Design Education

5 Common Mistakes Package Designers Make

Editor’s note: Packaging design presents its own unique set of challenges to graphic designers that differ from other kinds of print design. Here, we asked Brad Murdoch from Process, a premium packaging manufacturer based in Salt Lake City, to help us identify some common mistakes. Process handles custom packaging and fabrication through its network of overseas manufacturing facilities.

Failure to create prototypes
and conduct feasibility studies
before finalizing the dieline.

The designer’s dieline — a flattened outline of the cuts and fold lines of a package — is like an architect’s blueprint for the manufacturer to follow. It has to be exact and comprehensive. The basic dieline should be tested before submitting to the manufacturer by creating a hardcopy prototype of the package and assembling it to check measurements, fold and cut lines, label and artwork positioning, margins, etc. The prototype can expose miscalculations and flaws, allowing time to pursue other options and make for a smoother transition into subsequent phases of production. Prototypes should also be put through feasibility studies. Test your prototype for structural strength and durability. The package should be able to easily balance the product, and structurally support its weight. Consider shipping and handling methods. Put the package through drop, shake, rub and hang tests to see how it survives. Assess whether the packaging will effectively protect the product inside. Also, determine whether your design and choice of materials will add unnecessary weight or bulkiness, causing handling and warehousing costs to go up. Be sure to consult with your packaging manufacturers during the conceptual phase of design. Their timely advice can save headaches later on.

Not designing packaging for its true purpose.
Of course, designers hope to create a package that will garner lots of design awards, but that is not the true measure of successful packaging. Well-designed packaging reaches out and grabs the attention of target shoppers. It appropriately reveals the product, exemplifies its features, and convinces consumers that this product best fits their needs. And/or it triggers new desires. Effective packaging should also magnify the quality, price point, and mood of the product contained within. It organizes the required text on the box in an accessible manner. It also considers the environmental impact of the packaging materials and aims to optimize recyclability.
     In addition, if your client wants to place the product in a particular store, check out the retail setting in which the item will be sold, note the store’s merchandising strategy, and find out if the retailer has specific packaging requirements. A package that is rejected by the retailer because it doesn’t fit on their shelf or suit their own brand profile is a flop – no matter how beautiful it looks.

Incomplete files.

Some of the most common errors that designers make are the most easily avoidable. Forgetting to embed the images or outline type are some of the most frequent causes of production delays. Be sure to add this step to your checklist so you don’t end up with pixelated images or find that a font on the packaging had to be replaced with something less refined to meet tight product launch deadlines.

Not including a comprehensive tech pack.
Every job should include a tech pack, which is the instruction manual for your package manufacturer to follow. The pack should have a reference list of all included artwork files, material specifications, printing specifications, dielines, fold lines, glue lines, special instructions, pack out instructions, and any testing specifications that you require. Especially when manufacturing overseas, a comprehensive tech pack can minimize communication misunderstandings and provide accurate, carefully considered project guidance. An effective tech pack will enable you to get better results, save time and money, and give you peace of mind.

Not allowing enough time.
Frequently packaging is manufactured overseas to reduce production costs and, as is the case for many consumer electronics products, to be close to the source where the product itself is manufactured. While there is a degree of flexibility in overseas manufacturing timelines, a general rule of thumb is that production turnaround is around 45 days. This includes set up, sampling, press checks, quality checks, and final approvals. Shipping takes another 30-40 days on average by boat. Ideally, you should give yourself 9–10 weeks from the time you send your final art files to the launch date of your product. Coordinating with your packaging vendor from the beginning of your project is the best way to set and meet your fulfillment deadlines.