Packaging Design

What Is Packaging Design and Why Is Packaging Design Important?

Packaging Design combines design elements and materials to create suitable housing for products. It may sound simple, but there are many different elements to consider when creating your packaging design.

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

Your packaging design can make or break your success during the sales process. You may have the best product, but its packaging must have the right functions and features to inspire people to buy it. To realize your brand’s full potential, your packaging design needs to be purposely considered and evaluated.

When creating your marketing strategy, build in ample time for packaging design. You should not rush the packaging design process. Packaging is the first thing your customer sees. Tackle any design challenges before your product reaches customers. First impressions are important and impact the decisions of potential buyers. Create a package that draws attention and wows your customers. Design and build to ensure market penetration when your product launches. Here are some reasons why packaging is so important.

Let’s start with the basic rules of packaging design.

The 3 Ps of Packaging

The 3 P’s of packaging are rules that define the purpose of your brand packaging. These rules for packaging may seem obvious but are often overlooked in the launch of a new product. The 3 P’s of packaging will help you understand why packaging design is so important. With this knowledge, you can explain and defend the need for a larger packaging design budget.

The first “P” rule of packaging is simple.

1. Protect the Product

This rule seems simple, but there are three aspects to this rule that we’ll discuss in depth. Let’s take a closer look at protective product packaging.

  • Damage Costs
    Product loss due to occasional and accidental damage is unavoidable. However, with proper packaging, you reduce the risk and financial burden of damage costs. Your marketing strategy should include research and development time as part of your packaging design. During this phase, use questions to identify and address potential issues and determine packaging needs. Effective packaging protects the product during transportation and on display at stores. Packaging design should aim to reduce damage costs associated with transportation, theft, and tampering. Here are questions to ask to help you get started.
  • Reduce Damage Costs By Asking These Questions:
    Is the product fragile?
    Are electronics involved?
    What will product handling (material handling) look like?
  • Reduce Transportation Damage By Asking These Questions:
    What will the shipping process look like?
    Will the product ship as a single unit or in bulk with a pallet?
    Will the product need refrigeration or climate control during transportation?
    Will the product need protection against environmental elements?
  • Reduce In-Store Damage By Asking These Questions:
    Will the product end up on a shelf, hanger, or display in a store?
    Will the product survive a fall or drop during stocking or in-store display?We all know accidents happen, especially when shopping. We also need to factor in stocking. In-store product loss will occur through no one’s fault or malicious action. If your packaging can withstand a fall or a drop, you’ll see a massive reduction in your in-stores loss.
  • Protect The Product On The Shelf (Tampering, Theft, Damage)
    There are any number of ways a product may sustain damage throughout its life. The last part of product protection to consider is primarily for consumer-facing products, and that is damage brought on by-product theft or tampering. This is for products that end up on shelves, hangers, or displays. Theft is something you cannot stop, but you may be able to deter by making your packing unwieldy. Tampering is also something you cannot prevent. However, stronger and more durable packaging can make product tampering more difficult. There are measures you can take to protect your customers against tampering. Tamper indicators, such as the ones on over-the-counter pharmaceutical products, alert customers to a product package that has been tampered with. Yet, indicators do not protect the product or prevent tampering from happening.
  • 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 risk to consumers, if product tampering occurs?

That was a lot of information about protective product packaging. We could keep going on about protection, but let’s move on to the second P of packaging: Promotion

2. Promotion

Any chance you get to promote your 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
  3. Illustrate how the other products work together with this product

This is not an exhaustive list, in fact, you are likely aware of most of them. But let’s specifically focus on number 3. Showing how your products work together, and encouraging your customers to purchase those other products, can increase the value of a customer transaction by 3 or 4 times.

Your packages provide free advertising space for your other products. Don’t miss the opportunity to provide informative value to customers, while selling more products.

This brings us to the final of these three Ps of Packaging, Presentation.

3. Presentation

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

Consumers can become overwhelmed with the number of options when making product decisions. Take advantage of this with a packaging design that is unique enough to stand out from all other options. But, don’t 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 expected 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, go to YouTube and type in a product name and then add “unboxing” at the end of your search query. You will typically 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

Your customers’ experience with your product’s packaging design doesn’t 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 doesn’t refer just 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 two senses you are trying to impress are sight and touch. Your corporate brand guide should guide the overall look of this packaging. The iconic packaging design of Apple’s MacBook Pro was a benchmark for other companies. The sleek lines and minimalist packaging design separated the product from any competitor. When the product first hit the market, its packaging was unlike anything else. Competitors have adjusted since then to keep up with packaging design trends.

