5 Reasons Why I Love Packaging Design

by | Feb 28, 2020

1. Packaging is essential and everyday

Most of us can easily go a full day without seeing a sales brochure or an exhibition stand, but it’s unlikely that we haven’t seen, picked up, or thrown away a piece of packaging in the last 24 hours.

Open your fridge, order something online, walk down the high street, and you’ll see packaging. It’s everywhere. And it’s everywhere, because pretty much everything needs it. It protects products during transportation, it prolongs shelf-life, it makes stuff easier to hold and use, it helps people identify and relate to brands, and it provides a vital point of difference versus the competition.

For graphic designers, the idea of influencing how those millions of boxes, bags, cans, bottles, wrappers etc. look on a supermarket shelf, or in someone’s kitchen cupboards, is understandably appealing.

If we can create something unique, that stands out and connects with people enough that they want to welcome it into their lives and homes, it’s ‘job-jobbed’ for us.

And even seeing one of our disposed-of designs in a bin or blowing down the street can be satisfying, because it basically means that a real person saw it, chose it, picked it up, and paid for it, turning our abstract creative ideas into real sales and profits for our clients.

2. Packaging is multi-sensory

As graphic designers, we obviously want all our packaging designs to look attractive, but the best packaging has got much more than just visual appeal.

If you nail the 2-D graphics, and get the 3-D physical form 100% right, people won’t be able to resist picking the product up and touching it – especially if the choice of materials is spot-on too.

Depending on the pack’s contents, they might also give it a sniff to see how it smells, or a good shake to check what noise it makes. We wouldn’t recommended the latter for fizzy drinks, but when you’re thirsty, the ‘pssst’ of a can ringpull, or a popping champagne cork can seem like the best sounds in the world. 🙂

So that covers sight, touch, smell and sound, but what about taste? True, you’re not likely to see anyone licking a pack in a shop (hopefully not, anyway!), but assuming the contents are edible, packaging design definitely plays a major part in making people want to eat them.

It’s why food companies spend such huge amounts on product photography and food styling tricks – they want to tickle your tastebuds and get your mouth watering in order to persuade you to put your hand in your pocket, purchase their product, and then enjoy the full sensory experience by eating it.

And some of the most memorable packaging actually requires consumer interaction – think Salt & Shake Crisps, or Muller Corner Desserts. By encouraging people to engage physically with the product before they eat it, they make the experience fun and unique, and strengthen the brand appeal.

3. Packaging is the ‘5th P’ of The Marketing Mix

Every marketing textbook talks about the 4 P’s of the Marketing Mix:
• Product – what will you sell?
• Price – how much will you sell it for?
• Promotion – how and where will you tell people about it?
• Place – how will it be distributed and where will it be sold?

But even with all this to consider, packaging shouldn’t be an afterthought for any product’s marketing strategy. In fact, for all the reasons outlined above (it protects, it gets products noticed, it differentiates, it adds brand value etc), it should increasingly really be thought of as the vital ‘5th P’.

4. Packaging design takes 3-dimensional thinking

Whether we’re designing a beer bottle or a biscuit wrapper, our graphics have to wrap around the entire pack and product.

There’s often lots to communicate – the brand identity/logo, product name, product description, size labelling, ingredients, usage instructions, company contact details etc. etc. and along with our clients, we have to identity the most important items and prioritise those visually so we deliver the right information in the right place and on the right pack face.

Not all the faces of a pack will get the same attention – some are hidden till they’re in the hand of a potential purchaser, and some of them will never be read at all, but it doesn’t mean we can ignore their design. Even when they’re smaller and/or quieter than the front of pack, they have a part to play.

So we always have to think three-dimensionally. Imagining where and how the packaging will be displayed, and how people will interact with it and process the information on it, can sometimes feel like solving an especially tricky puzzle, but when we get it right, it feels great.

5. Packaging is in my ‘design DNA’

After choosing to write my University dissertation about Pepsi’s ‘Project Blue’ (their bold move from predominantly white cans to all-blue ones), my first ‘real’ job was as an Account Manager for jonesknowlesritchie (jkrglobal.com). They’re now a multi-disciplinary global agency with offices all over the world, but back in the late 90’s they were an FMCG design agency, working primarily on packaging design projects.

I know not everyone looks back fondly on their early years of employment, but I genuinely thought I had the best job in the world. I looked after some well-known, well-loved brands including Britvic, McVities, and Mars, and by making their products’ packaging look blooming amazing, we helped them sell shedloads more soft drinks, biscuits, cakes and confectionery. All that sugar meant those weren’t always the healthiest of days of my life, but they were definitely some of the happiest, and packaging played a massive part in them. 

“Good packaging protects your product. Great packaging protects your brand.”

Mokokoma Mokhonoana