It is amazing how many times a new client will approach me with a beautifully designed box that they paid a bundle for, and want it redesigned. They’ll walk up to me and show me an elegant, sophisticated layout that is astonishing to look at. I’ll scratch my head and think, “This is amazing.” I don’t feel right changing it up. Usually I’ll inquire, “What’s the deal?” Why are you looking to redesign this? The most common answer, Wal-mart won’t touch it.
This is where my job really begins. Why would Wal-mart, or any of the big boys, neg a smart and bold layout? Why? For exactly that reason. The package is too sophisticated. They are selling to the common market, and want consumers to look and say, “wow.” They understand that a layout can pigeonhole a product into a much tighter demographic simply by being overdesigned. An understanding of the marketplace is the most powerful tool a designer can utilize. Before even hitting the ground, I really try to analyze the marketplace. I’ll go shopping and surf the internet. I try to become aware of what the retail environment currently looks like. After all, whatever I design is going to have to sit on the shelf next to its competition. It’s my job to make sure that the consumer knows what they are looking at before they read a lick of type. Behold the power of the package!
There are many factors that go into designing for the marketplace, but there are no rules, only principles. Since a package is generally made up of numerous elements, a stale design can be refreshed simply by analyzing color, fonts, construction, photos, illustration or element positioning. What can generate greater appeal for your product? On a shelf where everyone is blue you may want to be red. The trick is making sure the correlation between market and package is there. There is a reason Barbie’s not in a black box. There is a reason you can’t always read half of the logos on the Hip Hop stuff out there. There is even a reason why most action figures come on blister cards and not in polybags with headers. There are reasons for everything. But not all of them are good. It’s the designer’s job to review and figure out what to differentiate and what to keep in line with the rest of the market. Ask, look and observe constantly and the designs that you create will stand out. Say nothing, ask nothing and do what you want and you’ll be out of business. Think, why wouldn’t you put Barbie in an all black package?
Color can make or break a package. I see it all the time. Sometimes a color change can double your sales numbers. Color can be trendy and color can be conservative. Use color to aim at your demographic. Fashion is a great place to see what is trending. At least this is the excuse my wife uses to get me to go shopping with her. Color should not be overlooked. All too often a client will request a color change, simply because their grandson’s favorite color is orange. That’s fine and great if it’s orange juice, but not the most logical choice for lemonade. Color can just as easily confuse as it can attract. Color is an important factor in production as well. Not every color can be hit on press in a basic four-color printing. For instance, orange can look brownish, losing that punch the designer probably intended. If you really want that in your face bright orange, go the extra expense on the fifth color press. It will be worth it.
When designing a package I like to believe you need to think out of the box, in the box, and back out of the box. Structure is a key ingredient to the packaging. Unlike color, changing package styles to differentiate oneself may be the kiss of death. If your product is planogramed to be sorted on peg hooks, why would you want to design a box? The shape and style of your package enables a buyer to place it into a planogram. Design it right and you won’t have to resize it for every vendor. It may sound logical to make a large package that billboards in the aisle, but if the stock boy can only put two out at a time you may want to see what everyone else is doing. If they are getting six on a shelf you should be looking to get the same. On the other hand, shrinking a package to gain more self space may be more of a horror show. If the competition is out at the same price with a larger box they’ll win via perceived value. Try and keep your packages in or around the same size as the rest and you’ll be fine.
At the end of the day a package is a just package - a package that your company has spent thousands on developing. Make sure it not only looks good, but it’s doing what it’s supposed to. Make sure it’s selling your product in two seconds. Don’t worry about tons of copy that explains everything on the front panel. The more you add, the less impact. If the consumer has had their interest peeked, they’ll pick it up. They’ll flip it over. They’ll read it. Keep it clean and keep it understandable and maybe Wal-mart will write that order next time. Remember the package is your front line of defense out in the rough retail environment, so make sure you have all your bases covered.
Matt Nuccio is the co-owner and creative director of Design Edge. Matt grew up in the business. His father ran the art department of HG toys for 17 years before starting Design Edge out of the family garage with his mother an elementary school art teacher. Having always been involved in some capacity from outset of business, Matt joined the company full time after completing his degrees in adverting and package design from the Fashion Institute of Technology. In 2008 Matt Nuccio was elected co-chairman of the TIA (Toy Industry Association) associate panel representing all designers and inventors in the toy industry. He has also written columns focusing on design, inventing, engineering and manufacturing for Toy and Family Entertainment, ToyBook, Time To Play Magazine, Royaltie$ and Licensing Book . Matt is also a frequent lecturer on design, having spoken at trade shows, clubs and universities around the world.