Packaging Design

What Is Packaging Design And Why Is It Important?

Packaging Design is the assemblage of design elements and materials into a suitable housing that ensures your product is ready for marketing. This may sound simple but continue reading and I will break this down into the different elements, so you have a full understanding of all aspects of package design.

Retail brand strategy of a set of four spices of Socks Love Rub Brand on a burgundy background

The design of your product package can be the difference between sales and bankruptcy. You could have the best product in the world but if the packaging is not clear or is poorly designed then no one will ever buy it. Thus, your company will never realize its full potential.

During the creation of your marketing strategy, this is one of the elements that will take a substantial amount of time. To be clear, this is not something that can be rushed. Tackle your time with the packaging because this is what the customer sees first. First impressions are important and can easily turn off potential buyers. Create a package that draws attention and wows your potential buyers. Build to ensure you can gain market penetration when your product arrives. These are just a few reasons why packaging is so important.

Let’s start with some of the basics of package design.

The 3 Ps of Packaging

The 3 Ps of packaging are the rules that define the purpose of your brand packaging. These may seem obvious to some, but they are often overlooked when budgeting for a new product release. These rules help to clearly define, in an easily understandable way, the purpose of packaging so you can quickly explain why there needs to be a budget increase for the packaging.

The first and most obvious rule…

Protect the Product

This is a commonsense rule but let’s look closer to really understand protective product packaging. There are 3 aspects of this rule that we will discuss in depth.

Damage Costs

Product loss due to damage is unavoidable. But you can lessen the risk and the financial burden on your business by properly protecting your product. Ask these questions during the packaging research and development phase of your marketing strategy.

Reduce Damage Costs By Asking These Questions
Is the item fragile?
Are electronics involved?
How will it be handled?

Protect The Product In Transportation
If you are shipping a single item or an entire pallet, it will have a profound impact on how your company approaches this part of package design. Shipping a single item requires significantly less than shipping an entire pallet of merchandise. To fully define the packaging needs for transportation, here is a list of questions to get you started.

Reduce Transportation Damage By Asking These Questions
How will it be shipped?
Does it need to be refrigerated?
Does it need to be shielded from the elements?

Protect The Product On The Shelf (Tampering, Theft, Damage)
As you have seen, there are any number of ways your product can sustain damage throughout its life. The last part of product protection is consumer-facing. This is specifically for products that are on shelves, hangers, or displays.

We all know accidents happen, especially when shopping. But what we also need to factor in, is stocking. Product loss is inevitable in stores but if your packaging cannot withstand a fall or a drop you will see a massive increase from your in-stores loss.

Additional factors for in-store products are theft and tampering. Theft is not something you can stop but it is something you can deter by making your packing unwieldy. Tampering is not something you can prevent but you can make it more difficult by making your package stronger and more durable. There are additional measures you can take to protect your consumers (not necessarily your product). Your company can add tamper indicators to packaging, like pharmaceutical companies do with their over-the-counter remedies.

Reduce Theft and Tampering By Asking These Questions
Do we need to protect the package from theft?
Do we need to protect the package from tampering?
Is there a potential consumer risk from product tampering?

I know that was a lot of information, and I could keep going but for now, let’s move on to the next P.


Any chance you get to promote products, take it. Packaging is no different. In fact, it may be the best and most overlooked option. Here are 3 key aspects that make for great packaging promotion.

1. Communicate the product’s benefits
2. Showcase other offerings from the brand and illustrate how they work together with this product

This is not an exhaustive list, in fact, you are probably aware of most of them. But I want to focus on number 3. If a consumer is looking at your product and you showcase how well it works with other products you offer, you can increase the overall value of that customer transaction by 3 or 4 times.

Your packages provide free advertising space for your other products. Do not miss the opportunity to provide additional value to customers while simultaneously selling more products.


“Why fit in when you were born to stand out?” Dr. Seuss

Consumers can become overwhelmed with the amount of options when deciding on a product. Take advantage of this by designing packaging that is unique enough to stand out from all other options. But, do go so far that you design a package that is not what a customer expects from a product in that niche. Here is a quick checklist for the presentation section of packaging.

1. Create packaging so it catches the eye and separates itself from the competition
2. Match expectations with the look and feel of what consumers expect from similar offerings
3. Include warnings and directions for use to ensure clarity and consumer safety

Types Of Package Design: How Packaging Affects Customer Experience

In case you haven’t been paying attention over the past few years, packaging design matters. For proof of this just go to YouTube and type in a product name and then add unboxing at the end of your search query. You will see no less than 20 videos all showing the unboxing experience of a product.

id8 design of CleanWash package
Check out the Clean Wash Case Study

The experience your consumers have with the packaging design of your product does not end at the store. Oh no. The consumer experience extends far beyond the shelf. Let’s look at a few parts that make up the whole customer experience with the design and packaging.

