot the design. Often designers can come up with a design that can’t be reproduced properly making you look bad and providing disappointment all round.

The finished art process is to ensure the integrity of the approved design remains consistent. This means the finished art team has to set up and supply the highest quality finished artwork ensuring that it’s print ready.

Whilst there is a whole lot more detail that goes into the packaging design process, the above 7 steps will give you a good path to follow and questions to ask when selecting your creative design agency.

Areas such as copy-writing, legal approvals, photography/illustration and printer selection would be additional areas not covered in this blog.

Here are the 7-step packaging design process steps repeated:

1.The brief

2.The project plan


4.Concept Development

5.Design refinements

6.The Dieline

7.Finished Art

To ask how we can help you with your next packaging design project go HERE

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