Christian Dior paper Shopping bag design

How to Design Packaging, A Packaging Series

Shopping bags or retail bags, rigid boxes or gift boxes, e-commerce packaging or cardboard mailers, whatever you call them, they’re the workhorses building retail brands with over 30 years of packaging design and manufacturing. Intl. Direct Packaging has partnered with many of the world’s most respected and trusted brands to deliver retail & product packaging around the globe. Our “How to Design Packaging” series will reveal the benchmarks required to design high-performance packaging.  

Every design solution requires a strategic roadmap beginning and ending with setting expectations. The questions you ask are only as good as the honesty with which you can answer them. Asking why is essential in understanding the intent behind each stakeholder within a company. Is there an excess of marketing dollars that need to be burned, so is that why you're considering redesigning your packaging? Probably not.

Why Design Packaging?

So why are you embarking on this journey in the first place? Who are you ultimately connecting with, who is this person?

By understanding the “Why” you can reach the “What”. What are your expectations if this packaging is successful? An answer to this question may look like: If we are successful in implementing our packaging system Sharon (persona) will display her packaging as a badge of the sustainability-focused decisions in her life. Sharon will feel she has identified her tribe and will continue to develop a feeling of belonging. The company’s ROI comes in the form of a connection to the consumer, Sharon and many others willing to share their story in person and on social media validate the company’s position and play a role in developing the company - into a brand. 

Packaging plays a significant role in a company’s brand transition. Consumers interact with a company’s packaging when they receive a gift, order online, unbox at home, or even as they shop in-store. Consumers interact with the packaging; they almost always walk out with a retail bag, a gift box, a product with hang tags, a garment bag, or some form of a bag, box, or bottle. 

Who will you design packaging for?

Your company should know their audience, demographic, and a general understanding of the section of the population that your company addresses. Before we begin to design packaging, we need to know whom we’re designing packaging for. Demographics are excellent, but they’re not focused enough. You can’t envision an entire demographic interacting with your packaging, but you can picture Sharon gleaming with tears of joy and anticipation at the small box in the hands of her fiancé as he takes a knee.

Before we design packaging, we need to picture this moment with our packaging and our user persona. Personas are an amalgamation of your current customer’s personality traits, wants, needs, challenges, and objections divided into specific characters. 

If you don’t know whom you are talking to, how will your packaging design connect with them? 

It won’t.

Packaging interactions should feel as if it was designed for your persona as if you were reading their mind and answering each objection along the way. The most effective packaging connects with their consumer, elevates an otherwise mundane experience, opening a box to new heights. The difference between packaging that soars and packaging design that flails is whether you know your audience. 

Stay tuned as our follow up article is the first step in connecting with your audience, How To Create a Persona for Packaging Design.

How to create a persona for packaging design (sneak peek of our next article in this series)

Research. Research. Research.

Speak to your existing audience, find out how they feel about your company or product. Learn from them how your product makes them feel, why they connect with it, and how they talk about it. The research is less about the packaging and more about them and how they think your company fits into their lives. As a company, it’s critical to take an extensive sampling of your current audience to gather information to identify overarching themes from which to build your first persona. Yes, “first” because you will be creating multiple.

We hope you enjoy our "How to Design Packaging" series and follow along as we dissect the design process and walk you through the concept, design, and manufacturing of bags, boxes, and packaging accessories. We look forward to sharing this weekly educational series with you; subscribe to our newsletter to receive updates and new posts.

Tata Harper Packaging

How to Package Sustainability Like Tata Harper

You’ve seen beautiful green glass Tata Harper packaging with contrast yellow print on branding mood boards, packaging Pinterest boards, and if you’re like us it’s in your vanity.

The brand's website explains the materials used in Tata Harper’s packaging and provides the reader with the reasoning behind those material selections. Tata and her husband both Baranquilleros (Viva Colombia!) have been able to craft a brand story that informs consumers on the power of natural and non-toxic beauty. Because as they ask “isn’t health the ultimate luxury?”

Here’s what you can learn from the beautiful Tata Harper packaging.

1. Branding is more than a logo

Tata Harper puts her money where her mouth is by living and breathing her brand promise. Sustainability is more than just words for the brand. It’s easy to tell because choosing FSC papers for packaging isn’t ever the cheapest option. They don’t believe in short cuts or more importantly, they don’t believe in outsourcing. So Tata Harper has built their labs and farms to oversee everything that goes into their bottles.

If you’re building a brand that believes in sustainability and putting people over profits, it needs to show in everything you do. 

2. Cellophane level transparency

Each Tata Harper bottle has the batch number etched into the bottom of the bottle that allows you to enter it on the website to see when it was made and who made it. Complete with photos of the team that made your product providing transparency from Farm to Face.

