The Complete Guide to Product Packaging Design

The Complete Guide to Product Packaging Design

As anyone with experience selling physical products will tell you, product packaging makes a big difference in a business’s success. 

One study showed that bad brand aesthetics caused 52% of shoppers not to make a purchase from a company. At Deal Design, our goal is to help make sure you don’t fall into that 52%. High quality products deserve high quality packaging, and we’re here to untangle what that means for individual brands. 

In this post, we’ll provide an all-encompassing rundown of product packaging design, including an explanation of why packaging design is important, what’s involved in the packaging design process, and X suggestions for packaging your product.

In This Article:

Why Does Packaging Design Matter?

When companies create products, they typically do so with a particular person in mind who will benefit from what they’re selling. A product’s packaging design is one of many ways a brand communicates its message to that target customer. And while there are lots of ways your potential customers interact with your brand, packaging design is unique in that it impacts people’s impression of your brand at multiple stages of the buyer journey – it might be their first impression as they come across your product on a shelf, and it will be the last piece of your brand they interact with before diving into your actual product.

Good marketers view every interaction customers have with your brand as an opportunity for engagement. On average, a person will interact with your brand 5-7 times before they remember it, and probably many more times before they purchase it. Packaging design is an important way to engage with customers and make your brand more memorable. 

Quality brands are born from intentionality and consistency; product packaging design is one important step in a journey to long-term branding success.

Packaging Design Terms to Know

If you’re new to the packaging design world, you may not be familiar with some common terms. Here are the important ones to know.

  • Dieline: A dieline is used in graphic design as a pattern or guide for  laying out artwork that will be die cut (stamped out) by a metal cutting pattern later in the finishing process. Packaging designers will typically provide dielines to clients to review before moving forward in the finishing process.
  • Mock-up: A scale or full-sized model of a product’s packaging. Designers can provide digital mock-ups which are on-screen representations of a product’s packaging, or physical mock-ups which are physical representations of what the packaging will look like when completed.
  • Process Color: Color that is produced by printing a series of dots of 4 different colors: cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. Process color can deliver all the colors of the rainbow and reproduce photographs and illustrations.
  • Spot Color: In offset printing, a spot color or solid color is any color generated by a pure ink color that is printed using a single run. It’s like buying custom color paint for your wall.

These are just a few terms that are relevant to this article. For a more comprehensive glossary of packaging design terminology, check out Taylor Box Company’s Ultimate Packaging Design Terminology Post.

The Product Packaging Design Process

The process of designing product packaging is unique to every brand. There are, however, some basic process stages that every design goes through. This outline will give you an idea of all the work that goes into product packaging design, and it will let you know what you can expect from the process if you’re just starting out.

Step 1: Formulate Goals

Packaging design should be a long-term solution to your business’s priorities. It’s important to start by getting on the same page with designers and stakeholders about the goals you have for a product’s packaging. 

At Deal Design, this step includes exploring all the retail environments in which you’re looking to sell your products, both online and in-store. Initial conversations help you make sure you receive a satisfactory end result.

Step 2: Evaluate the Competition

Packaging design and shelf studies help with gaining a better understanding of the visual and messaging trends and standards for your specific industry. See what’s working for your competitors, and formulate a strategy for effectively marketing in that particular space. Reviewing the competition helps you to stand out and to evaluate what’s worked well in the past.

Step 3: Concept Design and Development

Package design teams produce several design concepts and allow the creative process to generate new ideas. A variety of concepts allows you to explore your creative options.

Step 4: Select a Design, Then Evaluate and Refine

Next, it’s time to select the packaging design that best represents your brand. It’s often advisable to engage key buyers in this decision-making process. After a consensus has been reached, designers can refine your selection, making detailed changes until it’s just right.

Step 5: Prepare Print-Ready Artwork

After the designs are finalized, packaging designers get them ready to go to print. At Deal Design, we are experts in special print effects and pre-press setup so the final result is exactly what you expect. 

Make sure to work with graphic designers who know the technical ins and outs of printing. They should be familiar with UV inks, offset lithography, die cutting, emboss effects, foil stamping, and soft-touch finishes, just to name a few options. This way, you’ll be able to achieve virtually any packaging result you desire.

