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5 Common Mistakes Made by Packaging Designers

As designers, we strive to create great artwork projects and refine the details. Packaging design elements like foil, soft touch, embossing, and UV have become a common focus in defining our art work. What we often forget about are the production elements we need to manage and consider for our customers. Elements such as prototyping timelines, drop testing and retail planogram sizing, are logistical barriers we have to be very mindful of during the design process. Here is a list of some of the most common mistakes designers often overlook with packaging design.

1. Timelines for Sampling and Production

While there some degree of flexibility in manufacturing timelines, a general rule of thumb is that production turnaround is around 30 days on a first order. Future consecutive orders can often see a timeline savings of 10 day due to templates and systems already in place. However, in the first go, you can generally expect your manufacturer to produce the full manufacturing order in 30 days.

2. Shipping Logistics

This category isn’t the most exciting for designers. However, it’s extremely important that packaging has its own packaging. When it comes to designing the shipping carton, designers generally have to be mindful of designing it to protect our packaging. Assortment volumes in each carton should be determined by the number of units per carton a client is looking for, as well as overall size of the carton. Designers often forget to design the shipping carton and arrangement of separators within the carton to protect our well though through package design. Shipping timeframes can be handled by air freight or by sea freight. Air cargo options have a range of 3 days up to 10 days based on pricing and location, while sea freight can see ranges of 25-40 days on average. Coordinating with your packaging vendor from the beginning of your project is the best way to determine and meet your timelines.

3. Prototypes and Feasibility Study

This step is commonly overlooked during design schedules. We outlined that a manufacturing timeframe is roughly 30 days for completion. Most packaging takes 1-3 rounds with the manufacture to correct details such as die-lines, folds, alignment, pentanes and such. It is important to include 1-2 weeks for prototyping and sampling and add that onto your 30 days for manufacturing. Sending a package die-line to a manufacturer is like submitting a recipe to be printed in a cookbook. Although you might have something decent on your first attempt, the most effective way to create a package that succeeds in retail is a process of sampling and refinement. The more time you spend making prototypes and exploring options, the smoother it will be to transition into the other phases of production. Producing a tech packet with your instructions and ideas along with samples of finished examples you can reference will greatly benefit your manufacturer, especially if they are overseas. A trick to help bridge the communication gap is well documented and sourced samples and or photos. Everything from packaging features, shapes, textures and printing techniques can be shot or sourced online and included in your tech packet so that you are providing clear communication with both instructions and visual explanations.

Closely related to prototyping, feasibility studies are vital to manufacturing successful packaging. Just as new vehicles are rigorously tested for quality and safety, your packaging should also be tested for structural strength and durability. Packaging should easily be able to balance the product, and structurally support its weight through a 1 year period that it needs to live on a retailers shelf. Elements like glue, paper color fading, packaging boards warping and drying out all need to be taken into consideration. Take into consideration that after your package is produced overseas, it is going to be traveling miles across the unsettled ocean on a boat shaking and rubbing for 40 days. Before your packaging is shipped, you’ll want to make sure your manufacturer partner has thoroughly conducted testing procedures such as drop tests, shake tests, rub tests, salt spray, dehumidification tests and hang tests. It is important to work with a factory that understands proper testing and shipping techniques based on the usage your end product will likely have to go through before it ends up in the customer's hands.

4. Artwork Preparation

Designers that have sent something to print knows how frustrating it is to realize they forgot important steps like embedding their images and outlining their type. This is an easy step that is overlooked far too often. If these errors are caught on time, delays in production may only be a few days. Make sure this step is added to your checklist so you don’t end up with pixelated images, misalignment issues, and replaced fonts on the packaging you worked so hard to refine.

5. Design for the End Goal

Over designing is a common practice we are all challenged with especially while managing customers that want larger logos and more and more content on their packaging. Package design is communication design. We have to manage the real-estate we are given and appropriately communicate what is necessary to the client. Commonly clients will ask for too much content to be placed onto the package. We have to keep in mind the end goal of supporting the sale, managing the messages that actually educate and support the sale while leaving off over selling and over designing. At the same notion, we also have to be mindful of clearly communicating what the product and brand are about. Empty, deserted packaging that is too minimal in design and communication will be ineffective. Well-designed packaging not only reaches out and grabs the attention of the defined target audience, but it is able to communicate clearly and effectively what the brand and or product needs to say. It is able to not only act as an educator but also as the sales person for the customer. It appropriately reveals the product, exemplifies the features, and effectively educates the consumer about how this is the product that best fits their needs. Effective packaging should match the quality, price point, and story of the product contained within.

As we approach our design projects and focus our excitement towards the design elements, new & old, we just want to find projects to incorporate them into. Let's remember to be mindful of these common overlooked mistakes. We understand that schedules, logistics, and even shipping are not the most exciting elements to put forward in our projects. However, doing so early on will greatly benefit our packaging design process. Knowing what problems to avoid and what steps to follow, ultimately leads to happy clients.


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