Outer Packaging And The Customer Experience

The outer packing of your product does refer to the box used to ship your product. Rather the outer packaging is both an extension of your brand and a form of protection for your product.

Let’s use laptops for this example. The box you carry out of the store with your laptop inside is the outer package. This will be the first interaction your brand has with a consumer’s senses. Do not miss this opportunity to leave a lasting impression.

The 2 senses you are trying to impress are sight and touch. Your brand guide will guide the look of this packaging. The iconic packaging design of Apple’s MacBook Pro is the benchmark all other companies are trying to achieve. The sleek lines and minimalist design of the package automatically separate it from all other competitors on the shelf. (To clarify, this is less true at the time of publishing this article, but this was the case for a long time when they first came to the market.)

As you inspect the packaging, you will notice the smoothness and the minimal markings and branding. This, subconsciously, makes consumers connect the brand with ease and cleanliness. These subtle cues lend your product a unique unboxing experience.

Once the box is opened and the product is revealed, this is the inner product packaging.

Inner Packaging And The Customer Experience

The inner packaging provides protection for your product. But it can do so much more. This is the first time a consumer will see the actual product. Take advantage of that and create a lasting and memorable experience for your customers.

We will continue with the laptop example here.

When your customers finally get into the package, they see everything is neat and organized. Again, this reinforces the ease and cleanliness perception that was established with the outer package.

So how does this translate to other products? Refer back to your brand guide.
What emotion do you want to elicit from your consumers?
How can you do that with the interior packaging for your product?

The interior packaging affords the potential to encompass even more senses. Like the outer packaging, you have sight and feel, but you also have smell, hearing, and maybe even taste. Let’s focus on the smell and hearing part of the interior packing for now.

The interior package design is usually airtight so you have the chance to add in a smell that can become associated with your brand. Take the opportunity to add in the smell of cookies, or vanilla, or maybe you want to use the exact opposite and go with a distinct absence of smell. But whatever you choose, be sure that it aligns with your overall brand. I cannot stress that enough. Authenticity and consistency are SO IMPORTANT!

The hearing aspect, of unboxing, is tricky. Luckily, if you have seen some of the new trends on social platforms you are aware of ASMR. ASMR (auto sensory meridian response) has become popular over the past few years because there are certain sounds that provide a sense of joy or satisfaction when we hear them. Look at some of the most popular ASMR sounds and you can get some ideas of different things to incorporate into your packaging. Quick hint… everyone loves pulling that clear plastic off of electronics.

Product Packaging And The Customer Experience

This type of packaging is most commonly seen with products that do not require and additional types of packaging for protection. This category consists of mostly perishable items. The example I like to use is chips. Chips, by the time a consumer interacts with the package, only consist of the bag that chips come in. This is the product package.

The customer experience for product packages is all about standing out, protection, and ease of use for the consumer. You should be familiar with all of the concepts, but if you’re not you will have a really good understanding of these before the end of this article so stick around.

The most important aspect is protection. Protect your product from exposure to the elements, from spoiling, and preserve the freshness. This is where one of the most impressive innovations in packaging has happened. Resealable packages are a relatively new part of product packaging. This provides value to the customer in the areas; The ease of use and keeping your product fresh.

These will ensure a great product and brand experience with your consumers.

Levels Of Packaging Design: What’s The Difference?

There are 3 levels of packaging design and they all serve a unique purpose. We talked a little about this above, but I’ll provide some definitions and clearer explanations of these options in this section.

High-end Packaging Design for a new Ghee product Sun Rain Grow

Check out the Sun Rain Grow Case Study

First up, we have…

Primary Packaging

Primary packaging is any and all materials that have direct physical contact with your product. This can also be called retail or consumer packaging. There are two primary functions of primary packaging.
Remember we are talking about the purpose here, not opportunities. So these will be the practical uses of the packing.
Primary Packaging: Protection
The first purpose of your product’s primary packing is to offer protection. Protecting your product from exposure to air or water. Nobody wants stale or spongy chips!

Additionally, your packaging needs to offer some protection from drops and impacts. Like adding air into a bag of chips. Again, nobody wants a bag of chips that is just crumbs.

Primary Packaging: Information
The second purpose of your product’s primary packing is to inform consumers and provide details about how to use the product and its features. This part of package design is where the regulatory information is classified. Depending on your product this package may contain nutritional facts as well as any other government-approved seals or classifications.

