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Packaging development

Why read this? : We look at the role of packaging development in helping you communicate with customers. Learn how to use design and writing principles to improve the way you do packaging. Plus, we cover the role of packaging in moving products through your supply chain. Read this for ideas on how to be more productive at packaging development. 

Packaging development

How this guide raises your game :-

  1. Learn how design principles apply to packaging development. 
  2. Learn how writing principles apply to packaging development.
  3. Understand the practical and physical considerations associated with packaging to move products though the supply chain.

The purpose of packaging development is primarily to get your product safely into the customer’s hands. But academic evidence also shows it has a large influence on the customer’s  buying decision.

From a marketing planning point of view, it’s part of your :-

  • Brand identity – It’s a tangible brand asset customers associate with your brand. It helps them identify who you are, and helps them find you when they’re looking to buy.
  • Product offer – It’s an extension of the product part of your marketing mix. Up to the point of purchase, it’s often the main way a customers interacts with the product.
  • Part of your promotion – It’s a way to communicate with customers. It’s part of their overall customer experience. You can use it to make them aware of the product, and land key messages to drive consideration and trial at the point of purchase.

It’s this last area we focus on in this guide. We look at :-

  • how you can use design principles to make your packaging more visually appealing.
  • how you can use writing principles to more clearly communication key messages on the pack.
  • how packaging helps products make it through yours supply chain. From the production line to landing in the hands of customers.
Overhead shot of a load of red coloured snacks including Doritos and Skittles

Ready to test your knowledge?

What’s your starting level of knowledge about packaging development?

Take the 2 minute, 5 question Three-brains packaging development quiz and see how much you know about packaging development already.

Design principles and packaging

There can be many different design principles used in packaging development. But for the purposes of this guide, we focus on the 4 biggest ones :- 

  • contrast.
  • repetition.
  • alignment.
  • proximity. 

These are taken from the excellent Design for Non-Designers* by Robin Williams, which outlines these CRAP principles. We’ve applied them to various packaging designs to give you ideas on what to look for.

Contrast 

Contrast is when you create distinct differences between design elements, so they stand out more. 

It makes it easier to distinguish different visual elements from each other. It also helps show the viewer where they should look first

Contrast supports packaging development in 2 key areas. On the product itself. And when the product sits on a shelf with other products. 

On the product’s packaging you use contrast to highlight specific areas of the design you want to stand out. Our eyes are drawn to what looks different

Close up of wine bottle label - reads Reserve Casillero del Diablo Carmenere 2013 Chile

So you use contrast to draw attention to more important areas of the design. It also makes the overall design more visually appealing. Designs with good contrast are easier on the eye. 

Look at this example from a Casillero del Diablo wine label. There’s 3 different examples of contrast we can see here :-

Contrast example 1

First, contrast the light cream background with the dark black, red and gold font colours. The text is important. It needs to stand out. The use of contrast here makes it more legible. It’s easy to distinguish the dark words from the light background. 

Contrast example 2

Next, note the contrast in font styles between the brand name and the rest of the text. The brand name is important. It’s the first thing customers will look at before the type of wine, the year and country of origin. 

It contrasts with the rest of the text by using an elaborate, thick and closely spaced script style. Contrast is also added more subtly with details like the drop shadow effect. Look also at the square dot above the letter “i” and the straight corners around the letters “s” and “a” for example. All areas of contrast. 

Compare those with the simplicity, thinness and spacing of the rest of the text. There’s a definite contrast with the brand name style. The other text uses a light serif font. And the spacing (leading) between the text makes it contrast with the much more tightly packed main brand name. The contrasting font styles help you tell the different elements apart.

Contrast example 3

Finally, note how the “C” and the “D” have been changed to a dark red colour. This contrast helps break up the black text within the brand name. But it also has 2 further uses.

First,  the red colour creates an association with the colour of the wine itself. That’s hard to get from the dark green bottle. And second, the colour red also has associations with what “Diablo” (the devil, in Spanish) means. 

Contrast on shelf

We can look at another category to see how contrast helps your packaging stand out on shelf. It can be an important way for customers to find you in-store. If they can’t find you, they can’t buy you. 

Look at Shapes in this shelf example. It uses different colours to identify the different flavours it offers. The colour differences are anexample of contrast.

These colours contrast against each other. They help the shopper distinguish Chicken Crimpy (Orange box) from Barbecue (Green box), for example. 

