7 Strategies for Powerful Packaging Design (Part 1)

by David and Nancy Deal, Deal Design Group, San Diego, CA.

The retail environment is like a battleground where brands compete for shoppers’ attention. Your product packaging has two seconds stake a claim, connect with the customer and earn closer examination. Packaging that fails the two-second test gets passed over in favor of a competitor that knew the 7 Strategies and how to use them. This article is the first of a 7-part series that describes the top packaging design strategies developed by packaging design experts, David and Nancy Deal of Deal Design Group in San Diego, Calif. Find part 2 here.

1. Less Is More

In a culture where “more is more” is the dominant message of consumerism, the concept of “less is more” has been slow to gain adoption. However, savvy packaging designers employ the Bauhaus movement’s philosophy of “less is more” when designing retail packaging. The concept of “less is more” addresses the lack of time and attention a shopper will give to a product as he or she tries to evaluate its unique features and benefits relative to its price.

The onslaught of packages screaming for attention and the visual bombardment by point-of-purchase displays means the average shopper will only give your product two seconds of attention before their gaze is seduced by a neighboring product on the shelf. In that short amount of time, its critical to deliver your product’s unique benefits and why-to-buy statement.

In order to achieve this near-impossible task, the packaging designer often has to battle the marketing team, their novella of words, and catalog of images that seemed to make so much sense when crafted in vacuum of their office over the last month. And, then, of course, all this content is passed around to a half-dozen other stakeholders who all want to add their own provision into this declaration of product independence. By the time the packaging designer gets the content, he or she has to immediately default to font sizes in the single digits to fit everyone’s contributions into the space available. An experienced packaging designer should advise the prolific writers on the team to adopt the “less is more” approach to retail product packaging.

The essence of this approach is the Two Second Rule: If a shopper can fully absorb all the important visual images and text content of the front panel within two seconds, they feel a subconscious sense of accomplishment and completion. It’s as if they fully understand the product, what it has to offer, and appreciate its simplicity. If they have to commit more time than two seconds, the endeavor is immediately judged to be time-consuming, and your product is cast aside for one that knew what to say and how to say it in a fraction of the time. The key to closing the sale at the point-of-purchase is to get into the hands of the shopper first. The first product to be picked up is usually the product that makes it to checkout. The “less is more” philosophy will increase your chances of being selected first and converting the shopper to a customer.


The packaging for Jucy Lu, which was honored in the HOW International Design Awards, follows the “less is more” principle. — Creative Team: El Autobus | Dani V. Sanchez, Gregorio De Franca, Veronica Cangas | Client: Jucy Lu | Location: Miami, FL

2. Touching Encouraged

To a customer, the product packaging is a nuisance. It’s something standing between them and the product they are interested in. If they had their way, there would be no packaging and shoppers would be able to fully touch, smell, taste and test a product before the purchase. Of course, there are plenty of safety, security and logistical problems that prevent this kind of shopping nirvana. However, the smart packaging designer seeks to minimize the packaging’s interference with the shopping experience.

Giving shoppers direct access to the product through cut-out zones and clear windows where they can see and touch your product increases sell-through. It removes the fear of the unknown: What does the product really look like? What does it feel like? Is the color really the color I see on the packaging? All these fears are removed if the customer can fully experience the product at the point-of-purchase. If direct-access to the product just isn’t possible, as in the case of some food and beverages, large beautiful product photography with multiple views that highlight all the products features and tactile qualities helps give shoppers a sense for the products and compels them to buy. Imagery that conveys a visual sense of the taste, touch, texture, materials and functional experience of the product is the next best thing to direct customer interaction. In short, challenge yourself to make the packaging as minimal and invisible as possible.


The playful, subtly empowering product packaging for “LaLaLand” makeup from Wet N’ Wild, which earned the creative team at Olson a win in the 2016 International Design Awards, allows the product to speak for itself.


