Section 29 Aesthetics of product and packaging

February 7th, 2013 Leave a comment Go to comments
WINNERS = Products and packages which are pleasing to look at and project attractively the nature and uses of the product to a prospective purchaser.

Aesthetics, or appearance of a product is of major importance to both consumers and to store buyers, institutional buyers, and industrial buyers.

For our purposes, aesthetics refers to the physical characteristics of a product, including its:

  • Color
  • Shape
  • Size
  • Texture

Evaluators usually rate aesthetics as being SUPERIOR, AVERAGE or INFERIOR, when compared to other similar products on the market. The trick to achieving a superior rating is to design the product to meet the physical, social and psychological needs of the target audience.

In order to best meet these needs, a product should, whenever possible, be designed to coincide with the target audience’s lifestyle, habits and values.  For example, a pair of golf shoes which are designed to look like a pair of basketball sneakers will probably not sell very well.  Neither would an all black set of tennis clothes.  In other words, the designer must consider not only the function of the product, but also the context and environment in which it will be used.

When the product will be bought “off-the-shelf” a designer must keep in mind the fact that a prospective customer will spend only seven-tenths of one second glancing at a product on the shelf before deciding to look closer or walk on by.  For this reason, many successful new products have a shape and graphics which immediately convey to passersby the use, purpose, or contents of the product.  A good example is Martinelli’s Apple Juice.  In order to make their product stand out from all of the others, Martinelli packages their juice in a spherical bottle with embossed leaves on the top, which is similar in size and shape to a real apple.  A man running for his life would be able to take a quick glance at the bottle and tell you it contained apple juice.

Another good example of using this technique was the maker of a banana oil based suntan lotion who sells his product in a plastic container shaped like a banana.

When the product is not displayed “nakedly” on a shelf for the consumer to see and touch, aesthetics of package design can be as critical as the aesthetics of the product itself, since the package will then be the first contact the prospective customer has with the product.  Again, we must keep in mind the seven-tenths of one second rule.  If the passersby can not understand the function and benefit of the product, from the package design, in seven-tenths of a second, they will pass right on by it and you will lose the sale.

There are different methods of packaging a product which vary widely in purpose, appearance, and cost.  Here are a few options:


  • (a) The product is placed in bins with a generic name tag.
  • (b) The product is shipped and displayed in the same unprinted carton, along with a corrugated “header card”, which attaches to the back of the carton, with one or two color printing describing the product.
  • (c) The product is shipped and displayed in the same carton, which has printing on the sides, and has an integral fold-up “header card”, formed by the top of the carton.   The header card has a “laminated label” on it which shows pictures of the product and has 4-color graphics.
  • (d) The product is shipped in a masterpack carton and is removed from the carton upon arrival at the point of sale and stocked directly on the shelves for sale, such as dish soap, cans of automobile oil, with the product’s actual container serving as its package.


Bag & Tag.

This is the least expensive form of packaging, and it looks like it.  However, it is totally appropriate for things like fittings, electronic components, small batteries, accessories, etc.  It is attractive to many small businesses because they are able to do it themselves, in-house, with no special equipment.  Bagging and tagging can be accomplished in several different ways:

(a)   It can be as simple as a zip-lock bag, with a printed card (or paper) slightly smaller than the bag slipped inside along with the product  The card can have a punched hole in the top of the card which allows a store to slip it onto their pegboard or revolving racks.  They can also be sold from a small countertop “point-of-purchase display” carton, which has a header card containing graphics and text which explains the product.

(b)   It can be a simple two inch to four inch long printed card, which is as wide as the bag, and which is folded in half and stapled to the top of the bag, with the bag being pinched between the front and back of the card.

(c)   Another version of the bag & tag is using a printed card which is longer than the bag, and attaching the bag to the lower part of the card so that the card forms a header above the bag for product name and info.

(d)   Yet another form is to design a header card which is longer than the plastic bag, fold the card over at the top, slide the bag up into the crease and run two staples through the front of the card, through the bag and out the back of the card, which pinches the top of the bag between the front and back of the card.  The back of the card can be used for graphics and instructions for use etc.  Sometimes it is appropriate to also leave a section of the card showing below the bag for additional graphics, which are visible from the front side, if you will not be taking up too much rack space.  This method looks the most presentable of all bag and tag packaging methods.


