A Guide to Manage and Create Package Design Assignments
The focus of this document is to empower you to plan, design, and produce new and redesigned packaging.
Our design studio has earned a reputation for creating dynamic, new, and redesigned package families.
Designing a Superior Package
A superior package design will evoke a positive emotional response from the target audience.
The goal is to set your product apart from the competitive landscape and change brand preference at the point of sale.
Through the years, Michael Patrick Partners has listened to and learned from market leaders.
When launching new brands, recurring comments we’ve heard from chief marketing officers have included “The package designs must be simple but stand out. We want a look that speaks to the audience in a new way— designs that jumps off the self.”
Our staff routinely hears that an existing package looks dated and that it must work harder to position a product.
Brand managers echo what one client told us: “The overall brand architecture needs to be thought out more. We’ve made incremental changes to package formats that have diluted the brand. How can you help us be proactive and anticipate future design requirements?”
In the end, a packaging strategy that will serve you well must be tightly integrated across product lines but must also be forward-thinking.
By referencing this checklist, you will be able to develop package designs that will more accurately communicate a desired market position.
The Value of an Outsider’s Perspective
To start, maybe it’s time for an outsider’s epiphany. Or a creative partner who just gets you better.
The value of learning a new, objective perspective is priceless.
An educated outsider arrives with no preconceived ideas and no political baggage—the outsider often strengthens internal team resources. Bringing in people who think differently—and have vast experience—means internal teams are exposed to practices that can help them in the long run.
Organizations benefit from interaction with external creative partners who typically work faster than their client counterparts. Juggle multiple assignments with ease. And propose novel solutions to brand management.
Today’s business obstacles presented by COVID-19 and employees working from home have posed extraordinary challenges never envisioned. Marketing managers who apply intellectual objectivity from outsiders—who possess specialized expertise—are thriving on multiple levels.
Consider welcoming advisors who provide new perspectives.
Comprehensive Package Design Workflow
On the pages that follow, we’ve listed our particular approach (steps) to organizing a package design assignment.
Consider this checklist your road map. A broad brushstroke that can be applied to new and redesigned assignments.
It’s a resource we created for both seasoned veterans and people new to packaging—information everyone will value.
Our tested process has guided the design of beverage, food, gaming, medical device, software, and technology product packaging— solutions proven to expand dialogues with segmented audiences.
Depending on the type of assignment, the workflow steps vary slightly, but the principles remain the same.
We suggest that you focus on three critical areas: the planning, naming, and the brand architecture system design.
Detailed planning lessens stress, highlights the next step in the process, ensures that everyone understands their respective responsibilities, and helps reduce the overall cost.
A critical marketing decision is selecting the product name and a supporting tagline. Unfortunately, with today’s overcrowded marketplace, naming is an arduous process. However, once a charismatic name is secured, it will serve as a leading contributor to a product’s success.
And designing an engaging, comprehensive visual brand architecture system promotes synergy throughout the enterprise.
When the planning, naming, and brand architecture system are meticulously executed, a winning outcome is achieved.
The goal is to set your package design apart from the competitive landscape and to change brand preference at the point of sale.
The Role of Brand Architecture
Aligning brand relationships within existing product lines ensures all designs work in harmony to build value as a whole.
There are two roads to follow in brand architecture—a branded-house or a house-of-brands strategy.
It’s imperative to be forward-thinking. You must determine a brand hierarchy (relationship) between the institutional brand and current and future acquisitions before it’s urgent.
We’ve seen our clients add new products but not be prepared to include the brands into an existing environment. Being forward-thinking and initiating a formal brand architecture system ensures a successful, long-term outcome.
A forward-thinking brand architecture system results in heightened recognition for the institutional brand and a reduction in the cost to manage new packaging requirements. It promotes a proactive mode of brand management and prevents disparate product designs from cannibalizing the institutional market share.
No company is too small to have a formal system. Guidelines must be in place for your internal staff to provide strategic brand-management guidance.
With a formal architecture system in place, all packaging will be united via common visual themes. And audience marketing touchpoints (digital and print communication materials) will also conform to a strategic relationship. The result is a seamless market presence.
Stimulating a Positive Audience Response
The factors that contribute to a successful product introduction or reintroduction have not changed through the years.
While industry printing innovations, processes, and materials have evolved, tested principles that guide design decisions remain applicable.
Your package design has just one or two seconds to get the audience’s attention and persuade the consumer to buy. It’s a very personal, psychological connection.
One of the most critical marketing decisions is selecting the product name and a supporting phase (tagline) to communicate the benefit. It’s a tedious process that requires informed, critical thinking. However, once a dynamic name is secured, it will be a leading contributor to a product’s success.
Naming is a marketing discipline that requires a separate discussion. For the purpose of this checklist, it is assumed a name has been tested and selected.
While national brands have the ability to support sales through a comprehensive marketing mix, many regional brands depend on the package design and retail merchandising to promote a brand. In many instances for regional brands, a package design is the sole customer touchpoint. In this circumstance, the package design must also function as an advertisement—the product is promoted solely through its package and point-of-purchase display.