Creative Team: Olson | Nina Orezzoli, Joe Monnens, Lindsey Wright, April Swinson | Client: Wet N’ Wild | Location: Minneapolis, MN 

3. Opposites Attract

On the retail shelf, when a shopper considers a category of product, their eyes quickly scan the shelf and a mind storm of visual sensory data is evaluated in milliseconds.

The shopper’s mind is subconsciously looking for two main things:

  1. What they recognize as familiar.
  2. What stands out as different.

For repeat purchases, shoppers are focusing on what they recognize—that product they already bought, liked, and want to buy again. However, there is always that subconscious desire to find what’s new. This is where the packaging designer’s opportunity lies—in being that new thing that stands out from the crowd and captures attention. strategic packaging designers know that they need to develop a packaging design that sets the product apart from the competition, not one that blends in.

However, all too often the designer is working for lesser experienced business owners or junior shopper marketing professionals that are trapped in the “me too” mentality of wanting to be a category follower instead of boldly stepping out as the leader. Being a follower has the innate allure of being safe. “If the other 3 competitors are using blue as their primary packaging color, then we should too.” The category leaders, instead, say “everyone else is blue, we are going to be red.” Of course this is oversimplified, but you get the idea. Leaders aren’t worried who follows in the direction they head; they head there because they know the direction is right. Followers look for who seems to know where they are headed, and follow them. Which one will your product packaging be?


Shoppers familiar with mostly-white backgrounds and familiar logos on juice drinks might not expect the black-and-bold color palette created by the team at LRXD for GoodBelly juices, which earned a win in the International Design Awards.


Creative Team: LRXD | Jamie Reedy, Kelly Reedy, Brian Son | Client: NextFoods | Location: Denver, CO


4. Dress to Impress

We can all relate to having been in a nightclub or bar and participated in the dating scene. This is like the personal relationship version of the retail shelf. Men and women gather in a location with the intent to evaluate each other based on visual appearance, body language and subtle cues that tell us who may be a good match for us.

Of course this is all superficial and no one can truly know another person until they develop a relationship, but the practice of surface evaluations directly relates to shopping in retail. Just as a 21-year old woman is usually looking for a person of similar age and personality traits she can relate with, so are shoppers looking for products that appeal to their sensibilities and personality. If you are looking for a one-night stand, the less clothing the better, right? But if you are looking for a long-term relationship, a bit more modest attire may be more desirable. The first says “sex now,” whereas the second says “I’m looking for a relationship that lasts longer than 24 hours.” No product can be all things to all people. This is another common trap less experienced manufacturers and marketers believe about their products. I can’t tell you how often we have been presented with a product that, according to the marketing team, is purchased by women 70% of the time, but the manufacturer doesn’t want to alienate male purchasers so they direct us to make the packaging design appeal to both.


Casa Rex’s packaging for “C by B,” a chocolate range by Brazilian confectionary store Brigaderia, is illustrative and bold. Winner in the 2016 International Design Awards.


Creative Team: Casa Rex |  Gustavo Piqueira, Samia Jacintho, Danilo Helvadjian, Marcio Takeda, Andrés Acosta, Marcela Souza | Client: Brigaderia | Location: Sào Paulo, Brazil

Products that try to be all things to all people end up meaning nothing to anyone. If your customer is an 18 to 30-year-old female, consider language and visual styles millennials can relate to. Use recyclable packaging with more natural tactile qualities since younger millennials value a lower carbon footprint and favor more natural packaging materials. If your target customer is men age 40-65, be sure to use larger fonts, short, clear benefit statements and more rigid packaging that makes men feel the product is stronger and will last. Whomever your target customer is, dress your packaging to impress them and attract their attention. If you packaging design ends up looking like a bedazzled men’s suit, be sure that’s the message you really want to send.

Continue reading in Part 2 of this series.

David and Nancy Deal are husband and wife packaging designers. Their agency, Deal Design Group, has been serving packaged goods brands around the World with creative, practical and effective packaging design since 1999. David and Nancy consult with other creative directors, packaging designers and brands to bring new and innovative solutions to the marketplace.

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