Their paper cartons use FSC materials which the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certifies the paper has been harvested responsibly. FSC paper certification also comes with an FSC number that allows you to enter it into the FSC site to know where the material came from and where it was produced. Part of FSC certification is its chain of custody process which keeps certified and non-certified materials separated throughout the supply chain. Tata Harper’s packaging also uses 100% PCW (Post Consumer Waste) in its recycled paper boards.

3. Become the expert

You may not be an industrial engineer like Tata Harper, but you can still learn how things are made to make the right decisions for your consumer. By picking the right partners and hiring the right employees you can learn enough to fill in your knowledge gaps. You don’t have to know everything, but you need to know you’re asking the right questions. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

When it comes to packaging there are many materials out there that claim to be sustainable, do your research. For instance, Tata Harper’s glass bottles are surely more costly than acrylic bottles but because glass is highly recyclable that material aligns with the brand they’ve built. The materials you choose say a lot about your brand.

Like Tata Harper, Intl. Direct Packaging has built our factories to produce everything we sell from making our corrugate board to rigid gift boxes and bags. Our teams of industrial engineers have patented many box constructions that are widely used in the market today because we believe in innovation over the status quo.

Each one of our master cartons shipped to clients include a hand-signed label by the person responsible for quality assurance of the product in that box. Our 100% quality control means we inspect every item we produce and can manage a transparent supply chain from start to finish. 

No shortcuts.

No middlemen.

We are the factory.

Retail Luxury Packaging Design Shopping Bag

Packaging Design / Five Reasons You Need It in 2020

Brands today are experiencing major growth in their online business as more and more people get comfortable with eCommerce. Aside from making an online purchase via your website, the only real physical engagement consumers will have with your brand is packaging design. The need for packaging design that tells your story, sets the stage, and delivers what digital interactions are incapable of, isn't decreasing. Innovative packaging design is in high demand and it's expected to continue to grow through the rest of the 2020s.

This article outlines five reasons why you need packaging design now that can evolve to carry your brand over the next decade.

1. There's a bee-line for online

Consumers zooming for an online school, working from home, and digital happy hours are in search of a physical connection. We all are. Packaging design delivers that and more.

Ecommerce packaging design not only protects the product but when used appropriately can elicit emotion.

2. Location. Location. Location.

With fewer mall visits consumers have fewer physical interactions with brands they love. We see our favorite brands as retargeted ads on Facebook, Youtube, or in our personal Google search results, but it's not the same as walking past your favorite store and talking to the staff to see what's new in your size.

Packaging design delivers an experience in the consumer's home. Packaging may be the one opportunity a consumer has to connect and share something special that day or that week. With packaging design done right, your brand may be responsible for delivering a memorable moment at the right time, in the right location. In the hands of your consumer.

3. Make an Introduction

Understanding the timing of packaging design cues also allows the brand to control the pace of the unboxing.

Packaging design is like an introduction, with 3 to 4 parts depending on the complexity of the consumer's journey.

The Opening (not the literal opening of your box): This is where the consumer receives your packaging. You've captured their attention.

Self-presentation: How you look is as important as what you say. If the outer box arrives damaged that becomes a component of the memory your brand is imprinting on that consumer.

Statement: Now that you've gotten their attention and your appearance is up to snuff, you can say something. This can be welcoming messaging printed on the tape, under the flap of an envelope, or on the interior of your shipping box. Take the time to engage with the consumer before they have removed your product.

It can even be educational, teach them how to dispose of your packaging once they've enjoyed your sustainable packaging.

The Pay-off: Designing a frictionless product removal is critical to packaging design and engineering. Making sure that your distribution center understands how important the job they do in the warehouse to the bigger picture, is how you manage every step of your brand.

The Send-off: Once the contents have been removed and the consumer is ready to enjoy their purchase you can elevate the experience by saying "thank you" and "good-bye".

Every introduction ends with a good-bye, packaging design is no different. In polite society, we never leave without saying good-bye. Packaging design is no different.

4. Efficient Packaging Design

A well-designed suite of packaging works together to systematically reduce redundancies, and at the same time reduce costs. Packaging designers aren't only concerned with how your packaging looks or what materials it's made out of. Packaging design begins with the product, inventory, and the logistics of your business.

Yes, packaging can be pretty. But if it doesn't work for your business, expenses get real ugly.

5. Flexibility

Our factories manufacture millions of bags and boxes annually for luxury brands all over the world, and one thing we've learned is they all demand flexibility. Packaging designed to deliver flexibility means that with just a few modifications packaging can be converted to seasonal or limited edition packaging without impacting timelines. In some cases, this flexibility in packaging is designed so that it doesn't impact COGs as well.

