Packaging design can decide whether a product sells like hot-cakes or goes stale on the shelf. Here, we explain how to get it right.

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The work of a packaging designer is complex. Not only do they have to think about protecting the product in transit, making it user-friendly, complying with often-changing global packaging laws, and making it re-usable or recyclable, they have to make sure it sells as well.
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While there is a great deal of scope for discussing product design, what we’re interested in here is packaging design at the point of sale. How package design – the artwork on the box – can increase sales.
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There are some amazing success stories out there: Sales of Clipper teas went up 375 per cent simply by putting animals on their boxes and dumping the olde worlde typography. Hovis bread repackaged and increased sales by 20 per cent, and Innocent smoothies kept it all in-house and simple and went from a market stall to a £45m brand in six years. 
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Jonathan Sands is chairman of Elmwood Design, a brand design consultancy, and a council member at the Design Council. An expert on packaging design he is clear about its importance: “Packaging design is now one of the most sophisticated and powerful examples of the designer’s craft,” he wrote in a Design Council essay in 2004.
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“First and most importantly, the pack needs to attract attention at point of purchase,” he says. “According to various research findings, a pack on a supermarket shelf has less than three seconds to grab a shopper’s attention. There are more than 10,000 different packs in the average supermarket – the challenge therefore is to stand out from the crowd.”
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A successful pack, Sands says, “needs to address and understand the mindsets of the potential customer”. Consumers care about packaging because the packaging says something about them – Fair Trade over Gold Blend, Gold Blend over Nescafe, Nescafe over supermarket-own. 
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Products have a hierarchy and packaging positions the products in that hierarchy. Part of the packaging designer’s brief should explain where the product is going to sit in that hierarchy.
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<h2>The four key factors</h2>
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So how do you make your package stand out? Sands explains there are four other key factors, or “visual equities”. Firstly, you should consider the shape, for example Heinz ketchup bottles or the Marmite jar. Secondly, the colour – think Kodak yellow or Coke red. Thirdly, there’s illustration – Tony the Tiger or the Kellogg’s cockerel, for example; and lastly the name. 
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Good packaging makes use of all these factors: Innocent drinks, for example, have a unique shape, a colour (clear, with the fruit smoothie’s colour showing through), a distinct illustrated logo, and a stand-out name.
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Building on those key factors, Sand says there are other techniques designers can use, such as “block merchandising.” This is where individual packs stacked together create a bigger picture. By having multiple facings, an illusion of size is created – Oxo is a good example of this.
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Once the shopper’s eye has been caught, “the pack then has to stand up to closer scrutiny,” says Sands. “At this level, it is important to consider the hierarchy and digestibility of information. First, and most importantly, does the pack communicate its key benefit quickly, be it price (‘this is cheap’), appetite appeal (‘tastes great!’), or functional benefits, such as size?
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“Beyond this, designers need to consider the order of secondary information such as the performance criteria or ingredients. Getting this hierarchy right is key to creating user-friendly packaging.”
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<h2>Be aware…</h2>
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That’s all very well, but there are pitfalls out there waiting for unwary designers. For example, over-design and over-promise can lead to a customer backlash. This is particularly pertinent in a post-BSE, anti-globalization, organic consumer world. 
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Changing social trends influence packaging design, the clearest of these being the Green agenda since the 90s; increasingly strict European laws on packaging waste now need to be taken into account.
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Another trend is the push towards authenticating what’s inside the packaging. For example, it’s no good to print “Packaged in England” on frozen chicken when the Observer Food Monthly is reporting most of our frozen chickens come from Thailand. 
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The BSE crisis, the GM debate, Jamie Oliver’s School Dinners TV show – all have focused the consumer’s attention on what’s inside their food packaging. This is a trend that will continue: increasingly, Sands says, packaging will have to meet the consumer’s demand for authenticity and clear provenance. 
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A good example of understanding this and designing to meet those demands is Debbie and Andrew’s sausages – the packaging was redesigned by putting the farmers’ names on the packaging to reassure the consumer that they were buying from a trustworthy source.
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As well as the fickle world of consumer demand, there is the rule of law to consider. Sands puts it gently: “following the cues of the brand leader could lead to trademark infringement and legal action.” In other words, copying the design of the brand leader could see you sued for copyright. 
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There are two ways of avoiding this. The first is to look at what your competitive brands are doing a competitor audit – and ask yourself if any element of your design looks or feels like a competitor’s.
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The second is to show the design to a patent lawyer and ask them to advise on how to search to see if it’s breaching someone’s trademark. They will also advise on how to protect yours. 
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Interestingly, all aspects of the package – colour, shape and illustration, even part of an illustration – can be protected by law.
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Finally, Sands says, make sure your design works in-situ. Your design might look great on an art table in the studio, but it’s useless if it’s drowned out in a supermarket. 
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Similarly, be aware of where your product is being sold and what works in different markets. For example, in the Middle East it’s culturally unacceptable to show people’s eyes or the soles of the feet.
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<h2>Clipper Teas</h2>
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<b>Brand redesign by Williams Murray Hamm<BR>
<a rel="nofollow" href="http://www.creatingdifference.com" rel="nofollow" target="_blank">www.creatingdifference.com</a></b>
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