Packaging Design: Definition & Examples

Instructor: Jonathan Arteza-Acosta

Jonathan has taught college Business, Management, and Marketing courses. He has a his MBA in Human Resources Management.

Packaging design is more than just what meets the eye. Learn about what packaging design entails and its three main functions that benefit both the product and the consumer.

Judging a Book by its Cover

Most likely you have experienced this situation before at your local grocery store: you casually turn the corner to walk into the next aisle only to find yourself in a sea of breakfast cereals. Shelves upon shelves of multi-colored cardboard boxes display enlarged images of what contents are inside, accompanied by a familiar cartoon character, celebrity, or sports figure. You probably already have an idea which cereal to put into your cart, but sometimes the other varieties tantalize your eyes or tempt your appetite. Oddly enough, it's not the food you fell in love with, but rather its packaging!

Advertising agencies work with companies to develop an effective packaging design for each product they sell to consumers. Packaging design involves the design and creation of a product's container and how it looks to consumers who might purchase it. That is why you typically see a cartoon character on a cereal geared towards children, while adult cereals may have fresh fruit displayed on the box. Not only does packaging design promote a product, it also serves to help protect and prolong the contents as well.

Cereal packaging can help promote, protect, and prolong the contents inside the box.
Cereal aisle at grocery store

Packaging Design For Promotion

One of the primary functions of packaging design is that it promotes the contents inside the packaging. Depending on the product, the packaging design can be simple and straight-forward, or colorful and complex. Advertisers want you to see their product first among all the other products like it. The product's features may be printed on the box, or a nutritional facts label may be available for the consumer to review. Recall walking down that cereal aisle. Which boxes stood out and caught your eyes almost immediately? If you found yourself looking at a cereal box and it evoked some kind of emotion, then the advertisers have succeeded in getting your attention as a consumer. These emotions can either be good (e.g., eating your favorite cereal while watching Saturday morning cartoons) or not good (e.g., this cereal scrapes the roof of your mouth when eaten).

Consider this situation: in 2010, when Dove expanded its personal care products to include men, it launched a series of products under its Dove Men+Care line. To attract its potential new population, Dove moved away from its traditional feminine-inspired designs and adopted a more masculine tone. The straight-lined logo, dark bolded colors, and rugged packaging used for Dove Men+Care products were designed with the male in mind.

Packaging Design Protecting Products

In addition to making the product look presentable, packaging design should also be practical to ensure that it protects the product as well. This functionality is especially beneficial for items that are liquid or fragile. Before a product is displayed for consumer purchase, it needs to be manufactured and packaged sufficiently well to handle the journey from factory to shelf. Most breakfast cereals are packaged in thin, yet durable, cardboard boxes. Not only can information be easily displayed on the packaging (e.g., promotional, advertising, and nutrition facts), but the boxes can be easily stacked, stored, and shipped to your local grocery store while securing the contents of the product itself.

Sometimes, the packaging design not only protects the product from potential damage, but can also protect the consumer before a purchase is made. During the Tylenol murders of 1982, seven people were killed after taking the pain reliever drug that was secretly laced with a lethal dose of cyanide. Investigators concluded that someone was opening bottles of Tylenol, lacing the capsules with cyanide, and putting them back on the shelf, unbeknownst to the consumer. As a result, Tylenol took immediate action with a nationwide recall of 31 million bottles and a massive public relations campaign. Most importantly, Tylenol redesigned its packaging to include foil seals and new features to let the consumer know if the product has been tampered with. In fact, it was this event that set the standard on how packaging design protects products to this day.

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