Clear Shrink-Wrap Packaging

This is the least expensive type of “dedicated” individual packaging, and it looks like it.  It is only slightly better than placing your product on a slab of cardboard and covering it with a piece of tightly stretched Saran Wrap.  It is suitable for inexpensive products which will be hung on pegboard or revolving racks.  It usually consists of a flat chipboard card with graphics and text on both front and back, either printed in a one or two color process, or a full four color “color separation” process.  Besides the low cost, the only other advantage is that the customer can SEE the actual product.

See-Through Blister Packs

This is the preferred method of packaging a “rack item” or product which will be displayed on a pegboard, wall rack, or revolving rack.  There are three common methods of using blister packs:

(a)    A straight blister pack.  In this design, you prepare a chipboard card which is usually printed on both sides, with the artwork on the front side and the instructions and details on the backside.  The front side of the card is then coated or laminated with Mylar to accept the blister pack.  The blister is either a commonly available standard square or round “tub”, or can be a custom shaped one, specifically molded for your product.  Either way the tubs are open on the backside, and have a lip measuring one quarter to one half inch wide which runs around the outside edge of the tub and allows it to be laminated to the card by heat.  The assembly process is simple.  The product is placed on the card, the blister is placed over the top of the product, and the blister is then “heated” and bonded onto the card.

(b)    A captive blister pack.  In this design, either a tub type blister or a “clamshell” type of blister may be used.  Again, the blister can be an “off-the-shelf” standard one, or one that you can have custom molded for your product.  The card which you will use will be one which is twice as long as the finished length, has one hole die cut for the front or one hole for the front and another hole for the back, depending on whether you will use a tub type or a clamshell type blister, and is then folded in half to form the display card.  The product is placed in the blister pack, the blister pack is placed between the front and back of the card, and sticks out of the front only, in the case of the tub type blister, or the front and the back if you are using a clamshell blister.  The card can then be glued together, stapled together or heat sealed together to hold the blister in place.  This method allows plenty of room on the card for graphics and text on both sides, while allowing the customer a clear view of one side of the product if you have chosen a tub type blister, or, of both the front and rear of the product if you have used a clamshell type blister.

(c)    A tamper-proof clamshell blister.  These are the ones which are so hard to open they make even the most religious persons contemplate swearing, which is why they are never used to package anything sent to the Vatican.  These packages consist of a two sided blister, one side of which is the “male” side and the other side of which is the “female” side.  The packs are totally clear, and if there are graphics in the package, they are usually in the form of a glossy paper or chipboard card which slips into the center of the clamshell before closing it.  The product is placed into the blister and then the blister is closed at which time the male posts fit into female receptacles on the opposite side, and they are machine pressed together to form a package which even the “Incredible Hulk” has a tough time opening.   These packages can also have the posts and the receptacles heat bonded together, after closing, which makes them even more difficult to open.  Another clever twist used by some manufacturers is to design the clamshell to be a reusable carrying case for the product, by providing additional tabs at each end of the blister that are heat sealed together when the blister is closed, to prevent tampering.  When the customer gets home, they cut the excess heat-sealed tabs off with a pair of scissors and the package is transformed into a handy, reusable case which can now be easily opened and closed.

You can see all of these types of blister packs in automotive stores, where they are especially good for preventing “currency-free” shoppers from removing the contents, while allowing “looky-lous” to see the product without destroying the packaging.


Chipboard Box…This type of box is good for small and lightweight products which will always be shipped in secondary packaging or “masterpacks”, and which are not likely to be abused by looky-lous.  They are not very durable.  They can be made in dull finish or gloss finish.  They can be plain, printed or come with a “laminated label which is put on before die cutting the box, and allows the use of handsome 4-color graphics.  Laminated labels are the most expensive process but they look the best.  Another option is to leave the box plain and make a slip-over mylar wrapper which contains the graphics.  This way you have the option of shipping the product to some customers in a plain box and to others in a display box.


