How to Boost Your Packaging Design in 2021 – A Comprehensive Guide

Did you know that each year, 100 billion boxes are manufactured in the United States alone? If you stacked all these boxes up, you could wrap them around our planet 570 times. 

What does this tell us? With so many boxes out there, creative packaging design ideas are required. And not only should they stand out and add value, they should also be sustainable.

Creative product packaging design has become an art that is easy to learn but difficult to master. It requires talented packaging designers within an efficient content workflow

Therefore, we have created a comprehensive guide to how to best approach, structure and implement your packaging design process in 2021.

Why Packaging Design Matters More Than Ever

As you can imagine, in times of e-commerce and online sales, the design of product packaging has become more important than ever. 

Contributing factors include a rise in e-commerce, increased global competition, heightened environmental concerns as well as new ways of marketing.

E-commerce changes the user experience

Global e-commerce is on the rise – While this is no news, the actual numbers are astonishing.

With a volume of 1.94 trillion USD in 2019, the Chinese e-commerce market has grown 3 times larger than the U.S. market

This means that packaging design is the first point of contact with the customer, comprising an important part of the user experience compared to packaging in traditional retail.

According to ISO, user experience “includes all the users’ emotions, beliefs, preferences, perceptions, physical and psychological responses, behaviours and accomplishments that occur before, during and after use.” 

Since window-shopping has been replaced by online browsing, the unboxing process naturally takes on a greater role in user experience, as this is the first time users actually touch and feel what they have bought.

Increased global competition

With competition rising in almost all industries, companies want to stand out as much as they can – not only in quality, but also in the presentation of their products. The design of product packaging has the solution.

To give an example: If you look at the product picture below, the creative Hanger-Tea bags are not only visually striking, but they can be easily attached to your tea cup. 

Packaging Design Increased global competition

Source: Hanger-Tea

Heightened health and environmental concerns

Even though there is no proof that the current COVID-19 disease can be transmitted through paper or boxes, more and more people are disinfecting packages before handling them

These trends will continue until worldwide vaccination programs have reached a critical mass of people. Thus, the market requires new packaging design approaches and materials to give customers security.

Additionally, environmental awareness plays an increasingly important role when consumers are making purchase decisions, so that many companies enhance their products with sustainable packaging solutions.  

New ways of marketing

With the rise of influencer and social media marketing, many people are turning towards unboxing videos (where people film themselves while opening a product package) that reach an audience of millions. 

Therefore, marketing-driven products require a thorough product packaging design process to stay ahead of the game. 

Packaging Design New ways of marketing

Source: ItsYeBoi on YouTube

Before we continue to outline the packaging design process, we first define the term “packaging” in more detail. 

What are the 3 Types of Packaging?

There is still a lot of confusion when people talk about packaging. Some people are referring to the actual product box as packaging, while others mean the delivery boxes. 

To clear up the confusion, this paragraph talks about the differences between all types of packaging. 

Primary packaging

Primary packaging refers to the box that actually touches the product inside. As this type of packaging is presented to customers in retail outlets, it is also called retail packaging or consumer unit. 

Retail packaging is the first contact point for customers in a physical store. Therefore, its main purpose is to attract customers to buy the product inside. 

Packaging Design Primary packaging

Source: Vince Voron

Secondary packaging

Secondary packaging groups the primary packaging together into bigger units.

It must fulfill certain requirements, such as being durable and stackable to be stored in warehouses or during transportation. 

Secondary packaging also needs to attract customer attention, as it also can be presented at the point of sale. 

Packaging Design Secondary packaging

Source: Vince Voron

Tertiary packaging

The last type of packaging is less about attracting customers and more about product safety and logistics. 

Tertiary packaging puts primary and secondary packaging into even bigger units – therefore containers and pallets are among the most common tertiary packaging units, as well as the boxes used for shipping from many giant retailers.

Due to the rise of e-commerce giants like Amazon, tertiary packaging has gained more importance from a brand management perspective. For instance, the Amazon logo and advertisement is clearly visible on all of its tertiary packaging.