Step 6: Source Manufacturing

The final step in the packaging design process is sourcing the manufacturing so you can start selling your products. You can compare packaging manufacturers both domestically and overseas, or you can work with a packaging design company (like Deal Design!) that handles these details for you.

Follow these steps, and you’re ready to sell!

5 Examples of Great Product Packaging Design

What differentiates the good packaging designs from the bad? 

Designing stand-out product packaging involves thinking outside the box while maintaining an awareness of the standards held by different industries. These product packaging design examples differ from each other greatly, but they are all examples of how creativity manifests for products in different industries.

1. Category Disruptor


Category Disruptor Product Packaging Design Example

Source: Deal Design

With innovative tweaks to more traditional packaging designs, products stand out on store shelves. This packaging partially reveals the product and allows shoppers to interact with it to learn more, making the buying process more experiential. The rigid box has a magnetic front flap closure, a design that’s sure to stand out in the swimwear accessories market.

2. Limited Materials 

illustration product packaging design example

Source: The Dieline/Mapache

The cost of packaging your products can really add up, especially when you use a lot of material for each individual unit. By thinking outside the box and considering some creative packaging that is non-traditional for your industry, you can achieve a result that stands out on shelves and saves you some money.

3. Illustration as Texture

Limited Materials Product Packaging Design

Source: Behance/Robinsson Cravents

Minimalistic packaging is transformed by simple, stylized illustration. On the front side of this package, there seems to be a wavy pattern in the background. As people explore the package and turn it over, however, they see that the pattern is actually hair belonging to an abstract profile. This is a clever way to tie in a brand’s function with its design. 

4. Brand Emphasis

Brand Emphasis Product Packaging Design Example

Source: Anthropologie

This packaging design clearly emphasizes branding, with a product package that mirrors the design of the box containing it. The repetition of styles on both interior and exterior designs packs a punch, and the intricate cut-out detailing is so eye-catching, customers are probably more likely to hang it on their wall instead of throwing it away.

5. Modern Simplicity

simple product packaging design example

Source: Mirza Agic

The modern simplicity of this brand design elevates the product’s luxurious feel. Notice the packaging isn’t over-crowded with information, allowing prospective purchasers to fully digest the brand without feeling overwhelmed by too much text.

6 Tips and Suggestions for Packaging Your Product

The retail environment is like a battleground where brands compete for shoppers’ attention. These six tips were curated by product packaging experts with the goal of helping you feel confident in navigating this competitive space.

1. Less is More

minimalist product packaging design

Source: Bobbi Brown

In a culture where more-is-more is the dominant message of consumerism, the concept of less-is-more is challenged to gain adoption. However, savvy packaging designers employ the Bauhaus movement’s philosophy of less-is-more when designing retail packaging. The concept of less-is-more addresses the lack of time and attention a shopper will give to a product as he or she tries to evaluate its unique features and benefits relative to its price.

The onslaught of packages screaming for attention and the visual bombardment by point-of-purchase displays means the average shopper will only give your product 2 seconds of attention before their gaze is seduced by a neighboring product on the shelf. In that short amount of time, it’s critical to deliver your product’s unique benefits and why-to-buy statement.

2. Touching Encouraged

cutout product packaging design

Source: Linepeak Design

To a customer, the product packaging is a nuisance. It’s something standing between them and the product they are interested in. If they had their way, there would be no packaging and shoppers would be able to fully touch, smell, taste and test a product before the purchase. Of course, there are plenty of safety, security and logistical problems that prevent this kind of shopping nirvana.

However, the smart packaging designer seeks to minimize the packaging’s interference with the shopping experience. Giving shoppers direct access to the product through cut-out zones and clear windows where they can see and touch your product increases sell-through. It removes the fear of the unknown: What does the product really look like? What does it feel like? Is the color really the color I see on the packaging? All these fears are removed if the customer can fully experience the product at the point-of-purchase.

If direct access to the product just isn’t possible, as in the case of products sold exclusively online, large, beautiful product photography with multiple views gives shoppers a sense of the product and compels them to buy.

3. Opposites Attract

innovative product packaging design

Source: Brown Sugar Tea by Fina Li

On the retail shelf, when a shopper considers a category of product, their eyes quickly scan the shelf, and a mind storm of visual sensory data is evaluated in milliseconds. 

The shopper’s mind is subconsciously looking for two main things: 1. What they recognize as familiar and 2. What stands out as different. 

