Get Real! We DO Judge Books (and Products) by their Covers!*

(*This article was written by Jeff Zampino and originally ran on, where I work with Jeff — an awesome graphic designer — to create websites and other marketing materials.)

Whoever said “don’t judge a book by its cover” had someone design him or her a really ugly book.

Good packaging design *is* important. Not only does good design catch someone’s eye, it reinforces a product’s brand, holds up under handling and use, and establishes product value.

Whether it’s a book, bottle, bag or box, what you wrap it in matters. Here are a few things you should talk with your graphic designer about to make sure you get the right packaging for your product:

1. Who’s your intended audience? For example, if you’re packaging all-natural body lotion, don’t alienate environmentalists by adding an additional layer of plastic wrap or using non-recyclable material.

Similarly, a jumbo-display alarm clock shouldn’t have instructions so small that the audience can’t read them without a magnifying glass.

2. How’s it going to be used? I recently saw jars of skin cream with labels that clearly didn’t hold up to moisture. Where is most skin cream used? In the bathroom. What’s in the bathroom? Moisture. Unless you want your product to sit unbranded on the shelf when the label peels off, make sure you account for where and how it will be used.

3. Are your product’s benefits clear? Once you win coveted shelf space at a grocery store or other retailer, what will you do to make sure busy customers quickly understand what you’re offering? How will you make your benefits stand out from the maze of stuff they face during each trip to the store?

4. How does your packaging design look and feel? If it’s a luxury item, the packaging should look and feel like what’s inside is oh-so-special. A pair of $10 headphones might arrive in cheap clamshell packaging, but $300 noise-cancelling headphones should arrive in a full-color, specially printed, foil-stamped custom box with a form-fitting tray that looks and feels awesome.

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5. What will your packaging cost to produce? Is there a way to create a luxury experience for a low price? This is where a good designer will help you accomplish your packaging design goals and stay within a reasonable budget.

For some products (soft drinks are a great example), the packaging can cost more than the product. The packaging adds perceived value to the product.

6. What are your competitors doing? We are not condoning design plagiarism, but you can ‘admire and acquire’ the benefits of their packaging while avoiding the pitfalls. Even better, you can create something entirely different that distinguishes you from your competitors. Heinz ketchup not only invented the first plastic squeezable bottle, but also the first INVERTED squeezable ketchup bottle (no more wasted ketchup!). Be an innovator, not a duplicator!

7. Where is your product going to be displayed? Shelf appeal is extremely important in packaging. Packaging comes in many shapes and sizes. Consequently, you must analyze how your competitors and what they “own.” Do they own a shape? Or a color? Or another unique element? Tide detergent has orange packaging, and you’ll never see another detergent with orange packaging (Unless it is a Chinese knockoff called Tyde). They OWN that color.

8. Are you delivering what your customers expect? As much as you don’t want to hide a really good product behind really bad packaging, you also don’t want to mislead customers into thinking they’re getting something they aren’t. Some products (cereal boxes are a great example) use immoral tactics to add shelf appeal. Their sizes make it appear that the box contains a large amount of product, while their bright colors and cartoon characters entice children. (Did you know that all characters on cereal boxes have their eyes looking down so they seem to be making eye contact with children? Check it out the next time you’re at the grocery store.)

We’ve all been misled by deceptive packaging, and we all hate it. Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ provide powerful weapons for consumers to fight back. Don’t get flamed by promising what you know you aren’t delivering.

9. Is your brand consistent? This is perhaps the most important element of design, especially if your products are sharing shelf space in close proximity. If every product is in a different shape bottle, or they are different sizes, it will confuse the consumer. Salad dressings are the perfect example. Look at Newman’s own. All of the bottles are the same size, and the labels are only slightly different. Since the bottle is clear, the actual dressing differentiates each product. Raspberry is red, bleu cheese is white, etc.

Check out these examples of clever packaging:

And here’s how not to do it:

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