Amazon is even collaborating with manufacturers such as Hasbro to reduce waste while enhancing the customer experience for online shoppers.

The frustration-free packaging program ensures faster opening times and reduces the number of boxes by more than 50%. Instead of wrapping Amazon’s tertiary package around Hasbro’s box, the companies created a single solution that serves as both a product and shipping box.  

This shows that online and catalog shopping require different approaches in product packaging design in comparison to retail outlets. While physical stores need eye-catching packaging at the Point of Sale (POS), online stores can use less flashy packages, which offer an easy unboxing experience and reduce unnecessary waste.

Packaging Design Tertiary packaging

Source: Dollard Packaging

The Packaging Design Process Workflow in 7 Steps

To reap better design results, as well as save time and meet deadlines, you want to structure each packaging design project. 

In this section, we take a look at all 7 steps involved. These steps will enable you to create astonishing product packaging designs that stand out from the crowd. 

1. Concept stage 

How can you best start off with creative box designs? The first step in any product packaging design project is the concept stage. This is one of the most important stages, as the work of all other steps depends on the decisions made in this stage.

The concept stage usually starts with a problem that needs to be solved. You want to make sure to take a deep look into all aspects of your current product packaging to identify areas of improvement.   

There can be different reasons for changing or redesign your product packaging, including:

  • You launch a new product on the market.
  • You want to create a great product packaging design solution to boost sales for an existing product.
  • Legal requirements like adding “all rights reserved” to your boxes oblige you to make changes to your current product packaging design.
  • You need smaller packaging to reduce transportation costs.
  • You want to customize designs for different markets.

The list goes on and on. While the reasons may differ, you can create a more predictable outcome while still adhering to your standardized packaging design process. Furthermore, if you want to create a new packaging design from scratch, you need to consider and define further things like your target market, legal requirements, package size, etc. 

After you have outlined any problems and established possible solutions, you need to get in touch with all stakeholders involved to further outline and refine your concept. Stakeholders can be team members inside your own organization, such as packaging designers, marketers or even the legal department, as well as third parties such as retailers. 

Once the first steps are outlined, you are ready for the second stage which will bring structure to your design ideas. 

2. Planning stage

In the planning stage, you will create a roadmap, milestones, and deadlines as well as define your budget for each of these steps. 

The output of the planning stage includes a roadmap and a project communication plan, which includes the brand goals, all important deadlines, the budget needed for each milestone as well as your desired team allocation structure.

Having a roadmap early on allows you to keep on track of all subsequent stages while staying within your budget. Therefore, it is important to once again validate your roadmap with all stakeholders involved. 

You should ask your team: Are the deadlines feasible? Will the budget be sufficient? Does this  blueprint really help tackle issues and achieve your intended goals? You should look at these and many other questions when creating a reliable blueprint that has the capacity to guide you throughout the workflow.

Additionally, you should closely align your product packaging design with the production schedule of your products. If, for some reason, your packaging design is delayed, you might get into big trouble. Therefore, you want to make sure that the packaging and product schedules are aligned. 

Once the roadmap is finished and approved, you can put it into practice. 

3. Research stage 

The research stage involves developing more details before you start outlining your packaging design strategy. 

Depending on the products, target markets and objectives outlined in the concept stage, you can take a closer look at the following points:

  • Customer research
  • Market research
  • Initial dieline draft 

If you need to design a new package from scratch, customer research is key. Usually, product managers are involved in the creation process as they know their customers and markets the best. 

During market research, you compare your product package to the best performing competitors in your market niche. 

Depending on the time and scope of your project, your research can be conducted by just taking a look at competitor’s products, while a deeper profound analysis would involve performing your own customer and market research. This research serves the purpose of creating your first dieline draft. The dieline serves a template to ensure the correct layout of your final packaging.

Packaging Design Process Workflow Research Stage

Source: Example of a dieline by UPrinting

A dieline can be described as a flattened or 2D outline of your package and is a requirement for all packaging designs. Moreover, the dieline draft does not need to include detailed information like brand logo, label design or creative artworks. 