To stimulate a positive audience response the package must possess 1) a superior name and design, 2) credible information, and 3) an emotional connection with the consumer.
Planning and Research Workflow
Planning and Research Phase
To initiate the work, you must flesh out planning and research specifics early on—anticipate the unexpected.
Assignment Planning and Statement of Work Assignment planning includes a detailed statement of work to reiterate deliverables and confirm creative-partner and client responsibilities.
Project Brief A project brief identifies the basic elements of the assignment and empowers teams to initiate the work. It confirms the audience, deliverables, objectives, process, and schedule at a very high level. It is not a detailed scope agreement; nor does it include content intricacies—the intent is to identify only the fundamental elements.
Scheduling One of the keys to your success is meticulous scheduling. It’s all in the details. Aspects of the planning, and naming, creative process must be identified and scheduled.
Competitive Audit To ensure that the naming, messaging, and the creative strategy are distinctive, a competitive (or field) audit of the product package designs that exist within your landscape is conducted. The audit is then applied to guide a 360-degree view that will optimize the design. This step helps prevent creative directions in use by competitors, thus further differentiating your visual positioning and mitigating any confusion in the marketplace.
Market Research An informal review of market research—between the design team and marketing management—enables data to be made actionable. A formal deep dive into consumer influences is conducted separately by your research teams.
Rollout Strategy Defining a rollout strategy ensures a smooth transition from fabrication, all the way through to distributor support and point-of-purchase display design.
Brand Strategy Workflow
Brand Strategy Phase
The brand strategy phase ensures that the package content (features and benefits) supports your overall market position and works in harmony with institutional messaging.
Target Audience Personas Audience personas and their care-abouts are developed to identify segmented target groups. They are determined based on assumptions regarding demographics, interests, pain points, values, fears, motivations, internal influencers, knowledge of the product, and keywords used to search for your offerings.
Brand Platform Review A formal platform is an essential brand management tool used to memorialize defining principles. It helps ensure stakeholders understand, care about, and authentically represent the umbrella brand and the product line throughout all messaging. This step establishes why the brand exists.
Naming Your focus must be on the process to select a dynamic product name. A seasoned naming professional should be involved.
Benchmarking Survey Prior to initiating design, it’s prudent to conduct an online Likert scale survey with stakeholder groups to inform them of the assignment and identify requirements to achieve early adoption. For a new package design, competitive offerings are critiqued to determine stakeholder preferences. Or in the case of a redesign, an online survey is a good tool to test the current package design to establish existing brand equity. The goal is to determine which elements can be refined (evolved or changed) and what elements (if any) cannot be altered.
Legal Compliance It’s imperative to identify the legal restrictions and compliance requirements that will affect the name, messaging, brand (institutional wordmark or product brand), and overall design.
A comprehensive visual brand architecture system promotes synergy throughout the enterprise.
Creative Strategy Workflow
Creative Strategy Phase
The creative strategy is the heart of the assignment. To clear a path for a successful conclusion, it’s essential to identify the preferred design direction that stakeholders envision and that the audience will respond to enthusiastically.
Rorschach Test To initiate the work, examples of packaging formats you believe to be exceptional should be reviewed. Consider this a type of Rorschach test to learn visual and messaging preferences.
Photography Versus Illustration Considerations Distinctive photography or illustration (imagery) is an essential element used to achieve a particular market presence—an element that demands a second and third look. Your goal is to present a memorable, differentiated brand.
Creative Positioning There are many ways to develop a package line family (e.g., the configuration, materials, design).
All clients have a vision for the design. To ensure that preferences are discussed, we suggest including a creative strategy exploration step. Think of this process as a mood board that sets expectations, recaps goals, and analyzes potential design and copy approaches (options).
The exploration includes novel container ideas, information hierarchy solutions, grid systems, dimensions, strategic use of color, typography, materials, and a range of initial design explorations. Your brand identity guidelines are applied to ensure that recommendations adhere to brand standards. Two design options (themes) are selected to move forward for continued refinement.
Product Line Overview It’s critical to have a wide view of how the entire product line will roll out. To accomplish this, the preferred options selected during creative positioning are refined and presented in a more comprehensive product line overview. The direction is applied to a range of touchpoints to make certain that the design is anticipated from a holistic perspective. The presentation includes preliminary work on key items within print-based touchpoints, digital marketing, and social media channels.
Naming and Tagline Recommendations At this point, the naming process must be far along to establish how many characters (line spaces) the name will require. The tagline, however, can be finalized at a later date.
Container Prototyping and Dielines Multiple fabrication vendors should be engaged to execute container prototypes, quote manufacturing costs, and provide dielines. The final fabricator selected is viewed as a key problem-solving asset.
Messaging Strategy A messaging strategy, devised specifically for the package, translates points of difference into compelling positioning concepts.
The goal is to outline the vision, expertise, culture, market need, brand purpose, value proposition, and talking points. It serves as a check-and-balance reference tool to enable content providers to clearly articulate essential messages.