Compare this contrast with the own brand examples (BBQ and Pizza). These only have the name of the product to provide contrast. The packaging colours look similar. It would be harder for customers to tell these products apart because they lack the contrast Shapes has.

Repetition

Note however, that not everything on the Shapes packs is different and contrasting. They use the same brand name, font and general layout to show they’re all part of the same overall brand. 

This is an example of the design principle of repetition. Repetition is when you consistently use design elements in a certain way to make them familiar and more recognisable to the audience.

Repetition helps customers identify the overall brand family. It’s very commonly used where a “parent brand” has a number of variants. Coca-Cola for example is always written in the same font and style, whether it appears on Diet Coke, Coke Zero or any other Coke product. 

Some brands use repetition of colours to achieve an effect called “brand blocking” in stores. When you have many packs together which use a repeated, consistent colour, it creates a block of colour which stands out more in a store. The customer can see this block of colour from further way.

In this example from Indonesia, look at how repeating the use of colour of these different formula brands creates a more impactful and eye-catching presence in store.

In some categories, it’s used to signify the entry point (see our guide to design psychology for more on entry points) to the aisle. You’ll find a familiar block of white and red from Colgate at the entry to the toothpaste aisle for example. 

Studies suggest brand blocking helps drive sales by reducing the amount of thinking a customer needs to do. Many purchases by habit. Familiar colours drive sales by making it easier to pick up products you know.

Alignment

The next design principle to look at is alignment. It’s how different elements line up against each other.

As per our design principles guide, well aligned designs create a sense of balance and harmony. When design elements are aligned correctly on a label, they feel like they ‘fit’ together. They look ‘right’.

Take the classic Heinz baked beans label for example.

In this case, alignment is slightly harder because the tin is curve. But look closer and there’s still good examples of alignment.

First, all the text is centre aligned so it looks balanced on the label. In fact, if you look at the centre of the “i” in Heinz, the “h” in English, the “K” in Baked and the “A” in Beans you can draw a straight line through the middle of these words. (Although in this picture, the “A” is slightly off because of the angle of the photo)

Plus, as you can see from the lines we’ve drawn here, you can align the key words Heinz and Baked and Beans to the left and right. This alignment gives these words balance and makes the design seem more harmonious.

Proximity

The design principle of proximity is where different design elements are placed next to each other so they feel like they “belong” together.

This makes it easier for the customer to understand the design. What sits together belongs together. It makes it easier for them to process and interpret the design. 

Look at this Bombay Sapphire label for example. Notice how the brand name “Bombay Sapphire” encloses the main logo / design of Queen Victoria.

But then the secondary information – the variant name and its description sit separate to these. There’s a clear gap between them.

Then, there’s another gap down to the secondary logo and the word “imported”.

So when customers pick this bottle up, their eye easily scans over the 3 different groups of design elements.

It’s a good example of chunking as per our design psychology article.

Chunking (which uses proximity in design) makes design elements easier to process and remember. It’s certainly far easier than if all 9 design elements were randomly placed, and didn’t use proximity.

Packaging development - other design principles

The CRAP design principles are a good place to start when looking at packaging development. But there’s a few other areas of design which are also worth looking at :-

  • Colours.
  • Showing the product. 
  • Functionality. 
  • Link to brand positioning.
  • Special editions. 

Colours and packaging

Colours for example have certain psychological associations. You can use these to help create useful ‘shortcuts’ for customers by highlighting them in your packaging development. . 

For example, green is associated with nature and freshness. That’s why you see a lot of organic foods and health and beauty brands using green packaging. 

Red is associated with strength and power. It grabs people’s attention. you often see it on impulse buy products. Soft drinks and snacks for example.

As per our colours in marketing guide, you need to define the colours which sit in your brand identity as either CMYK or Pantone colours. 

These colour systems refer to colours which are printed on materials (rather than shown on a screen).

Your designer and your printer will likely ask you to “proof” colours on the print run, before any packaging goes to print. This is to validate that colours you may have seen in a digital format, are replicated when they are printed on your actual packaging.

Colour psychology - an applied use of colour in marketing

Showing the product

Consider if you need to show someone using the product, or even the product itself as part of the packaging design. 

This is especially true for marketing innovation. How will customers know what’s inside the packaging, if you don’t show them what it is.

(See an example of a product failure which did this in our marketing mistakes article).