Instead, the draft should include factors such as color creation, product name, legal requirements and other important factors, which may differ depending on the type of product you are selling.

Creating a dieline usually requires many drafts and test prints before the final design with the ideal dimensions can be produced. 

4. Design outline stage

Based on your dieline design, customer research and objectives, you can begin to finalize your design. This means that internal or external copywriters can now get involved to write your copy, while designers work on refining the box design and images.

You need to make sure that all specific requirements such as barcodes, company address, creative brand logo, copy and visuals are up to date. 

Depending on the scope of the project you should have an appropriate buffer in your roadmap to account for any unforeseen changes and delays. 

It should be clear that designers have to use the right creative tools in order to save time and to be as efficient as possible. For this reason, consult our blog post about the best creative graphic design tools on the market today. 

Packaging Design Process Workflow Design Outline Stage

Source: Claytowne

Once the first draft is finished, it is time to get to the most underestimated stage of the product’s packaging design workflow – the review and approval stage for your box designs. 

5. Review and approval stage

The review and approval stage is an important stage during the packaging design process.

Once your first dieline box designs are finished, you have to share the designs with all stakeholders identified during the concept stage. Invited stakeholders can give their feedback by adding comments and annotations directly on the design or discussing ideas directly with the designers. Once everything is clear, designers can implement the feedback. 

Depending on the number of changes and the workload of your design team, you should allot a couple of days for this stage – especially if the review phase goes through multiple rounds of revisions. After designers have uploaded their revision, they will either get an approval with marked timestamps or need to implement further changes. 

To avoid long email chains and chasing after people who failed to read and respond to your messages, we recommend making use of a review software like Filestage to streamline your  feedback and approval process.

Packaging Design Process Workflow Review and Approval Stage

6. Printing stage

Obviously, you cannot directly go and mass produce your final product packaging design. You must complete a prepress stage to see whether the final dieline holds up to real printing procedures. 

The prepress stage ensures that the actual box designs look the same as on the dieline. Usually, designers make use of the CMYK color model, where printers separate the color into four different plates to check whether the printed colors appear as intended. 

After completing all steps, you can finally create your .stp file (standard for the exchange of product model data) and proceed to the commercial print run.

As the final printing process cannot be reversed, this specific workflow is also separated into several steps so that you confirm the commercial print run. 

7. Monitoring stage

Once the new design is finished, you want to know how your product packaging performs. This is where the monitoring stage comes into play.  

Even though the main design work is over, you should have reliable monitoring mechanisms installed that can validate how well your design efforts and work have fared. Which type of monitoring tool you use to validate the success of your work strongly depends on your initial goals set up during the concept stage. 

If your goal was just to implement a few legal requirements, the monitoring stage does not require a lot of resources to analyze your success. However, if your package design goal was to boost sales or to provide customers with a better overall experience, the monitoring stage has to be well planned and then successfully implemented in its own right. 

For instance, you can compare sales figures before and after the change or even make use of customer polls in order to gather feedback. You can even divide your analysis according to the different channels you are using. 

How do the package designs influence online sales compared to retail? What did consumers like or dislike about your packaging solution? Do you need packaging improvements in the near future? Is the brand identity well communicated? These and many more questions can be  answered in your monitoring stage.

If the market does not react as expected, you might go back to the drawing board and start the product packaging design workflow from scratch again or make necessary adjustments. Further research might be required in case you do not reach the expected outcome – this is why the planning stage is so important.

An efficient process cannot replace creative input.

As you can see, packaging design requires attention to detail; a lot of planning, teamwork and resources are required in order to be successful. 

However, no matter how well you plan and implement your strategy, you need to be able to discern quality package designs from inferior ones if you want great results.

Therefore, the next paragraph outlines 5 different rules for effective packaging design that attracts customers. 

What Makes Good Packaging Design? – 5 Rules for Effective Packaging Design

How do you design good packaging? Now that you have a better understanding of how packaging design works, we can take a closer look at what distinguishes a bad or average design packaging solution from an excellent one. 