Design Presentation—Round One Proof Two design options (themes) selected during creative positioning are now refined and presented in a more comprehensive format.
The presentation includes preliminary work for product brand design, color palette, typography, tagline, and explorations for the application of photography or illustration.
Institutional Wordmark, or Product Brand Design Another good practice is to create separate presentations for the institutional wordmark, or product brand design. By developing independent presentations apart from the container design, the work expands into a more comprehensive process.
Design Presentation—Round Two Proof Now the two preferred designs selected from the Round One presentation are subjected to more focused evaluations and design nuances. At this presentation, two designs should move forward for continued scrutiny.
Design Presentation—Round Three Proof This presentation features additional refinements to the two preferred designs. If the product will be sold in retail environments, mock-ups must be created to show how the designs will appear on an in-store shelf next to competitive brands.
Knockout Legal Search By this time, the final product name has been selected and has cleared a knockout legal search.
Design Presentation—Round Four Proof Aspects of the continued design refinements include a focus on the product brand design (characters and spacing), primary visuals (photography or illustration) evaluated, and the color palette approved. All legal-compliance content must also be resolved at this point in the process.
Manufacturing, Transportation, and Storage Details regarding manufacturing, transportation, and storage processes must be fleshed out and determined if those requirements will impact the design.
Testing/Final Evaluation Surveys The two final designs are now tested using a follow-up online Likert scale survey with the same stakeholder groups that were originally queried. Or if the budget allows, formal in-person focus-group tests should be implemented with segmented audiences. After test results have been evaluated, one design is selected to complete.
Creative/Campaign Assets Fastidious management of creative assets is essential to maintaining seamless, on-brand communications throughout the product life cycle. A valuable brand management tool is a campaign asset guide—a document that empowers your marketing teams to apply messaging, design, typography, and imagery that fall outside the scope of a creative partner’s involvement.
Messaging Lexicon Assembling a list of approved words and phrases that track back to the product’s value proposition, market position, and attributes ensures that all content providers stick to the script.
Retail Merchandising Planned If the product will be sold in retail environments, the supporting tactics must be anticipated and designed.
Digital Marketing and Social Media Support Now all digital tactics that will be used to promote the brand must be close to completion.
Refinement, Production, and Development Workflow
Refinement, Production, and Development Phase
During this phase, refinements are made to one design. Plan on up to three additional rounds of design proofs and three rounds of production proofs.
Design Refinements Ongoing refinements are made until the final version is approved, production files are completed, and launch activities are finalized. An emphasis is placed on anticipating how the design will be adapted to future product introductions.
Shipping Container and Product Protection The shipping container design must be given a priority to ensure maximum protection at a minimum cost.
Photography or Illustration Completed Now all imagery requirements—photography or illustration—have been completed. It’s important to wrap up these tasks as soon as possible to avoid unnecessary stress and to ensure that there’s time for illustrations to be modified or reshoots completed.
Production Proofs Plan on up to three rounds of production proofs.Copyediting At this time in the process, final copyediting is completed for all content such as the product benefits, ingredients, and legal compliance.Institutional Wordmark, or Product Brand Design, and Tagline Applications Now the final wordmark, or product brand design, and the tagline lockup must be resolved.
Final Digital Tactic Files Development is now completed for digital tactics.
Prepress The fabricator/printer is responsible for confirming that the production proofs match the dieline. And in some cases, the fabricator also provides the barcode.
Fabrication/Printing The goal is to have enough time in the schedule to ship materials to the manufacturing, fulfillment facility, or distributor, using UPS Ground and avoid costly Federal Express fees.
Brand Architecture System To maximize overall market presence and ensure that sub-brands are closely aligned, it’s imperative to be forward-thinking and determine a brand hierarchy (relationship) between the new brand and current or potential future sub-brands.
Digital Files Popular digital files for the institutional wordmark, product brand design, tagline, and the combined lockups are completed and transferred to your team. Digital file formats include Ai, PDF, EPS, and JPG/JPEG.
Interim Brand Guidelines A simple, interim brand-guidelines document helps marketing departments become familiar with applications prior to the formal launch.
Comprehensive Brand Guidelines A comprehensive brand-guidelines document must then be completed in the near future. Sections that showcase the brand platform, messaging system, brand architecture, and writing lexicon are very helpful to steward marketing activities.
Online Brand-Guidelines Download Site To ensure that only approved files are applied, an online password-protected brand-guidelines download site should be developed.
Employee-Training and Brand-Rollout Phase Creating a new or redesigned package and brand management tools is one thing; having marketing teams eager to integrate strategies into their day-to-day routine is another. Teams must be instructed to apply the creative assets. The process also includes a rollout plan and a brand kit to explain how each employee can have a positive impact on the market presence.
Stakeholder Reveal Prior to introducing the new package to the public, you must reveal the work to key stakeholders.
Rollout Your hard work can now be rolled out to the general public. Congratulations—you’ve created a superior package design.
It’s critical to have a wide, holistic view of how the entire product line will work together to build brand value.
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