Look at how big brands like Doritos, Kit Kat and Skittles show the product in these snack packaging examples. You know what those products are, but they still show the product inside to make the pack more appealing. 

Overhead shot of a load of red coloured snacks including Doritos and Skittles

Another possible option is to make some or all of the packaging transparent so customers can see what’s inside. That helps build trust. Customers can see what they’re getting.

Functionality

Packaging design also needs to cover the functionality of the packaging. Often, the packaging has to do something for or with the product. 

That might mean protecting it before it reaches the customer. (more on this later). Keeping it fresh if it’s perishable for example. Keeping it damage free if it’s fragile. Making sure exposure to different temperatures or weather conditions doesn’t affect the product inside. 

If there’s mandatory information you need to include such as expiry dates or handling instructions, these need to be placed in areas which are highly visible. Those help products move safely through your supply chain.

Hand holding a small wrapper package marked fragile

You also need to consider the shape of the packaging. Square or rectangular packaging is easier to stack and pack for example. It’s also a more efficient use of space on the shelf, as no space is wasted. Odd shaped packaging e.g. circular or triangular is more awkward to pack and leaves odd space gaps on the shelf.

Finally, you also need to consider what happens to the packaging as and after the product is used. Is it easy to get into the packaging for example? Is it easy to dispose of the packaging once it’s no longer needed.

These are all part of the design thinking which needs to go into packaging development.

Does the functionality of your packaging match what the brand identity promises? If your brand positioning focusses on ease and convenience for example, the packaging needs to be easy and convenient. It can’t be difficult to get in to or difficult to use.

Link to brand positioning

You also need to consider how the packaging design can help reinforce your brand positioning.

For example, if your brand is all about ease and convenience, its packaging needs to be easy and convenient too. That’s just common sense.

Similarly, if you’re a premium brand, your packaging needs to help you reinforce that competitive strategy.

Look at how Krug Champagne do this with their packaging for example. They reinforce their premium position. The box is robust and solid. But you open it out to reveal the bottle. This helps the buyer feel they’ve bought something ‘more’ than just a bottle of champagne.

The colours and design of the box complement the bottle design and make the experience feel more special. Like a more premium experience than just the bottle alone offers. 

Remember also packaging exists in 3 dimensions. It has a shape. So, you need to think about what goes on the front of the pack. That will be the first thing the customer sees. Then think about what else needs to go on the back, sides and even top or bottom of the pack. 

Bottle and display box of Krug champagne to show packaging

Special editions

We mentioned earlier that repetition is generally a good thing in packaging development and design. However, there are exceptions and one of these is when you create special editions.

These are usually products you offer for a limited time, or in a limited quantity. As per our advanced e-Commerce selling techniques article, they use the principle of scarcity to drive customer demand. 

But, from a packaging development point of view, you need to consider how they “fit” with your other products. What common items do you keep (to drive consistency), and what new or different items do you use (to drive contrast)? 

For example, in these Bundaberg rum examples, the bottle shape is consistent, but the labels make the products stand out and look different. That’s a tricky design balance you need to figure out when you launch special editions.

Bundaberg rum website page showing their exclusive range of products

Writing principles and packaging

After the design of the packaging, you next need to consider the words which will go on the packaging.

What you write communicates directly to the customer, and it has 2 main roles in packaging. 

First, it brings your brand identity to life. What you write is an extension of your brand’s personality. So, it needs to fit to your brand’s tone of voice.

It’s also got a selling job to do, so it needs to read as good sales copy to help persuade the customer to buy. 

This may be a challenges because often you have limited space to write. Your writing needs to be very readable

Close up on person writing (typing) on a MacBook

Short words. Short sentences. Use the active, not the passive voice. You want to convey the maximum amount of brand personality with the minimum amount of words.

That’s often because of the second requirement of writing on packaging, which is to convey mandatory information. Facts about the product you must include on the packaging. 

For example, there may be legal requirements on telling customers what’s in the product or how to use it. These can cover a lot of information. Typically, this includes  :-

  • Ingredient or materials labelling.
  • Expiry and use by dates.
  • Warnings about people for whom the product might be harmful (e.g. allergies or only for people over a certain age).
  • Instructions on how to store the product. 
  • Size and weight. 
  • Barcodes. 
  • Recycling information. 
  • Contact details. 
Small metal statue of lady of justice holding scales

The contact information reassures the customer that you have customer service processes in place in case something goes wrong with the product.