Your optimal packaging box should meet the following 5 rules for effective packaging design – the more you can combine these rules into one package, the better the outcome will be.

Practical use

Optimal packaging design does not only protect the product and look good, but it adds value for your customers. If done right, companies can increase sales while reducing waste and costs.

One good example of how to add practical value to a product is Bloom’s ingenious chips package design

We all like to snack now and then, but the cylindrical shape of most packages can make snacking complicated. Bloom offered a solution by turning the cylindrical packaging shape into a bowl, thereby increasing customer comfort without compromising on valuable shelf space.

What Makes Good Packaging Design Practical Use

Source: iF Word Design Guide

Brand loyalty

In the best case scenario, packaging not only helps sell the product but also increases brand loyalty. Once a customer becomes a fan of your product, the selling process is much easier and you don’t have to spend as much of your marketing budget to reach the same revenue. 

Achieving brand loyalty is a long-term project, but a creative package or label design can be a valuable contributor to this goal. When you create a package with your logo that customers use almost on a daily basis, they can both see your brand every day and advertise it to others at the same time.

One way to gain a stronger brand reputation, attract more loyal customers and do something good for the environment can be seen in Calvin Klein’s recycling program. Calvin Klein uses a special recycling label design to show its environmental benefits and give customers a positive  feeling when buying the product.

What Makes Good Packaging Design Brand Loyalty

Source: Poshmark

Clarity

As studies have pointed out, consumers only spend 7 seconds to make their buying decision. Therefore, you want to avoid overwhelming customers with too much information, written text or unclear visuals.

The Northern Soda Company combines appealing and artistic visuals on all their beverage cans without compromising on clarity. 

The brand and product names are all centered so that the main purpose can be seen very clearly. The artistic package designs provide clarity and stand out.

What Makes Good Packaging Design Clarity

Source: Pepper Pack Design

Honesty

We all know that companies are not always honest when it comes to marketing claims. Companies often fail to transmit trustworthiness in their marketing campaigns. Wouldn’t it be great if your packaging design could add validity to the claims you are making?

A common way to increase credibility is to use the certificate and logo from a renowned third party. For instance, as a food manufacturer, a NSF certification logo can help prove health and safety standard claims.

Going a step further, your packaging itself can serve as proof. This is what the watch manufacturer Festina did with their Profundo 6692 model. The company made the claim that their watches are waterproof and can be used up to 200 meters under water. 

To prove their point, the wrist watch model was presented in water-filled bags so that customers could be sure that the watches are safe in all conditions.

What Makes Good Packaging Design Honesty

Added customer value

If a package design can be used beyond its purpose and add additional value to the product, the package serves a valuable purpose. The trend of reusing a product box for a different purpose is also called upcycling and requires a high level of creativity.

One good example is the Aleph Apparel upcycle pack. The box can hold small apparel products and can either be recycled or upcycled to become a coat hanger. Customers do not need glue to assemble the coat hanger.

The coat hanger is a perfect example of how to add customer value while offering sustainable packaging solutions. 

What Makes Good Packaging Design Added Customer Value

Source: World Design Guide

Best Practices for Better Packaging Designs

What are the best examples of creative and sustainable packaging designs? Since now you should have a good understanding of what distinguishes good from bad product packaging, let’s take a look at 4 best practice tips and examples that will help your product packaging stand out. 

Tip 1: Make sure your packaging becomes an integral part of the product.

As we all know, the actual product itself is only one reason why customers are buying specific goods. People also want utility, i.e. the satisfaction generated from that specific product. That satisfaction also comes from the feeling the purchase transmits to buyers.

A good packaging solution should therefore be part of the overall product story and, in the best case, can even become a selling proposition. This is exactly what we can see at Good Hair Day Pasta from Greenomic. The unique selling proposition (USP) is not the product itself, but its unique presentation. 

Notice how the product name in combination with the box and the product itself form a USP and brand identity that could win numerous product packaging design awards. 

