biz ladiesLife & Business

biz ladies: how to design the perfect packaging

by Stephanie

this week’s biz ladies post comes from yael miller, the senior editor at the dieline and principal at miller creative, a branding and packaging design consultancy specializing in naming, branding and packaging design. yael has more than 10 years design experience—particularly in the food, confectionery and beauty brands—and today she enlightens us on how to design the perfect packaging for your products. thanks yael for teaching us about the power of proper packaging!-stephanie

CLICK HERE for the full post after the jump!

We are surrounded by things we can buy, and most of it is inside of packaging. That makes packaging pretty important in influencing the decisions we make when looking to buy something.

Form or Function?
On its most functional level packaging is there to contain and protect something else more precious. However, if shelves were lined with indistinguishable white boxes with black type we would have no way to tell one product apart from the other. Packaging should be a vehicle for informing consumers to convey your product benefits and make it appear more attractive.

In most cases it’s critical that your packaging both protect AND sell your product. Today’s competitive store environment requires a sink-or-swim approach to packaging and branding.

On Store Shelves or Online?

What if your product sells online or simply doesn’t require much packaging at all? Does packaging have relevance to you, then? I believe that packaging is a powerful avenue for “finishing” your product and make it seem much more valuable than if it would be unadorned. Even if it’s just a sticker or hang-tag, these little extras convey importance and attention to detail that something stashed in a clear zipper-seal bag simply can’t.

Packaging and Branding. One Relies on the Other

Packaging is a curious thing. It “does the job” in its naked, unadorned state, but the true value of packaging is when it conveys something meaningful. Your packaging should include your logo or visuals that convey the “spirit” of your brand. Still, a brand (or logo) by itself is worth very little. It needs a “platform” to stand on and shout its message.

Before you can really get the full value of packaging, you need some sort of brand identity. At its most basic, a brand identity consists of only a logo. But, a logo is merely a symbol or word in a sea of millions of other logos. The term “branding” describes more than just a logo. It covers: a color palette, style of font(s), related symbols and imagery, illustrated details and a general “voice” for who you are and what you stand for.

The first step for any product company is to get a brand identity. This is your single most important initial investment in your product and brand. I tell my clients, once you have a solid brand identity, everything else is so much easier.

*refer to these previous biz ladies posts (logo design and branding with meg mateo ilasco) to brush up on branding techniques!

The Shape of Packaging
The shape of packaging can be changed into anything you heart desires – but for a price. Larger companies usually have the option of customizing the form of their packaging due to very high volume (100K units and up). The tooling costs for custom dies is expensive, so it’s only justified if your volume is up there.

The vast majority of small to mid-sized companies utilize packaging that is not a unique or proprietary shape, but rather generically available structures. Boxes usually are rectangular or square, and bottles and jars are picked out of a stock catalog. These are customized with their surface design – whether they are pre-printed, labeled or adorned with a tag.

Does Packaging Cost a Lot?
Packaging doesn’t have to cost a lot at all. I recommend for start-ups and small businesses with small  budgets just entering the world of consumer product sales to start with stock packaging customized with a label. This way you can invest a small amount in packaging and focus on getting your brand out there. Once you build some volume and cash flow, the income will enable you to justify customized packaging and the associated design and production costs.

Getting a pre-printed custom size box requires 5,000 unit minimum order quantities for most folding box manufacturers. The same would apply to printing overseas (China) when doing custom gift boxes.

You could order less, but the fixed costs associated with printing plates and dies make it impractical to do so. For example, it just doesn’t make sense to pay about $2500 for dies and plates when all you need is 500 boxes.

On the other hand, labels require plate charges with an average price of $50-75 a printing plate (most labels require 2-4 plates).

(A professional packaging designer can help you figure out the smartest way to approach all this stuff. Please note the above are just examples and these prices are subject to vary widely.)

It’s Harder to Do It All At Once
Unless you have significant start-up capital and a clearly defined business plan and budget, you need to take it slow and build up your packaging step by step. Don’t worry, though! Before you know it, you’ll be ready to ditch those plain white boxes with stickers and go for fully-customized packaging.

Case in point: One of my clients, just launched their product as was making waves with their amazing food item. They wanted to get into a certain major national supermarket chain. The retailer didn’t want to take their product the way it was because the packaging wasn’t sturdy enough.

The client came to us to help them revamp their packaging. They wanted a natural, gourmet look. We researched a better material that looked natural and would hold up in a store freezer, found a biodegradable plastic insert tray and designed packaging that incorporated the work of a professional illustrator.

The boxes were designed to work with a label system that allowed the company to test some flavors and print a single box that could be customized via the label. This allowed them to save on printing costs for the box, yet order the smaller amount of boxes that they needed.

Eventually, they were ready for a fully printed box (which is more cost effective since less labor is required when you don’t have to hand-apply labels). Their volume had increased and it made sense to order pre-printed boxes.

