When designing custom packaging, it comes down to three main elements: type, color, and logo. Each needs to be present without being overbearing, and each needs to look and feel balanced with the others.
Above all else, when designing a custom box, "you want to communicate your brand," says Lesley Stordahl, creative director at CBX, a brand agency with offices in New York City and Minneapolis. "Not only do you want to evaluate what your own business aspires to be," she says, "but you also want to identify what your competition is doing and where you fit into that landscape."
To get to the basics of good packaging design, we interviewed Stordahl and a few other branding and packaging design experts to get their tips on creating a top-notch custom box. Check out their advice of exactly what you shouldn't do when designing a box below.
1. Don't try to fill every inch of the space.
One mistake many make when designing a custom box is not leaving enough white space, says Gabe Benzur, director of systems design at Collins brand consultancy in New York City.
When deciding which elements should go on your custom packaging (and which should be left out), Benzur says to pick "one big thing—the most important thing" and focus on it.
As well, don't make each individual element on the box the same size. The most important thing to your brand should be the most prominent element on your custom box.
The less is more axiom also applies to where you put design elements on your packaging. Does every surface and flap of your box need to be plastered with design elements? No, they do not.
2. Don’t use more than two fonts.
"Just because you have access to many fonts doesn't mean you should use them all," says Tammy Duncan of Orange You Glad, a graphic design studio in Brooklyn, N.Y., offering branding, logo design, and custom illustration services. She advises two fonts maximum per custom box.
When it comes to font choice, typography isn't the place to get cute. It may be tempting to use the font that looks like bicycle spokes if you run a bike parts business, says Benzur, but that approach runs the risk of being illegible.
Consider whether you want to use serif or sans serif. The former has little lines attached (think Times New Roman) and the latter is absent those little strokes (such as Arial). Sans serif fonts look more modern, while serif fonts tend to connote something a bit more old fashioned or crafty.
3. Don't go crazy with colors.
Having a consistent color palette—is your brand more jewel tones or neutrals?—is key when you're branding your business and putting that branding on your custom packaging. That way, even if you're producing more than one custom box, all the elements "feel like they’re all in the same family," says Duncan.
Once you've got your overall palette, you’ll likely want to pare down further to a single color when designing your custom boxes. For maximum impact, "It's better to pick one color than five," says Benzur.
When thinking about colors and packaging, you also need to consider how colors will print on your chosen box type. "If you're printing colors on brown corrugated cardboard, the effect will be more muted than if you're printing on white," says Stordahl.
4. Don’t make it complicated.
"In an ideal world," says Benzur, "everything would look like a Chanel box because you know what it is." The Chanel box is, of course, famously uncomplicated and luxuriously stark in its use of black and white.
That lack of design noise is key because the more simply you can communicate your brand identity, the more memorable it is.
5. Don't think of it as an individual experience.
The unboxing phenomenon, where people post videos to social media sites of themselves opening boxes and discovering the products within, while no longer new, is still a very real and powerful marketing opportunity.
"You have to assume that the unboxing is not an individual experience, but that it's potentially a shared experience," says Stordahl. "Every opportunity you have to surprise and delight, you should do it."
6. Don't stop your branding experience with the box itself.
While having a really beautiful design on your box may catch your customer's eye, that's just the hook, says Stordahl. From there, consider everything inside your box and how each of the individual pieces are placed and wrapped for maximum effect.
You might choose different inner wrappings depending on whether the consumer is receiving all of the same brand of product, or if, as in many subscription services, multiple brands are being packaged in the same box. She suggests mocking up a box just as you've designed it, and then putting your product inside, closing it up, and unboxing it yourself to have the same experience as a consumer would.
"The minute someone opens your box, every bit of it, every piece of copy should be in your brand voice, and people should feel like they understand who you are just through those first couple of flaps," Stordahl says.
Read Why Custom Packaging is Important in Branding Your Business and try designing your own box on DistinctPackaging.com.
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