in Design

Package design – From concept to finished product

For many of us, the contact with the packaging design is an everyday experience. A regular supermarket stores 30000-40000 of packed products and the competition for attention is very  intense. If you are or you intend to become a package designer your creations will probably be found here. Supermarkets have become galleries for packaging design, where the horrors and delights abound.

If is not seen, it will not be bought.

In package design, the essential factor is to create something that is extremely attractive. If you look at the shelves and the product doesn`t stand up  in the crowd, then it`s not a success.


All projects begin with a briefing made by the client, usually the department of marketing or brand manager. As your work will be judged based on the accepted information, it is essential that all aspects are well documented.


Before starting the actual design, a thorough understanding  of the target audience is required. Usually this means overcoming data outlined in the research and involves the participation of designer in studying the lifestyle of the target audience.

The objective is to identify and to blend with the consumer group to understand their habits, wants, desires and motivations. It is an attempt to transpose “in their skin” in such a degree that you could predict their behavior. It may be useful to know:

– What brands they buy?
– Where they live – apartment / villa?
– What cars do they have?
– What foods they consume?
– What kind of vacations they have?
– What kind of relationship they have?
– What TV shows / magazines do they  watch / read?
– What is their favorite drink?

The list is not exhaustive, but if you`ll  put up these types of questions, you will see a profile.

Working in three dimensions

A good method is to create a graphical form for the container, instead of advancing on the path of independent development (graphic and real) because in this way you can avoid to apply the graphic on an improper form. Therefore, each proposed form should be accompanied by suggestions concerning the application of the graphics. If the thumbnail sketches can be ideal for initial ideas, any serious proposal must be drawn in real size. Structural design, especially for glass or plastic containers shaped, is strongly influenced by the choice of curves and shapes. Subtle changes of the curves have spectacular effects on the visual aspect so is important to have precise sketches.

Especially for designers who have only recently started to work in three dimensions in the package design, it is useful to collect samples of packaging made from materials that were designed for the project. For example, if the package will be made of glass containers look closely to see how the curves in this material are integrated, what forms are used around the base and tip, what type of  closing is added, etc. Researches must indicate how they are exhibited in point of sale. Hence, you decide which is the main part of the package, meaning the one that the buyer will saw first. It may not be the most obvious area or the biggest one, for example, an ice cream cone may be in a refrigerated glass case where he only sees the top. In such a case would be a mistake to focus the design on the body cone, when in fact the tip is one that performs the initial task of communicating information and product branding.

After you have determined the main part, focus on making the design for it by checking how much is visible. If a container is curved, the graphics will have to act in the angle of view, without partially disappearing on the circumference of the container. Life-size models are especially useful when you work with shaped containers. They are not models, but simple instruments to see the way shapes or custom surfaces look in three dimensions.

Materials and packaging forms

Some information about the design of the packaging does not require materials, so if that information relates to the design of a container such as honey, would be logical to consider glass jars, tubes or plastic jars, tin boxes or containers ceramic. Each material has its own characteristics, advantages and disadvantages. Glass jars ensure quality and tradition, enabling product visualization. Ceramic containers emit a distinctive “homemade air”  and if the design is attractive, consumers can reuse them – especially important if they carry a brand that will always be seen and after use. Such consolidation is an effective tool for keeping brands in the attention of consumers. Using plastic tubes, honey can be squeezed directly onto the bread, therefore, result in a less traditional stance and offer convenience and amusement, rather than focus on tradition.

Designers who have completed specialized courses may find the selection of materials as an extension of the graphic palette.  Usual graphic tools still exist, but they appear with a new box with tools, which contains materials with different properties and emotional connotations – surface finishes, textures and in some cases, the ability to highlight text and graphics. Initial stages of a study are moments when you have to explore these options, thinking and analyzing large-scale materials. After that, you reject some ideas based on practical issues – cost, filling, etc. For now, though, record them all on paper, because probably there is an idea that can be used or adapted. In the example with honey, maybe the pottery jars are too expensive, but their image can be used to create a plastic container that incorporates the shape, texture or color of the original one.

Structural graphic development

After you understood the information and conducted the research all the way to knowing the main consumer, the market and the competitor, you can start working on the conception. Basically it has already begun, at least mentally, along with the documenting progress. This explicative process should show the way your concepts meet the client`s information and how could they sale the product.  Although at this stage creativity should not be suffocated by practical considerations, just remember that creativity itself is not enough. ackaging design is a purely commercial activity and, ultimately, creativity and innovation should be directed towards solutions that meet the project information.

Project presentation

Presenting your ideas to the client is an exercise in communication and, although techniques using photographs or computer generated images have their importance in package design,  where the  final result will be three-dimensional object – real models prove to be the best solution.


Bogdan is the founder of Top Design Magazine. You can find him in Bucharest-Romania so next time you want to drink a beer there and talk about web and stuff, give him a message.