Frustration Free Packaging: 8 Ways to Ace Product Packaging

  •    Michelle Goodman is a writer, editor, and content specialist. She is also author of The Anti 9-to-5 Guide and My So-Called Freelance Life.

When it comes to retail, product packaging is your first physical line of communication with customers. You only have a few seconds to grab their attention, make a winning first impression and convince them to become a brand loyalist.

Follow these eight tips to make that precious window count:

1. Keep it simple. Product packaging that's too busy can be off-putting and confusing. Limit the color scheme and graphic elements. At the same time, don't make your packaging design so simple that no can tell what's inside the box. As much as you may wish it were true, you're not Apple, says Amy Wenslow, CEO of Products to Profits, a consulting firm for product developers.

If your business is young, chances are your product packaging budget will range from small to microscopic. But that doesn't mean you should sacrifice quality. “Your packaging doesn't have to be the Taj Mahal of packaging," Wenslow says. But it shouldn't look like a kindergartener created it either.

To cut costs, Wenslow suggests brainstorming ideas and sketching them out for your designer before meeting with them. Alternatively, find some examples of designs you like and think work well and share those with your designer.

2. Stay legally compliant. In the U.S., the Federal Trade Commission requires that packaging state a product's country of origin. Likewise, the Consumer Product Safety Commission requires that packaging mention a product maker's contact information. Yet many U.S. entrepreneurs fail to do either, Wenslow says. What's more, many fail to consult the U.S. trademark database to ensure they can use their chosen product name. To avoid legal headaches, make sure you check these boxes early on.

3. Get the text right. Ensure packaging text is easy to read, compelling and concise. The idea is to quickly convey the product's benefits so people will want to buy it, Wenslow says. Website descriptions and product instructions should be equally clear and succinct.

But sometimes text isn't the best way to explain what a product does and how it works. Early packaging of The Whiskey Ball, an ice ball mold, was too text-heavy and cumbersome, recalls Caesar Chu, the product's inventor. Now that his packaging relies more heavily on illustrations, it's much more customer friendly.

4. Use high-quality photos. Skimping on the images used on packaging and to market your product online and at trade shows is a surefire way to turn off customers, Wenslow says. Clear, professional, high-resolution images are a must. When photographing the product, avoid showing a cluttered background. Dress models featured on packaging in camera-ready attire. That means no stripes, loud prints or colors that blend in with the background.

5. Pay attention to brand continuity. Keep package designs consistent among products so customers recognize your brand when they see it. Ensure your logo is clearly visible. Make branding changes like a new logo, font or color scheme across your entire product line at once.

Ensure the tone of your packaging is consistent with the product you sell and speaks to its target audience. “If you were selling a kids' product, you wouldn't use a fancy script font," Wenslow says. “You would use a style that works with kids and is mom and dad friendly."

6. Consider where you're selling. Do you plan to sell online, in stores or both? Will your product be stocked on shelves, hung on a hook or sold at checkout stations? All this will dictate the design of your packaging. Retailers may not have room for packaging that takes up too much space. And green-minded retailers may prefer packaging made from recycled materials.

See how competitors have packaged their products so you know what design features you need. “If you find packaging you really like in stores, buy it and deconstruct the box," Chu suggests. Not having to create your packaging from scratch can save valuable time and money.

7. Avoid excessive waste. Have you ever bought something and wondered why the manufacturer included a recycling bin's worth of packaging? Besides driving up production costs, extra padding and packaging is likely to irritate environmentally conscious customers.

At same time, Wenslow warns against sacrificing too much surface area on product packaging and labels in the name of going green. You still need enough space to explain what you're selling and why people should buy it. “There's happy medium between the two extremes," she says.

8. Think like your customers. It's not enough to create packaging that looks sharp. It has to function well, too. Chu had this rude awakening when his web-based business began selling its ice molds to retailers. “We would go to stores to see our product and find our boxes opened and torn apart," he explains. “We realized that in this channel, customers wanted to touch and feel the product." He eventually redesigned his packaging with a window on the side so customers could do exactly that.

“Product packaging often does not take into account how the customer thinks when they open it," Wenslow says. To view your packaging objectively, she suggest squinting when you look at it and noting what your eyes focus on. Or have a friend hold the packaging three to four feet from you. Then close your eyes, open them and describe what you see in 10 seconds or less. If you can't, your packaging isn't doing its job. As Wenslow puts it, “that's the impression your audience gets, too."