As more brands move more products online, packaging will continue to be critical to your brand. Having a partner that understands design as well as how to manufacture complex packaging will be the growth opportunity you didn't know you needed.

Thank you for reading this article. If you have any questions about elevating your eCommerce packaging, please contact us.

We'll talk soon.

(that's our way of saying good-bye and we look forward to seeing you again)


How to design luxury packaging header image shows notes on packaging render.

How To Design Packaging for Luxury

Why is it so essential to understand how to design packaging for luxury in 2020? With so many brands filing Chapter 11 every month, we can safely say it isn’t due to any of their packaging. Yet knowing how to design luxury packaging may be the lifeline you need to keep your brand top of mind.

First. Let’s understand what packaging is and does. We know when we design packaging, it's to protect the product during transport from manufacturers to warehouses to distribution centers, it also protects e-commerce and DTC products. Knowing how to design packaging to safely move goods from point A to point B is usually handled by packaging engineers that can determine impact zones, air cushions, and material stacking strength. 

Properly engineered transit packaging can also deliver cost savings to the bottom line by reducing material, storage space, and damage rates. Designing packaging for palletization and maximizing container loads can also reduce costs in transit, which directly impacts your COGs.

Then there is the type of packaging that creates an emotional connection through sensory cues, bespoke materials, and strategic designs. This is the packaging design that wins the glamorous awards like Pentawards, The Dieline, or The One Show. Because even though there are awards for packaging that can survive massive impacts, nobody is showing up to receive those in a tuxedo anytime soon.

This awe-inspiring packaging is what we’re talking about, the type of packaging that becomes a physical representation of the brand in the hands of the consumer. On the flip side, bad packaging is sometimes even more memorable than creative packaging because humans tend to notice the negative more than the positive. Even more to consider is that the older we get, the more we notice the positive as we live in the present, yet those consumers in the 20-30 age range take notice of the negative faster and are the same demographic using social media more frequently, and making eCommerce purchases. To be clear, eCommerce packaging matters. A lot.

Understanding these key concepts are a frame of reference for the decisions you’ll make when designing luxury packaging.

Step 1
Design Packaging Strategically

Most established brands have a brand strategy in place that outlines the brand’s pillars, what it stands for, who it serves, and so much more. If you’re just starting and don’t have this laid out, I suggest you watch the team @ TheFutur share what a strategy building session may look like. Every strategy is different, but this is a good starting point. 

Once you know what your packaging is saying (who you are), who you’re saying it to (who they are), and what resonates with that audience (what they want), you’re able to begin crafting your packaging. A well planned out strategy will make edits and decision-making easier, it also allows internal brand conversations to be objective instead of subjective. 

How to design luxury packaging begins by understanding that luxury in and of itself can also be subjective. What is a luxury to you may not be luxury to someone else, design accordingly.

Step 2
Design Packaging for the Product

Packaging is an extension of product design, therefore it only makes sense that to design packaging for a product or service you must understand the product or service related to your strategy.

In this article, we will focus on luxury retail packaging for a fashion brand to make the process clear. 

Retail packaging consists of retail paper bags, rigid boxes, tissues, ribbons, hang tags, receipt holders, and a complete eCommerce packaging program. Knowing the products in luxury fashion, you can use this list of packaging as a starting point for design. Since we are designing packaging for fashion we need to understand the size variations across all SKUs to determine the appropriate sizes of bags and boxes. The goal of step 2 is to understand the capacity requirements of the product to determine the appropriate bag and box sizes.

Armed with dimensions for bags and boxes, you are ready to determine lengths and sizes of tissues and ribbons, garment bags, and dust bags. Everything ladders up to a well thought out packaging system that is efficient for the brand and memorable for the consumer.

Step 3
Design Packaging with Materials in Mind

Luxury packaging has a sensual quality to it, you want to touch and feel it.

Selecting materials for luxury retail packaging begins with hand-feel and how light reflects off of the material. Uncoated papers absorb light which, gives you a natural feel and an even color. Coated paper reflects the light creating hotspots of light and reflecting colors in its environment. Either can be found in luxury packaging make the choice based on your strategic goals. 

Sustainability is a major-major topic for brands of all sizes. When you’re deciding on papers and materials, this is the time to begin looking at PCW content, recycled content, and/or FSC papers. Many paper mills are beginning to find unique sources for their raw materials giving you an added level of telling your sustainability story. James Cropper, for instance, has found a way to recycle coffee cups to create their line of luxury packaging papers Rydal using Cupcycling. 

Handles or ribbons come in many different stock weights, weaves, and finishes. Select the appropriate ribbon or handle finish to contrast the papers by sight and feel. A heavier weave where you can see the threads may reflect a more masculine brand, refined linens or heavy gauge satins can communicate a feminine touch. 