Let’s keep talking about chips for this example. Chips have the nutritional facts on the back of the bag. But some chips have other symbols on the front of the bag. Especially nowadays, consumers are becoming more conscious of what they are eating, so you will see “Non-GMO” or “USDA Certified Organic”.

Secondary Packaging
Secondary Packaging is used for bundling and as an additional form of protection. The reason for secondary packing is to allow companies to bundle together multiple items. Every product that has a secondary package will also have a primary package.

To illustrate this concept let’s look at soda packaging. A can that holds the soda is the primary packaging, but when the soda is sold in a 6-pack or 12-pack the package that contains the bundle of sodas is the secondary packaging.

Additionally, this packing (depending on the regulations) could also require the government-mandated information mentioned above.

Tertiary Packaging
Tertiary packaging is the packaging used to ship your product. This level of packaging is not consumer-facing so in the form versus function debate; Function wins. The only concern with this type of packaging is to ensure you provide a safe way for your products to arrive at any given location while ensuring that they arrive intact.

The tertiary packaging will usually have minimal marketing and branding. The overall packing level can include anything from large boxes used to house smaller boxes of products or full pallets of products with corner guards and shrink wrap.

If this seems like a trivial aspect of packaging just wait until you have to move 1,000 or 1,000,000 of something. If not properly planned this would be next to impossible.

Packaging Design Guidelines: What You Need On Your Packaging

Design guidelines for packaging are broken down into 2 separate and distinct needs. These not only help your products sell, they can sometimes be the deciding factor between your product and a competitor’s product.

Packaging Design Guidelines For Brand Promotion

The guidelines for brand promotion are a set of rules and best practices that have been established over years of testing from some of the major brands. Violating any of these rules will not lead to any legal troubles but it could lead to a drop in sales.

Here are a few of the most common needs that make up the brand promotion guidelines.

1. Brand Name
2. Product Name
3. Product Description
4. Company Contact Information
5. Brand Story
6. Other Available Products

Packaging Design Guidelines For Legal and Regulatory Purposes

The law of the land sets guidelines for all products sold to the public. These laws and regulations are meant to protect and inform the consumer as much as possible. Knowing what the packaging laws are for the product you sell should be known before starting with the packing design.

Every industry has a different set of regulations imposed on it from the government. There are tons of resources at your disposal where you can find all of the packaging regulations for your industry.

If you want to look into this so you can fully understand all of the regulations, here is a list of some resources.

The Fair Packaging and Labeling Act

Here is a link to all of the rules and guides from the FTC.

Here is a link to the food labeling and nutrition guidelines from the FDA.

The important takeaway here is; Follow the guidelines!

Concepts For Great Packaging Design

Building a package that encompasses your brand ideals, adheres to regulations, and also providing a great customer experience sounds almost impossible. But let’s break it down into manageable sections and discuss each one a little more in-depth.

Image of a young professional at his computer doing an online focus group testing the 28 Black Energy Drink Products used for Product Testing

These are not in any particular order, but I will say, when designing the packaging live by this mantra.

“Form Follows Function”

Packaging Design For Brand And Product Promotion

Your product packaging is an extension of your brand. This means that every package will need to adhere to the same strict guidelines you set forth in your brand guide. This section does include the promotion of other products from your brand. Rather, this will focus on specific elements of design that every package will include.

1. Logo
2. Color(s)
3. Imagery
4. Typography

Packaging Design and The Experience

This is where the packaging functionality will become your number one priority. This is such a specialized area of product development that there are engineers that specialize in this field. Sure, the designer may come up with an idea but before it can go into production, an engineer will have to review all of the project requirements to ensure the package structure and materials meet the needs of the product.

For best results in this phase of packaging it is imperative that you have a designer and an engineer that work well together. This will ensure your packing will be impressive and impactful.

Here are the 5 key components for providing a great experience with your product packaging.

1. Function
2. Form
3. Structure
4. Materials
5. Layers

The Extras of Packaging Design

This is an extra step for companies that want to really impress their customers. It is not a necessary step, but it is a step that I recommend.

Are you familiar with the quote?
“It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen” -John Wooden

Some of the best brands in the world realize this and have found ways to provide additional value with their packaging.

The best examples of this usually come from innovations in food packaging. McDonalds’ fry holder that can fold out to accommodate ketchup is a great example. Another example comes from Pringles’ updated packaging that allows consumers easier access to those delicious chips by incorporating an accordion design into their packaging.

2 factors to consider when trying to create added value with your packaging.

1. Can we add something to be used with the product?
2. Can add an additional use after the product is used?

Package Design Styles: Defining A Brand

The packaging you choose to represent your brand says a lot about the values of the business. Additionally, it will also be a direct reflection of the values of your ideal customer. Both of these will play a role in the final package design you choose to represent your brand and product.


