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Packaging: 10 Steps to a Better Process

1. Prioritize. Prioritize. Prioritize. When three people are talking to you, you can’t hear them all. The same is true for design. Visual priority must be established from the very beginning of the design process. If every item is given primary importance, nothing becomes important. The visual priorities are what drive how all creative will be judged. The design firm should include as part of their creative brief, a hierarchy of 5 communication points for the front of the package. This includes 1) brand 2) product name 3) why-to-buy statement 4) feature points 5) product image.

2. Come together. Everyone has an opinion, so clear project objectives are vital to any job. Consensus regarding the creative brief must be obtained from the people expected to judge the package design from within your corporation. Without this consensus, the design process will fall apart. Without clearly stated, agreed-upon objectives, you are not able to provide constructive feedback. As soon as you start to tell your design firm to “move this here” or make this bigger” the design process has fallen apart. The creative brief is there to dictate and drive the creative direction. If everyone signs off on the creative brief at the start of the project, you will provide better input.

3. Go shopping. Pretend you are your customer, and go shopping at the beginning of the design process. Go to as many different retailers as possible, and take pictures of your product and the competitors’. Talk to the salespeople. Ask them what they know about the products. Notice whether they use the box as a sales tool or a crutch. Notice which products have maximum shelf impact inside and outside of your product category.

4. Remember your roots. How many times have you gotten lost without a map? Your creative brief should be your map to completing your design project. Review the creative brief before the initial presentation. This will keep the meeting focused. If possible, invite everyone that has input into the design to the first meeting. Have the design firm present their directions personally. If everyone isn’t present at the first meeting, use the creative brief to present the directions to your colleagues. Once a creative direction is signed-off on, focus groups can be very helpful to confirm that the original 5 communication points are receiving the right priority for the audience.

5. Less is more—when it comes to copy. It is a common myth among clients that they can write their own copy. If you are the person coordinating the project, don’t let product managers write their own copy. They tend to be too close to the project and too wordy to be effective. The packaging message should do the following: increase product recognition, stimulate impulse purchases, sway purchase decisions, and stand in for the salesperson. It needs to do this quickly and concisely. The why-to-buy statement is the most important element of copy on the package. It should be succinct, catchy, competitive, and compelling.

6. Maintain a solid consistency. When you walk through a store where a company’s package is consistent between products, notice that a billboard for the brand is created in the retail environment. Consistency on packaging is twofold. First, the brand and the message should be consistent with the corporate brand strategy. Second, if there are multiple products in a line, the packages should be consistent with each other. This will make the strongest shelf impact. If your design firm has developed a packaging guideline document, ask for a copy. You can also help ensure graphic elements are consistent between products regardless of package size or format differences.

7. Make a list. Check it twice. Do you use to-do lists? Grocery lists? Make a packaging content checklist for yourself and your design firm, and it will make both of you more successful in the long run. This list can also be used as a job start for future projects. Items to include are all of the tracking numbers (i.e.: UPC codes, internal numbers, product codes, etc.), legal, and stacking codes. Each genre of packaging has different requirements. For example, food packaging and pharmaceutical have very specific design issues. Regardless of the type of package you are designing, there are multiple production items that are critical to its ultimate success.

8. Work closely with your printer. Packaging manufacturers are very different from sheet fed printers. There are different substrates and file requirements. Once a creative direction has been approved, have your design firm talk directly to the printer, if possible. He or she may have suggestions upfront that could save you time and money. Another issue to consider is if the package is being printed overseas. Find out what type of files they can receive. Many overseas printers won’t take the latest software versions. Also, find out how they would like to receive the files. Posting files on an FTP site or sending print-ready PDFs can save time and errors.

9. Hot Potato should be left to the kids. After all of your hard work, don’t rush the file out the door. Build 24 hours into the end of process to allow adequate time to preflight the file. Remind the internal partners as the deadline approaches that you will need this time. If a file is being sent via PDF, your design firm should send mark-ups. Finally, if it is a 3-dimensional box, always request that your design firm build a comp to make sure the artwork is aligned correctly on the die line. Finally, check and recheck the UPC code. Imagine all of your hard work and having your product rung up as a pack of gum.

10. Your job is never done. In school, you were always told to check your work. Once your package is in the store, check it out. Take pictures, and make sure that it has the impact you desired. Share your success with your internal team so that they can see that the process worked. Gather feedback from retailers regarding the success of the packaging and share your findings with your design firm.


dave said…
is this the same David Jensen who grew up in Carson and has an extreemly handsome uncle and namesake living in Utah and dreaming of the BAhamas? If, or if not so you do fine work and I am proud to sharte the name

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