9 best practices for creating powerful packaging designs

By Alexander Kleijngeld, Senior Solution Consultant, MetrixLab, a Toluna company

Packaging design is more than just making sure your product stands out on the shelf and wins against the competition. It’s also the primary embodiment of your brand; an always-on broadcast that is leveraged across all touchpoints. Therefore, it pays to invest in your design.

MetrixLab has consolidated research-based insights, collective experiences, and benchmark database into the following nine best practices for creating powerful packaging designs. These practices are centred on three themes: visibility, communication, and persuasion.

Visibility

The first step to ensuring your packaging delivers impact is visibility. Amidst a sea of competitors, capturing attention is vital.

1. Use colour contrasts for differentiation

A simple yet effective way to bring your brand and product into the spotlight and boost visibility is through contrasting colours. Choose a dominant packaging colour that contrasts against category codes and competitors.

That said, using disruptive colours may run the risk of backlash, or a negative perception from your audience. That’s why it’s crucial to test your packaging first. This will help establish the right balance between shelf findability and differentiation.

2. Nurture distinctive visual assets to strengthen your brand identity

What comes to mind when you see a picture of a half-eaten apple? Chances are you’ll think of tech giant, Apple. Many brands have transformed simple icons into distinctive brand assets. Red Bull is another example: their iconic logo has become a major source of brand recognition.

Source: jumbo.com

Your logo isn’t the only brand asset worth nurturing. Ensuring your packaging and communications stand out and complement each other is crucial. Creating a cohesive design and order of elements is daunting, but it does pay off!

3. Unite the line and differentiate the variants for optimal brand recognition

Line unification and variant differentiation are a matter of trade-off and balance. On one hand, you want consumers to distinguish between variants easily. But you also want them to recognize the variants as part of the same line and brand. While line unification creates an impactful brand block on the shelf, variation allows consumers to identify the different products on offer. Maintaining a steady balance between the two is vital.


One example is Coca-Cola’s old and new design range. While the older lineup was slightly disconnected in terms of text, font, and design, their new range is consistent with distinct variants.

Old

New

Source: marketingweek.com | pngitem.com | citypng.com

Communication

Now that your packaging has grabbed consumers’ attention, it’s time to communicate what your product is all about, and why they should buy it.

4. Include all the ingredients needed to communicate transparently

The key ingredients for a successful packaging design are:

  • Category or product type
  • Brand
  • Variant (if applicable)
  • Functional benefit(s)
  • Reason(s) to believe
  • Sustainability communication: Consumers are increasingly conscious of sustainable practices. It’s crucial that your brand reflects these practices in your packaging.
  • Emotive end-promise
  • Call to action (CTA)
  • Practical information the consumer may need to know, like size, weight, content details

Source: costco.co.uk

Our research revealed that in an effort to be minimalistic, most brands fail to include all these ingredients in their packaging. The risk here is that the more elements you leave out, the less likely consumers are to ´get it.’ Moreover, visualizing the end-promise enables better persuasion and strong emotional resonance with the brand. Slimfast is a brilliant example of packaging that provides an optimal level of information while maintaining an effective design.

5. Follow the recipe to create a logical flow

Simply including the key components doesn’t end the job! Incorporating them logically is key to ensuring your packaging reaches its full potential. Our advice for layout is simple:

  1. Brand before function and variant
  2. Function before emotion

As visual search patterns often start from about 20–30% below the top, feature your brand logo in a position that utilizes this space. Add the product category, type, and variant below. After that come the functional benefits, reason(s) to believe, and an end-promise. Consider using the space at the very top for a CTA.

6. Augment your message through congruent elements for stronger consistency

Congruence is key to powerful packaging design. From label design and text to packaging structure, all must work in harmony to communicate the product’s benefits. Alignment between the visual (images, logo, colours) and the structure (shape, materials) conveys a stronger collective message about your brand. Dreft’s unique bottle shape and design demonstrate this congruence.

Source: amazon.nl

7. Establish the right value perception to convey your product’s worth

Alongside the price tag, your packaging design reinforces your value positioning as an economy, mainstream, or premium brand. Most often, brands aim for premium perceptions. Since the pandemic, value propositions have become more important for brands. Ensuring your consumers know they’re getting the total mix of benefits with the price they pay is essential to attracting and retaining customers.

Persuasion

Just as important as visibility and communication is persuasion: your packaging must work to convince consumers to buy your product.

8. Create a persuasive design to drive action

A key element to persuasion is striking a balance between category benefits (what this product offers) and distinctive brand benefits (what the brand offers). Nivea’s suncream demonstrates the sweet spot between displaying the category and brand benefits to maximize persuasion.

Another element used to persuade consumers is an on-pack CTA: a bold statement communicating a ‘new formula’ or offering ‘8 + 2 free cans’ might give the final push.

Source: etos.nl

9. Find a balance between visibility, communication, and persuasion for ultimate impact

With so many elements to consider, creating a solid packaging design may seem difficult, but it’s not impossible. The key is to find the right balance.

Fairlife milk is a good example: its packaging portrays great harmony between visibility, communication, and persuasion.

Source: fairlife.com

 Two tips that will help create a well-balanced design:

  1. Identify the strengths and weaknesses of your current design, relative to competing designs. You can then include these in your design agency brief.
  2. Adopt a quick ‘design – test – learn’ iterative cycle of four weeks (or less) each. Conduct testing through a single solution that combines behavioural simulation, implicit, explicit, and visual metrics for a holistic overview of your packaging design.

Use these insights to differentiate, effectively communicate, and persuade consumers for definitive action. To learn more about optimizing your packaging design, check out our PACT suite of solutions or contact us.

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