Check out the Joe’s Gourmet illustrated packaging Case Study.

The 3 questions you need to ask during this process are:
1. Who are you targeting?
2. What message do you want to send?
3. Do these align with the brand?

The 7 Style Categories Of Packaging

  1. Luxurious
    • Powerful
    • Timeless
    • Detailed
  2. Bold
    • Bright
    • Colorful
    • Sharp Edges
  3. Charming
    • Rustic
    • Fun
    • Playful
  4. Casual
    • Nonchalant
    • Practical
    • Understated
  5. Vintage
    • Retro
    • Old-fashioned
  6. Contemporary
    • Clean
    • Minimalist
  7. Sustainable
    • Minimalistic
    • Simple
    • Bland

The Best Materials For Packaging Design

Packing will vary depending on the type of product your company is selling. There are a lot of options to choose from and multiple factors to consider but do not get stuck in analysis paralysis.

Inner Package Design Materials

Air pillows
Or airbags are inflated air packets used to cushion and/or secure fragile products and materials. They may include special valves and inflators to ensure proper inflation.

Angle boards
Or edge boards are products that protect the corners and edges of products during shipping.

Bubble wrap
Sheets of inflated air bubbles to cushion and cover fragile products.

Corner blocks
Like edge boards but are designed to only protect the corners of products during shipping.

Corrugated wrap
A paperboard product used to protect products during shipping.

Packaging inserts
Used to fill the empty space or as part of the package housing to the product during shipping.

Molded packaging
Specifically molded to fit the shape of the product or material being shipped.

Packing peanuts
Loose-fill products designed to surround, cushion, and protect products.

Fill empty space and prevent products or components of a product from colliding with each other.

Outer Package Design Materials

Corrugated Boxes
The most common material used in packaging design. Corrugated boxes are lightweight, sturdy, durable, and can be recycled. These are all desirable traits when building the packaging for your product. If that was not good enough, you can also get the double-walled version which provides even more durability for when you have a larger or heavier product.

Padded Mailers
The padded mailers may be part of envelopes but they have increased in popularity as of late so I thought it would be best to discuss them separately. As e-commerce has become more popular recently, so has the padded mailer. These are great for shipping or transporting handmade goods, small electronics, and even books. As a bonus, these are usually eco-friendly as long as you choose to forego the bubble wrap and substitute a paper product instead.

Poly Mailers
These packages are great for small and lightweight items that are not fragile. These are mostly used for clothing, but they have several other possible applications. Poly mailers are strong, durable, usually self-sealing, and take up less space than the other options. Additionally, you have the option to brand these like you would with the other options. If your company is moving into the eCommerce and direct to consumer model, this could be the best option for you.

Envelopes are versatile and come in many different sizes and there are many different use cases for each size and shape. From jewelers to artists to electronics, they all have a way to use envelopes. The way they use them and the type of envelopes they use are all different so be sure to use the one that best fits how you will be using it.

Tube packaging could be part of envelopes or corrugated boxes, but I wanted to put them here and address them individually because they are often overlooked. Tubes do not fit with a lot of products or company brands. But where they excel is when they are used for storing and shipping art or alcohol. Artists always have multiple sizes of tubes available for any work that needs to be sent out. As for alcohol, whenever you buy a good bottle of liquor, it will be packaged in a tube.

Bags are a classic option. Paper, plastic, and now reusable bags are all part of the package design process for branding. There has been a backlash on the use of plastic bags recently, so a lot of brands are moving away from plastic and instead opting for an eco-friendlier option. Bags are an easier part of the process because they are only meant to carry the package, and this package already has all of the necessary protection built into it. So, the only function of bags is to promote the brand and make the actual product easier to carry.

Sustainable Package Design Materials

The newest trend in packaging is creating a package that is sustainable and eco-friendly. As this trend continues there will be more innovations in the market but for right now these are the best materials available for sustainable packaging.

Biodegradable Packaging
Easily put in with compost waste and replenishing the earth. Naturally, this means no plastics!

Encase your products in entirely recycled materials. Paper is the best-known recycled material, but the market for reclaimed plastic is growing and expanding every year.

Also growing in popularity, packing your product in recyclable material can be attractive for some buyers.

As the demand for plastic is declining, the call for different types of reusable packaging is increasing. From bags to totes, reusable packing is on the rise and in demand. This is a trend that will continue so start making plans now for how and when you want to implement this in your packaging design.

Take a look at our Best Packaging Design Guide for more tips on successful packaging design.