When you consider the packaging of Apple’s MacBook Pro, several points stand out. Notice its smoothness, minimal markings, and branding. This makes consumers connect the brand with ease and cleanliness. These types of subtle cues lend your product a unique unboxing experience.

Once consumers open the box and reveal the product, they see the inner 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. Create a lasting and memorable experience for your customers.

We will continue with Apple’s laptop packaging example.

When customers revealed the inner packaging, they saw that it was neat and organized. This reinforced the perception of ease and cleanliness already established by the outer packaging.

So how does this translate to other products? Hint: Refer to your brand guidelines. 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 activate even more senses. Like with the outer packaging, you still have sight and feel, but you also add smell, hearing, and possibly even taste, depending on your product. Let’s focus on the smell and hearing aspects of the interior packing for now.

The interior packaging design is often air-tight. This presents a chance to create a brand smell, by adding a scent you want to associate with your brand. Create brand loyalty by adding the scent of cookies, vanilla, or pine trees. You may also choose to create a distinct absence of any scent for your products. Whatever you choose, make sure the scent, or lack thereof, aligns with your brand. Authenticity and consistency are SO IMPORTANT!

The hearing aspect of unboxing is tricky. You may know about the autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR). People experience a sense of joy or satisfaction with certain sounds. This sensation that people experience in response to hearing certain sounds is ASMR. Enter a search for the most popular ASMR sounds for ideas to consider in your packaging design. One hint: everyone loves pulling that clear plastic off of electronics.

Product Packaging and The Customer Experience

A product package is the type of packaging associated with perishable items. It’s the packaging that consumers see, when a product doesn’t need additional outer or inner packaging. A product with a low need for protection may only use product packaging. One example is potato chips. By the time a consumer interacts with a bag of chips, the product, its only packaging is the bag that holds the chips. This chip bag is the product package.

Creating successful product packaging is about standing out, adequately protecting the product, and ease of consumer use. The customer experience and satisfaction often depend on how well the product package achieved these measures.

The most important aspect of packaging is protection. It is imperative that you protect your product from exposure to the elements and spoiling, and preserve freshness. Resealable packages were one of the most impressive innovations in packaging. These packages were revolutionary in product packaging. Resealable packages provide value by increasing the ease of consumer use and product freshness.

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 discussed this above in different terms. Here are some definitions for a clearer explanation of the three levels of packaging.

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

Check out the Sun Rain Grow Case Study

Primary Packaging

Primary packaging is any and all material with direct physical product contact, such as the bag for potato chips or the can for a soda. Primary packaging is sometimes labeled as “retail packaging” or “consumer packaging.” There are two primary functions of primary packaging. Remember we are talking about the purpose here, not opportunities. These will be the practical uses of the packing.

Primary Packaging Function: 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 all crumbs.

Primary Packaging Function: Information

The second purpose of your product’s primary packing is to inform consumers about your product. Primary packaging should provide information about product use and features. This part of packaging design often involves disclosing regulatory information. Other product details may include nutrition facts, government-approved seals, or other 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. “Non-GMO” or “USDA Certified Organic” are common words found on consumer products.

Secondary Packaging

Secondary Packaging is the packaging used to bundle items. It also provides another form of protection. The main reason brands use secondary packaging in packaging design is product bundling. Every product that has a secondary package will also have a primary package.

To illustrate this concept let’s look at soda packaging. As previously noted, the soda can is used to hold soda is the primary packaging. When a brand bundles soda cans into a 12-pack or fridge-pack, that package holding the pack of cans is the secondary package.

Secondary packaging design will generally note how many items are in the package, maybe tout why this larger package is a good deal for consumers, or perhaps highlight the fact that it’s a variety pack with options. The secondary packaging may also include the same information mandated in primary packaging design. This will depend on product regulations.

Tertiary Packaging

Tertiary packaging is the packaging used to ship your product. This level of packaging is typically not consumer-facing. In the Form versus Function debate, Function wins. The primary reason to use this level of packaging is to ensure protection during transportation. Products will arrive intact at any given location with tertiary packaging protection. For bulk shipping, this may include large boxes, pallets, and shrink wrap. Tertiary packaging often goes unseen by consumers.

Packaging Design Guidelines: What You Need on Your Packaging

Design guidelines for packaging break down into two separate and distinct needs. Design guidelines support product sales. They can also be the deciding factor between your product and a competitor’s option.