Can I Design it Myself?
You can design your products, so why not design your packaging? If you’re creative and have a good eye for type, color and style, go ahead and try your hand at it. You’ll need professional design software like Adobe Illustrator/Photoshop if you want that “polished” look. You can also try hand-lettering and/or illustration.

You can find stock packaging at www.nashvillewraps.com or www.gleruperevere.com. Labels and/or cards at www.uprinting.com and cards at www.overnightprints.com. Simple google searches will also bring up other stock packaging providers that specialize in small order for bottles, boxes and bags.

Visit packaging design inspiration websites like www.thedieline.com or www.lovelypackage.com for ideas. You might also find art and design inspiration blog, Share Some Candy, to be a good resource (founded by my husband, Reuben Miller and I).

How Do I Know if I Need a Professional Designer?
If the stakes are higher and you need to compete in the general marketplace (like retail stores or even online), it will be necessary to have a professional branding and packaging designer do it for you. Rest assured, it doesn’t have to be expensive! I find comparing price (and quality) of 2-3 designers is a good starting point. Try to find someone who has produced consistently good work and has some experience in your product genre and not just going for price. This is an important investment in your brand foundation.

An Optimistic View of Your Brand’s Future Potential
Often when we start a business we may be guilty of thinking too small.

I’ve had clients come to me only after designing a whole bunch of labels and packaging with an inferior and cheaply design logo, only to have to start over again. At the time it made sense: start-up company working out of a home kitchen or studio with no cash flow in sight. But, suddenly you find yourself with lots of orders and a fiercely competitive world to enter. You want to get your products into the big retail stores, but you know the look you have won’t cut it.

It’s always easier to grow your company with a brand identity you can stay with. Changing it mid-stream often includes challenges that could have been avoided.

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  • love how you approached packaging from such a well-rounded perspective. there is so much more to consider than whether it’s just “pretty.”

    as a web designer, i think these points really speak to all types of “packaging” – physical or digital. what you surround your products and services with really matters!

  • Thank you for the positive feedback! I hope this article helps people with their packaging quest.

    I wanted to add a little footnote to the case study in the article – the food product company started with sales in two NY retail stores in 2007. Their sales now exceed $2 million and are poised for national distribution. The attributed this directly to their brand identity and packaging design.

  • Many thanks for such an informative article and helpful resources. I am in the process of re-branding and will be taking your advice!

  • LOVE this article! These are great resources, I really appreciate you sharing them! I’m also working on my packaging right now and this has been a great help. Thank you!

  • Any recommendations on how to package products that always differ in size? We do custom stationary and besides shrink wrap I haven’t found a good solution.

  • Hi Mike – to answer your question, you’d need to clarify a couple things. How much protection does the product require? How is it sold? Are you referring to the shipping protection or the packaging presentation?

  • Yael, this is a wonderful article – what a great resource! I will definitely be sharing this with our customers. I particularly like how you point out that packaging can be leveraged as a platform for broadcasting a brand. Thanks for sharing!

  • Great article! I’d also like to highlight the importance of packaging in getting press coverage – both in print and blogs. Especially for internet-based companies with no store fronts. Since many don’t have advertising budgets, getting coverage in magazines and blogs is vital to growing your business. Think about your brand of course, but also think about the editor who’s making the decision to cover your product or not based largely on how it will look in a layout in her magazine. Fresh, with at least some color or other eye-pleasing design element and legible! I also want to add, as a small-business owner, that I’ve had wonderful luck with custom boxes in small quantities. I also love that I can choose things like forest-stewardship approved paper and veg.-based inks when going the custom route. Stock options are also often flimsy, leaving your customer with the impression that the product it houses is too. I’ve had entirely custom boxes made with as little as 3,000 piece runs. As Yael points out though, remember (one-time) die-cut fees start at at least $700 so be sure on your design and try to use it for as many things…a custom wrap or tag, for example can entirely change the look of a product. If you’re in NY, check out A. Fleisig Paper box for custom boxes in the low thousands and Advanced Printing for low runs and great quality for your printing needs and great eco-options.

  • Thanks, Erin! You’re so kind.

    Avril, thank you also for sharing your valuable point about packaging as an indispensable method for helping your PR efforts – on and offline. Thanks for sharing the details on you experience with custom box runs and your suppliers – I’m sure plenty of people reading this will find that very useful!

  • great post!! i love the way on how you package things. its been a great help for me because i happened to decorate my new house.. thank you again for the post! keep it up!

  • I like how you say packaging conveys the spirit of the brand. I work for a small business and we do a lot of shipping ans I think we would benefit from custom boxes that really represented who we are. I also appreciate the encouragement to think big and be optimistic about our brands potential. Thanks for all the great information!

  • Love your post, thank you so much! I need the help, I am a new up and coming Organic Body Scrub and more. I went into business with my tattooist and I hate all the lotions out on the market today, so me being a Herbalist, designed an Organic lotion! I need help with designing a label and packing ideas so thank you! Right now I am selling on my website and at our shop! I hope my friends get the word out…lol. But thank you! Holly Wicked Sensations

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