Check government and trade association websites to see what’s legally required in your category. Mistakes on the packaging can lead to fines and product recalls. Clearly, you don’t want that. Better to get it right in the first place. 

Supply chain and packaging

Your packaging also needs to support the movement of your product through different stages of your supply chain. 

That normally covers 2 areas. 

First, there’s the amount of packaging needed to turn your product into a “finished good” ready to be shipped. Then, there’s the job the packaging needs to do to protect the product once it’s shipped. 

For example, on the Krug champagne example we used previously, the “product” itself is the tasty, fizzy liquid in the bottle. But it needs a bottle, label, cork and so on to make it a finished product. 

But, the bottle on its own couldn’t be shipped like that. It’s too fragile, So the box is added as a secondary packaging element to protect the bottle when it’s shipped. 

Retailers will often set requirements to make sure products safely and efficiently move through their supply chain systems. Your packaging development needs to factor in those specifications. 

How many units to include in a shipper unit for example. What the shelf space dimensions are, and how many products need to fit on the shelf. These secondary packaging elements usually need to include specific information like the name of the brand, the size and weight, the barcode, the use by date and so on.

Packaging development – in transit

Protecting the product as it’s in transit is the final job to be done in packaging development. 

From where the product is made to where the customer uses it, each product goes on a physical journey. There’s many waypoints along that journey.

Warehouses, trucks, shop storerooms, car boots and into households themselves. Packaging needs to be protect the product in all sort of different environments. The product needs to arrive in the same state it left the factory.

That means packaging that’s robust and secure. Checking that it won’t break as it is moved from place to place.

Pallets of boxes wrapped in cling wrap in a warehouse

If it’s an online delivery, it needs to service the weather conditions it’ll be exposed to if left on the the customer’s doorstep (see more on this in our last mile delivery article). 

You also need to consider the weight of the packaging. In general, the lighter the packaging, the easier and cheaper it is to transport. But it can also reduce the durability of the packaging if you go too light.

Transit tests

A good plan is to list each step the product has to go through to move from being made to being with the customer. Then work out what job the packaging needs to do. Then test and check each step. 

Many businesses conduct transit tests. 

These simulate the journey a product goes on from manufacture to arrival with the customer. They check the status and quality of the product when it arrives. They can diagnose weak spots in the packaging. 

For example, these tests often flag if environmental conditions are likely to be an issue.

Inside a courier delivery van, many different types of packages in cardboard boxes stacked up for delivery

Temperature for example. Products which need to be refrigerated going off. Storage conditions. Products being susceptible to invasion by insects or animals. Handling conditions. Products which break if accidentally dropped by a driver.

Good packaging development helps create packaging which prevents these issues coming up.

Environmental impact after use

And finally, you also need to consider what happens to the packaging AFTER it’s used.

Many people criticise the packaging industry for its lack of speed in reducing its environmental impact. The disposal of packaging after purchase creates a tremendous amount of waste.

Brands who reduce the environmental impact of their packaging can gain a competitive advantage in the market. And, they make the world a better place.

So, using more recyclable materials for example. Cutting down on the total amount of materials used. These are all part of your considerations in packaging development.

Conclusion - Build your packaging development expertise

Packaging’s not really an area you can do on your own. You usually pull together a team of experts. Graphic designers, copywriters and printing specialists. 

Often, you use a specialist type of agency to handle the process. You write them a brief which covers the key communication job to be done, plus the technical specifications like the size and weight, mandatory information requirements and details of what packaging materials are required.

The experts in these areas can be a good source to build your own expertise. Make sure you ask questions. Build your knowledge on how to make your packaging more impactful, consistent and sustainable.

Remember too, most packaging development has a long lead time. 6 to 9 months from the initial brief isn’t unusual on bigger projects. Successful packaging development projects are planned well in advance. 

That forward planning gives you time to build accurate forecasts. It gives you time to feedback on designs, and manage them through your approval process. And it gives you time to make sure the packaging’s done in a way that makes it fit for purpose and appealing to your customers. That’s clearly the end package you want from packaging development.

Three-Brains and marketing communications

We’ve led many marketing communications projects including packaging development. We know how to fit packaging into the rest of your marketing plan and use it to drive sales. 

Contact us to find out how we can support you in using packaging development to grow your business  via our coaching and consulting services.

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