Corrugated Box

This type of box is good for heavier products and products which may be occasionally shipped by mail order in the same carton.  You will usually want to use “200 pound test” corrugated cardboard for this type of box.  This cardboard is available in “natural” (brown) or white, and It can be printed on, but the corrugation lines are usually visible.  Using a nice 4-color laminated label with this cardboard provides an elegant yet strong package.  A good box designer can usually come up with a design which has folding inserts to center your product in the package, and locking tabs for the top of the box, which allows you to ship fragile products with no worry of breakage.  I like to design mine so that the inserts are part of the original die cutting.  This way the box is all one piece and when it is folded it is ready to have the product dropped in and shipped.  The corrugated box can also be left plain and use a slip-over mylar label as I mentioned above.


Window Box…This can be either a chipboard or corrugated box with a cellophane or mylar window opening on one or more sides of the box to provide a protective yet elegant display box.  Remember, the more the customer can see the product the less likely they will be to destroy packaging just to get a look at the product.


Many chipboard, corrugated, and window boxes are available in standard sizes that are available “off-the-shelf” at packaging companies.  Unfortunately, my products are always an inch too wide or an inch too tall and I always get stuck making custom boxes.  You should never try to save money by using a standard box which is oversize.  Trust me, you will lose any savings back in product which will beat itself to death in shipping.  I have shipped a lot of product coast-to-coast, and I have seen many shipping boxes arrive, at my customers’ locations, in a condition that was so terrible that it raised serious questions about the condition of the driver who rode in the same truck with them.  You wonder if they lived through it.  As a general rule, the looser the goods ride in the boxes, the worse they will look upon arrival at their destination.


An additional word of caution is necessary for food product packaging.  Even if the product tastes great, if the picture on the package looks funny, or the coloring is not traditional, or the packaging does not have tantalizing, crystal clear pictures of the product in an ideal setting, look out!  It may languish on the shelves and quickly be perceived as a non-winner by store buyers.


Many new product developers have a much easier time designing their product than they do designing their packaging.  Sometimes it seems as though the product design comes naturally but the package design leaves a big question mark.  What type of package will be best for my product?  What type of graphics should I use?  What colors should I use?  To answer these questions, I use my good old vendor education program and add a new twist.  I add a competitor education program.  First I go to the stores and I ask the store owners or section managers to point out the fastest moving similar products.  Sometimes I just write down the information about them, sometimes I actually take pictures of them with a Polaroid camera or shoot video film with an 8MM video camera.  I like a Polaroid because I can develop the pictures on the spot to be sure I got a good clear picture which accurately portrays the colors.  I ask the store owners or section managers which packaging appeals the most to them and why.  I ask them what their ideal packaging would be for this type of product if they were going to design it themselves.  I ask them what questions shoppers ask the most about these types of products, so I can be sure to answer them in the “copy” I use on my package.  I observe how much space the store has allotted to this type of product.  If the products are displayed in or on a rack, I ask the store personnel if the manufacturer is required to supply the rack or specialty display.  If the answer is yes, this will impact the cost-of-goods-sold, especially if I will need custom displays, and I need to know this up-front.


Next, I do my competitor education program.  I open the competitor’s box and see how strong it is.  I look at the materials, laminated labels, enclosures and instruction sheets.  Sometimes I am lucky enough to find the box maker’s stamp on the package, which enables me to contact them and see if they will add a similar box to their next production run, for me, and give me the same quantity discount which my competitor receives.  I read the text and copy on all of the fastest moving merchandise to be sure to mimic it, and I read the copy of the slow moving merchandise to be sure I avoid using it.  If one product outsells the rest by a significant margin, I buy one so I can take it back to my office and examine it at my leisure.  Many times, if a competitor is doing an advertising campaign which is generating lots of sales you can design your package to be close enough to theirs that you can benefit from the sales campaign without paying for it.  This is called “ATTACK MARKETING”, “SHADOW MARKETING”, or “AMBUSH MARKETING”.  Of course you must be careful not to copy anything to such an extent that you will be liable for an infringement or unfair competition lawsuit.


Remember the cardinal rules for package design in today’s market are:

1)     Keep packaging materials to a minimum for environmental and waste management purposes.

2)     Use recycled and recyclable materials wherever possible.

3)     Never design a large shelf-space-eating package for an inexpensive product.


In summary, the social or psychological context of use must be researched as carefully as the actual functional aspects of a product before deciding on the final color, shape size and texture of your product and its packaging.  Extensive reviews of existing similar products which are “top sellers” and those which are “slow movers” should be done to determine the criteria for your new product.



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