Packaging Design Guidelines for Brand Promotion

The packaging design guidelines for brand promotion are a set of rules and best practices, established over years of testing by 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 several of the basic elements you should always include on your packaging, based on the brand promotion guidelines:

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

Concepts For Great Packaging Design

Your packaging design should encompass your brand while adhering to regulations. Excellent packaging design also creates a great customer experience. Designing a package that achieves these goals might sound almost impossible. But let’s break it down into manageable sections and discuss each one a little more in-depth.

These are not in any particular order, but, when id8 is designing the packaging, we live by this mantra.

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

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 aim to protect and inform the consumer as much as possible. Knowing the packaging laws for your product or the products that you sell is step one. You should know these packaging laws before starting with the packing design.

Every industry has a different set of regulations imposed on it by the government. There are resources available to you where you can find industry packaging regulations.

If you want to look into this to understand 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 guidelines 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!

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

Your product packaging is an extension of your brand. This means that every package will need to adhere to the same strict guidelines set in your brand guide. This section doesn’t include the promotion of other products from your brand. Rather, this section will detail specific design elements 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 part of product development involves engineers that specialize in this field. The designer will come up with an idea. Then, before it goes into production, an engineer will review the project requirements. The engineer ensures that the packaging structure and materials meet the product’s needs.

During this packaging design phase, you will need a designer and engineer to work with each other. It’s imperative that these two people work well together, for the best results. This will ensure your packing will be impressive and impactful, while also being sturdy and well-designed for protecting your product.

Here are the 5 key components to provide 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 who want to impress their customers. It is not a necessary step, but we recommend it.

Are you familiar with the following quote?

“It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen” -John Wooden

Some of the best brands realize this and have found ways to provide added value with their packaging. The best examples of this often come from innovations in food packaging. McDonald’s’ fry holder that can fold out to accommodate ketchup is a great example.

Two factors to consider when trying to create added value with your packaging:

  1. Can we add something to use with the product?
  2. Can we add another use for the product after its intended and initial use?

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?

There are 7 distinct Style Categories of Packaging, and you should consider which of them are best suited to your product and consumers.

  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 and factors to consider but do not get stuck in analysis paralysis.

Inner Package Design Materials

Air pillows
a.k.a “airbags,” air pillows are air packets inflated and used to cushion fragile products. Air pillows also work to secure materials. Special valves and inflators may ensure proper inflation.

Angle boards
a.k.a “edge boards,” angle boards 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 angle “edge” boards, but corner blocks protect product corners only during shipping.

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

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

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

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

Fills empty space and prevents products or parts from colliding.

Outer Package Design Materials

Corrugated Boxes

Corrugated boxes are the most common material used in packaging design. Corrugated boxes are lightweight, sturdy, durable, and recyclable. These are all desirable traits when building the packaging for your product. There’s also a double-walled option. This provides more durability for larger or heavier products.

Padded Mailers

Padded mailers are part of the envelope category, but have increased in popularity. In eCommerce, padded mailers are great for shipping and transporting products. Their size and durability work with handmade goods, small electronics, books, and more. Padded mailers made with paper instead of bubble wrap are often considered eco-friendly

Poly Mailers

Poly mailers are great packages for small and lightweight items that are not fragile. Many retailers use poly mailers to ship clothing. They are strong, durable, and often self-sealing. This packaging material takes up less space than other packaging 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. There are many different types and uses for each size and shape. From jewelry to art to electronics, there are envelopes for many purposes.


Tube packaging can fall into the envelopes or corrugated boxes categories. Tubes do not fit with a lot of products or company brands, however, tubes are excellent for storing and shipping both art and alcohol. Artists often have many sizes of tubes available for any work that they need to send. As for alcohol, whenever you buy a good bottle of liquor, it is often packaged in a custom, branded tube.


Bags are a classic packaging material. Paper, plastic, and reusable bags are part of the package design process for branding. Brands are moving away from plastic and instead opting for eco-friendlier options. Bags are an easy part of the packaging design process, as they are only intended to carry a package that already has the necessary protection. So, the only function of bags is to promote the brand and make the actual product easier to carry.

Sustainable Package Design Materials

Creating a package that is sustainable and eco-friendly is a primary goal for many brands. Here are some materials available for sustainable packaging.

Biodegradable Packaging
Easy to add in with compost waste to replenish the earth. This means no plastics!

Encase your products in recycled materials. Paper is the best-known recycled material, but reclaimed plastic is also popular.

Packaging your product in recyclable material can be attractive for some buyers.

Demand for different types of reusable packaging is increasing. From bags to totes, reusable packing is on the rise and in demand.

Start planning your sustainable packaging design goals now.

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