Even though the old saying reminds us not to judge a book by its cover, the fact is that we do, which is why publishing companies (physical and digital) put a lot of effort into designing book covers and why manufacturing companies should give equal thought to their packaging.
These days environmental care should be front and centre
Packaging has become something of a controversial topic these days. Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of and concerned with the concept of reduce, reuse and recycle and consequently placing more demands on manufacturers to produce packing to high environmental standards, for which read reducing the quantity of it and making it suitable for reuse and/or recycling (preferably and). At this point in time, the issue of sustainability has become so important that it should be incorporated into all aspects of the design process, right from the very beginning.
Function should lead form
Those of a certain age will be able to think of many examples of packaging changing its shape over the years to improve its functionality. For example, up until relatively recently, a can opener was a requirement to open all canned goods, now many cans of food come with ring-pull-style lids, similar to the ones used for canned drinks.
This reflects the fact that ultimately packaging has to serve a practical purpose, even if it is also decorative and desirable. At a basic level, the packaging has to ensure that the actual product arrives at its end destination in one piece and that it can be easily accessed by the customer. If it is likely that the product will be used in stages, then the packaging may have to continue to offer protection to its contents until such time as the consumer has finished it completely.
In short, it has to be up to the practicalities of the job, otherwise consumers may opt for a competitor next time around (or recommend a competitor to their friends), regardless of how good the actual product was, purely because they became frustrated with the packaging.
Build your brand through your packaging
This is possibly the most visible aspect of packaging and when brands get it right, it can work spectacularly well, in fact the packaging itself can become so desirable that it assumes collectable/resale value.
Creating effective packaging starts with knowing your target market, since your packaging is going to have to catch their attention even though it is fighting with countless other visual stimuli, including your competitors’ packaging. In a sense, packaging is an advert for both your brand and your specific product and as such it has to be able to engage a potential customer quickly by providing a clear answer to the age-old question “what’s in it for me?”.
Clarity is paramount; effective paramount tends to be designed in a way where areas which are visible on shelves use pictures and a limited amount of text to convey the necessary information. Having said that, there is certainly a place for information-rich content on packaging, but it will usually be on the back or base sides, which a customer will only see after they have picked up the item.