For repeat purchases, shoppers are focusing on what they recognize — that product they already bought, liked, and want to buy again. However, there is always that subconscious desire to find what’s new. This is where the packaging designer’s opportunity lies—in being that new thing that stands out from the crowd and captures attention. Strategic packaging designers know that they need to develop a packaging design that sets the product apart from the competition, not one that blends in. 

Leaders aren’t worried who follows in the direction they head; they head there because they know the direction is right. Followers look for the people who seem to know where they are headed, and follow them. Which one will your product packaging be?

4. The Element of Surprise

surprise packaging design

Source: Site Ma via Packaging of the World

People crave memorable experiences more than they crave things. Most millennials value experiences more than they value owning houses, fancy cars, or expensive items. This shift in consumer behavior from desiring things to desiring experiences has a direct effect on packaging design. 

How, you may ask, can a package design be an experience? The thing that makes events so memorable is the moment when something happens that is unexpected and blows your mind. Packaging designers can take a lesson from events by adding a similar element of surprise to the shopping experience. 

For example, the moment when a package lid is lifted, and the inside of the carton is flooded with a bright color that says, “This secret experience was designed just for you.” Or when the customer realizes the package was designed to have a second life and doubles as gift box or storage box for other things. The possibilities for elements of surprise are vast.

5. Customers Know Best

After several rounds of design revisions, it’s difficult for designers, business-owners, and stakeholders to make selections without emotional attachment to their own ideas. 

Today, the best tool a smart marketer can use is crowdsourcing. There are many survey websites and online communities full of people who match your target customer’s demographic . For a fraction of what old-school focus groups used to cost, you can put your

packaging designs in front of a thousand people who perfectly match your demographic profile, and you can have them vote for the best packaging design. 

With survey results from 1000 target customers in your hands 48 hours later, you are armed with real data, and the data makes the decision. Numbers don’t lie. And after all, everyone wants the packaging to sell the most product possible. The customer-knows-best approach puts everyone into alignment.

6. Spot Color Rules, Process is for Fools

spot color vs process color

Source: Pantone

Well-trained packaging designers know the visual power spot color wields when compared to its lesser-endowed challenger, process color.

Spot color is a pure ink or paint hue made from actual pigments. Process color uses cyan, magenta, yellow, and black in tiny dot patterns to simulate (as best it can) all the colors of the rainbow. The problem is, process color never matches the visual intensity of spot colors, no matter how hard it tries.

Evaluate Your Product Packaging

For those who have already been selling products, how do you know if your product packaging is working for or against you? 

It’s good practice to reevaluate your packaging design, and your overall branding, every few years as trends change and innovation provides new opportunities. This brings us to our first point…

Is your packaging design outdated?

Certain brands and products benefit from a more traditional, classic feel. But if your packaging design screams, “last century,” it might deter customers from choosing your product over your competitor’s.

Working with skilled designers can safeguard you from running into this issue down the line – they are familiar with rising and falling trends, and they will work to provide designs that are timeless and durable.

Does your packaging reflect your product?

Can shoppers tell what your product is just from looking at the packaging? 

misleading packaging design

Source: Alibaba

As we’ve discussed, buyers make decisions about their preferences almost instantly, so it’s important to eliminate any confusion about what the product is.

Is your packaging honest?

There’s nothing worse than misrepresenting your product on its packaging. 

dishonest packaging design

Source: ItsAlexBevan via Bored Panda

Giving customers a false, idealized view of your product may prompt an initial sale, but it definitely won’t produce repeat customers. Make sure your packaging doesn’t include any false claims or dishonest images of your product.

Is your packaging versatile?

Sure, you may only sell one version of your product now, but what happens when you decide to add on new flavors or styles in the future? Making your packaging versatile now enables expansion later.

herbivore brand identity

Source: Herbivore

Resources for Product Packaging Design

Looking for more resources on packaging your product? Check out some of our other articles on the subject:

The Complete Guide to Product Packaging Design
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We’ve covered a lot here. Packaging your product doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Thankfully, experts are ready to help you.

Deal Design has over 20 years of experience providing outstanding product packaging designs for our customers. We work with many startups and established businesses alike to provide everything that’s needed for product packaging that sells. 

Explore our services to see if they are right for you, check out our portfolio page to view our past packaging design work, or contact us today for a free consultation.

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