Packaging Design Best Practices - Packaging Integral to Product

Source: Behance

Tip 2: Self-explanatory package design

The package design should be self-explanatory and inviting without causing the customer confusion over what the product actually is. 

An example of great self-explanatory package design is the picture below of fruity juice containers. In a split second, you can determine all 5 different flavors without even having read a single word on the actual box. 

Another advantage of the containers is that the box design transmits the feeling that the drinks contain a high fruit content. 

Packaging Design Best Practices Product self-explanatory

Source: Inspirationfeed

Tip 3: Make your package show the value of your product.

When it comes to accessories, people may not realize how this accessory can add value to the main product. One way to solve this problem is to create packaging that shows the purpose of your accessory.

This is what Görtz shoes has done to promote the company’s shoelaces. Typically, shoelaces are presented inside a regular plastic bag, which does not say much about how they will actually look on your shoes. 

Görtz’s creative packaging resembles a shoe model, so people get an instant impression and can see and compare the different colors to each other. 

Packaging Design Best Practices Show the value of your product

Source: Designer-Daily

Tip 4: Make your package useful.

As we have seen earlier, upcycling is one way to add value to your packaging. However, you do not need to completely repurpose your box. Instead, you can make it a useful extension to the actual product you are selling. This is what we can see at Butter! Better!.

Not only does the name speak for itself, but also the box has a great USP: You can repurpose the lid as a knife to spread the butter. 

This makes Butter! Better! a perfect companion for customers’ next picnic in the park. 

Packaging Design Best Practices Useful Packaging

Source: BoredPanda

5 Important Skills of a Good Package Designer

How do you become a package designer? Maybe you want to work as a packaging designer yourself to create a new packaging logo for your products. Or, perhaps you need to enhance your design team’s packaging design skills.

In this section, we discuss the most important skills needed to become a successful package designer. 

Creativity

As you have noticed by now, creativity is one of the most important skills needed to create a stunning product box. 

A product package often equals a creative piece of art. Therefore, most packaging designers have a design degree that enables them to translate marketing briefings into actual, feasible design services.  

Technical Skills

Packaging materials come in many shapes and forms. For instance, SBS (solid bleached sulfate) paperboard box materials are suitable in cold environments, while CUK (coated unbleached kraft) is often used for environmentally-friendly boxes. 

And what kind of plastic or wood should be used when creating the best and most budget-friendly solutions? These are common questions a packaging designer should be able to answer.

Therefore, next to a highly artistic mindset, designers need to have the technical skillset to choose the right materials for their box designs.  

Sales Focus

A good product alone is not good enough anymore to stand out of the highly competitive crowd.

According to Ipsos, 72% of Americans agree that the packaging design of a product influences their purchasing decision. 67% of Americans further state that packaging materials are also a contributing factor in their decision. 

As packaging must sell the product, designers should approach every project from a sales and marketing perspective and be intimately familiar with the target market of their product.

Innovative Mindset

In addition to the above mentioned skill sets, it is equally important to possess a thorough market overview about new trends and innovations.

Only if designers have a good overview of what is happening around them will they have the ability to get inspired by and build upon new innovations. 

Therefore, a designer should regularly attend new exhibitions like Packaging Innovations and Empack Birmingham, which provide a very good overview of the latest primary, secondary as well as protective packaging solutions. 

These kinds of exhibitions are also a great suggestion for the next group excursion for your  design team to gather new ideas.

Teamwork capabilities

Even though this may sound trivial, designers need to be great team workers, as they offer design services to many functions. 

Designers often need to read between the lines, understand what marketing and sales actually requires, and then use their creative mindsets and expertise to transform this information into an outstanding product. 

If you need to foster and accelerate team work inside and between functions, review and approval software like Filestage offer multiple collaboration features that can improve your current design workflow.

Overview of Packaging Design Tools That Will Simplify Your Process  

If you need to set up a working packaging design project, the right software solutions such as  brand asset management software or online proofing software help you streamline your workflows and increase the quality of your output. 

Here, we introduce 6 great solutions to make the most of your packaging design projects.

