Photo courtesy of VFS Digital Design

Design Insights for Creating a Rockstar Custom Package

Add a splash of personalization to your products

What attracts you to a product? Is it the color? Or perhaps the shape? A package can convey more than just utility to a potential customer. If you’re just starting to create your own custom packages and you’re not sure where to start, don’t panic. All you need is a little design debrief.

Think about packages that have caught your eye in the past. You want to embody this feeling of intrigue in your own designs. As you begin thinking about the custom package you’d like to create, it’s important to reflect on brands (and possible competitors) who are creating jaw-dropping custom packages.

Consider this package by Lizzy Watkins, for example.

What about this design stands out to you? Why? The visual appeal of a product is a factor of its design. This package’s bright colors and fun illustrations are perfect for the company’s audience. Use what you know about your audience to create a package that conveys your brand to them.

It can seem like a daunting task to dive into packaging design for the first time, but there are certain principles you can learn to improve your designs. With a few insights, you’ll be a packaging design pro (or at least selling more products) in no time!

Relevant Design Principles

It’s all in how you arrange the thing… the careful balance of the design is the motion — Andrew Wyeth

You can think of your custom package design as a creation that is constantly in motion. It’s hard to pin down exactly what it will be, but with a little planning, an image will start to emerge. The foundation of your design largely depends on the visual hierarchy that you establish. A visual hierarchy is what you want consumers to see first, second, and third as they look at your package. It is a way for you to guide the consumer’s eye and reveal to him or her messages about your brand. Key elements to this hierarchy include: scanning patterns, size, typeface, and color.

Scanning Patterns

There are a variety of ways that you can arrange your custom package. One way is to take advantage of how people scan through a design. By designing a package according to your customer’s reading patterns, you can increase the appeal of your product. It’s important to note that most cultures read from left to right, but if you’re selling your packages to an audience where this isn’t the norm, consider switching up the format. Three commonly used layouts are the Gutenberg Diagram, the z-pattern layout, and the f-pattern layout.

The Gutenberg Diagram is a scanning pattern divided into four quadrants. The general idea suggests that the eye will sweep across and down the package in a series of horizontal movements called axes of orientation. In this diagram, it is assumed that the bottom left and top right quadrants will receive less attention, so when designing you will want to place less important elements in those areas.

The Z-Pattern Layout is a format in which the viewer’s eyes first scan the top of a package before cutting across it to scan information at the bottom. A design with a narrative flow will work best with a z-pattern layout because your viewer’s eye will move from one segment to the next before looking away. If you choose to create a design following this pattern, you will want to place the emphasis of your design along the Z, with your call to action at the end.

(Diagrams courtesy of Dao Insights)

The F-Pattern Layout should mainly be used for text heavy designs because it is a pattern in which the viewer’s eye quickly scans text from top to bottom.

These layouts are merely guidelines, so don’t feel restrained by them. Your design should depend upon the type of package you’re printing your designs on and the overall style of your brand.

Size

When designing your custom package, you should be aware of two things: the size of your package and the size of your design. Resist the temptation to use a bigger custom box than is necessary. Not only will this annoy your customers because they’ll have to haul around an oversized box, but it will also cost you more. Using a box that is larger than necessary will cost more per box while adding additional expenses for storage and shipping.

In terms of design, the elements you add, such as a logo or text, should be easily visible from a distance. Depending on what you’re trying to convey, consider how large you want your logo or company name to be on your package. If your brand has a recognizable logo, then displaying it prominently on your box could increase customer recognition.

Typeface

The typeface you choose will make or break the visual hierarchy of your overall design. A typeface’s most important attributes are its weight and style. The weight is the width of each letter and you can think of the style as the font (i.e. serif or sans-serif).

Note how the typeface affects the hierarchy in the package below.

(Photo courtesy of Megan Clark)

“Murphy’s” is the focal point, but by utilizing differences in style and weight, your eyes shift to the message, “From our farm with love” and then to the less important information, like the phone number. These differences in style and word placement produce a more dynamic, less linear reading experience.

It’s great to be bold with your fonts, but don’t go overboard. Realistically, there’s no need to use more than 3 fonts in your design. Adding more can take away from the aesthetic and over complicate things. Of course there aren’t any specific rules for this, but heed my words, three’s a crowd.

Not sure which typefaces to use for your package? Try these fonts from The Dieline.

Color

Why is it that we associate some brands with traits like friendliness or sophistication? Research has shown that these associations often stem from color. It has been argued that color branding is too biased towards personal experiences to be universally associated with specific feelings, but there are still broader messages that can be gleaned from how an individual perceives the color of your package. For example, one study found that 90% of snap judgments made about products were based on color alone. Looking beyond “color psychology”, the role of color in your package’s visual hierarchy is still important for conveying your brand’s message.

It’s far more important for your brand’s colors to support the personality you want to portray instead of trying to align with stereotypical color associations. In the long-run, consumers will associate your brand’s personality with the overall voice you work to portray throughout your marketing mix.

When it comes to the visual hierarchy of colors, it’s a no-brainer that bright colors stand out more than muted colors. Color can be used to accentuate important information, create striking contrasts, and convey to consumers what they should expect from your package. Just like typefaces, it’s important for you to not go overboard with your color choices.

When in doubt, apply the 60–30–10 rule for colors. The rule states that a three color combination is a good starting point and that you should not use equal amounts for all three colors. Instead you’ll want to divide the colors into percentages of 60, 30, and 10. The primary color of your design should apply to 60% of the space and establish the unifying theme of the package. The next 30% accounts for your secondary color, which should create contrast and visual interest. Lastly, dedicate 10% for your accent color to add final touches to your design.

Invision this distribution of color as if it’s a man’s business suit: 60% of the the outfit is a solid color created by the slacks and jacket. The next 30% is built up by the shirt and the last 10% is represented by the tie.

Takeaways

A strong visual hierarchy can differentiate your product, reinforce your message, and reveal your brand’s story to consumers. In the midst of the chaos that comes from creating your first custom package, you can find order in a hierarchy. Your design should focus on the content and goals for your product. Overall, remember to keep it simple, focus on what makes your product unique, and continue to make great custom packages!