Luxury paper bags require a stock of paper with deeper audible tones that come from heavier stock. The lighter the paper stock, the higher the pitch delivered, which can feel cheap and inexpensive, not what you want for luxury. Make sure you listen to your paper and hear what it tells you about the brand, as with every step in this article, confirm that it aligns with your strategy.

Boxes are made of board wrapped in paper, when you design packaging for luxury, it is your responsibility to select the board as well as the paper wrap to control the complete consumer experience. Design based on the strategy, your packaging manufacturer’s job is to help you find the balance between finance and creative. 

Share your strategy and contact your local paper rep or packaging showroom to request samples of materials that they feel can help you achieve your desired experience.

Step 4
Visual Design

Yes, once you’ve considered everything about your packaging, it’s time to consider visual design application. For retail packaging, there are many types of box constructions, but they all revolve around three main ideas. 

- A two-piece box is a base and a lid that separates when you lift the lid to reveal a product inside.

- A hinged lid box is a tray with a lid that folds back and away from the consumer to reveal the product inside.

- Drawer box, this style of box is exactly as it sounds. A tray that is pulled out of a sleeve-like a drawer to reveal the product inside.

These three concepts can be adjusted to create many more unboxing experiences, but they all revolve around the same concepts. Having the appropriate sizes, you need you can decide which box interaction will resonate with your consumer-based as outlined in your strategy. Based on the box sizes and construction, you can layout the main face of your box and bag program in many ways. 

You can sketch the length and width dimensions on paper, use software like Adobe illustrator, Esko, or SolidWorks it’s up to you and what you have available. You may even be able to lay it out in PowerPoint, it’s not recommend as the files won’t translate to production, but in a pinch, it may get you what you need for a quick proof of concept. Don’t get hung up on not having the latest and greatest software, computers are just a tool to communicate what’s in your mind.

Every brand has a different logo, tagline, and marketing message, so based on your brand’s assets, you will need to determine the size and position of the logo on retail bags and gift boxes. If you’ve never designed packaging, it’s always useful to look at what other people are doing. Identify what is working for them and what may or may not work for you. Test your ideas. 

A great starting point is to look at what the big three are doing.

Chanel Packaging:
White matte retail bags and boxes with black logos centered vertically and horizontally. Chanel also offers a black program with white logos in essentially the same design.

Louis Vuitton Packaging:
Mustard paper with a vibrant blue contrast colored handle and the black logo centered vertically and horizontally.

Burberry Packaging:
Textured uncoated brown paper with an exact match brown angle cut ribbon and black foil logo centered horizontally and raised 1/3 the height of the packaging vertically.

Many luxury brands allow their logos to be the focal point by contrasting it against large fields of matte-finished papers. They also create a tactile interaction between handles, paper stocks, and how the logo is applied to their packaging by either embossing, foil stamping, or silk screening. 

It’s just as important to recognize what you are seeing and what you are not seeing. You are not seeing wild combinations of colors and eccentric sizes and structural packaging. Luxury is reserved and concise. What you don’t say with the latest packaging structures and print processes you say with quality materials and detailed manufacturing.

Step 5
Design Packaging for Luxury Production

Once you design packaging and it's approved, make it real. Choosing your packaging partner is just as critical as choosing the size of your logo. Transparency in the manufacturing process is necessary to make sure every detail of the packaging is being combed over, reviewed, and approved throughout the mass production process. 

Pre-production samples are provided early in the production process to confirm all details like fit, function, material, and production quality. It’s also important at this stage to test your packaging samples with the product, test it at the cash wrap counter to make sure it works with your staff, your behind the counter storage, and even test it with consumers. 

Design aspects you want to be critical of include depth of embossing or deboss, cracking of paper around scores or folds, rubbing of color, and art alignment. Having a guaranteed quality control and quality assurance program in place with your manufacturer will save you time and money.

Choosing a factory-direct packaging partner allows you on-the-floor factory access to your production. Working with International Direct Packaging guarantees a 100% QC/QA process, which means that every item is reviewed and approved before being packed in master cartons with team leader documentation for every order. 

Packaging design and engineering if a huge undertaking, more than we can cover in 5 steps. But these 5 steps are a great starting point for anyone wanting to begin to understand what it takes to design luxury retail packaging.

As a buyer of packaging, you know it’s not always about the lowest cost, but about the right partner. Understanding how to design luxury packaging can prepare you to ask the right questions and create packaging that means business.

At IDP, we know it takes a lot to design packaging and manufacture packaging so, schedule a consultation to learn more about our complete design and manufacturing process.