Filestage – product packaging review and approval

Filestage - Packaging Design Tools

Filestage is a design approval software that streamlines your packaging design workflow and supports the creation process for all content types. 

You can upload and share designs with multiple stakeholders on Filestage’s centralized platform in just a few seconds. Then, reviewers can leave feedback and annotations directly on the design and discuss it with each other. Additionally, the designer has the possibility to ask questions if any feedback is unclear. This avoids misunderstandings and makes collaboration easy. 

With Filestage, you can speed up feedback rounds and get approval on your designs in minutes or days instead of weeks. This efficiency allows you to cope with tight deadlines and avoid unexpected delays.

Packlane – custom packaging design

Packlane - Packaging Design Tools

While larger organizations have their own package design staff to create custom packaging solutions, a smaller brand might struggle to keep expenses as low as possible. 

Packlane caters to these companies by offering custom packaging solutions for a wide range of purposes and industries. Whether you need primary, secondary or tertiary shipping boxes – Packlane has you covered.

Even though Packlane is a great solution for smaller companies, it does not offer fully-customizable packaging solutions such as those an internal designer could provide. 

Therefore, companies should consider this solution only when the custom packaging design functions of Packlane fully meet their criteria.

BOXSOFT – for optimized design packaging workflows

BOXSOFT - Packaging Design Tools

While the other solutions in our list cater mainly to product manufacturers, Boxsoft® offers a wide range of custom business process management tools for the packaging industry. 

As the packaging business has become a multi-million dollar industry, packaging organizations are working at a high scale. 

Boxsoft incorporates all important logistical functions to make the work as easy as possible. From product configuration, order management to materials handling, tool planning and production tools, this software covers all important business processes to simplify your life. 

We should mention that this tool does not help your designer to create custom packaging solutions. Instead, it helps streamline purchasing, production and other administrative processes.

CHILI publish – simplified custom packaging solutions

CHILI publish - Packaging Design Tools

CHILI publish is an online packaging editor that allows users of all experience levels and backgrounds to create custom packages. 

With CHILI publish, you can generate files for any print process or digital platform. One of the USPs is the powerful editing tool, which gives users plentiful editing options and allows them to upload images and link them to data.

This software solution mainly caters to companies that do not have the necessary resources to invest in fully-fledged design teams.

EngView Package & Display Designer Suite – custom package design for corporations

EngView Package & Display Designer Suite - Packaging Design Tools

The EngView Packaging Suite is a desktop and cloud solution that automates the creation, communication and production process of packaging. 

Whether you are a structural or graphic designer, a die maker or even a member of sales staff – this creative brand software facilitates the process for a wide range of stakeholders involved in the packaging process. 

Furthermore, EngView Packaging can be integrated into your current graphic design process, as it works seamlessly with graphic design tools like Adobe® Illustrator® to generate production files with high resolution images. 

The EngView Packaging design suite primarily caters to medium and large organizations, which already have a functioning package design process in place and need additional tools to further streamline the packaging design process. 

SMEs may not require that many graphic design features to get their design process started from scratch. 

WebCenter – scalable product packaging design

WebCenter - Packaging Design Tools

WebCenter has many scalable packaging tools on the market that can be used for every step of your internal packaging processes. Its products encompass packaging design, management, prepress and web design workflow solutions, among others. 

Even though WebCenter’s products and solutions are very detailed and allow for a specific and thorough packaging process, some of the graphic design solutions are tailored for specific industries only.

For instance, the Esko brand content creation platform is designed for use by consumer packaged goods, retail, and pharma companies, which means that not all organizations can use WebCenter to improve their processes.

Conclusion

As you can see, creative packaging design requires thorough planning and the right processes and software solutions to get great results. 

Whether you are an SME starting from scratch or a large organization that needs further process optimization – the tools described in this article are all available at a relatively low cost and will save you valuable work hours while creating much better results. 

We hope we have inspired you to rethink your current packaging design process and create amazing, artistic and sustainable packaging solutions that will take your creative brand designs to the next level. 

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