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Designing for Retail: Packaging that Sells on Shelves

Product packaging isn’t just a protective shell for products; it's a storyteller and silent persuader. Packaging design might not be a top priority for brands in the production of a product but your product is always going to be fighting for a spot on the shelves.Explore the art and science behind packaging design, that not only catches the eye, but guides consumer decisions. From visual hierarchy, to shelf impact and understanding retailer requirements, we’ll show you the journey, where every design choice is a strategic move. We’re here to show you how your packaging can become a visual ambassador for your brand.
28 min read
06 December 2023
Blog 03

Visual Hierarchy on Retail Shelves

Catching the Eye

In the blink-and-you-miss-it environment of retail, catching the consumer's eye is the first battle. Shoppers make split-second decisions and are quick to scan the shelves. So what does that mean for your brand? Your product best be worth looking at. Visual hierarchy guides the viewer's attention, so you need to think about innovative packaging solutions to stand out. It might be the need to choose colours wisely, or it might be making sure that your product name and logo stands out. Whatever it is, make sure that they are strategically placed to grab that attention within seconds. Here’s a few tips:

Bold and vibrant colours not only make your products visually striking but also evoke emotions and create a memorable impression. Select a colour palette that not only aligns with your brand identity, but also stands out in the context of your product and industry.

Unique shapes and structures can help break away from the ordinary in your packaging. Break the mold using unique packaging shapes. Unconventional designs capture attention and differentiate your product from competitors. Be sure to strike a balance between uniqueness and practicality, ensuring that the design enhances rather than compromises the functionality. You want to engage your customers beyond the product with interactive packaging.

Contrasting designs and colour blocking. Leverage the power of contrast in your packaging designs. By using colour blocking techniques you can create visual interest and make key elements, such as text and visuals, more clear and readable.

Thematic and seasonal packaging. Make the most of the seasons and special occasions by incorporating seasonal packaging. Limited edition designs create a sense of exclusivity and urgency, encouraging impulse buys. Work on attracting those consumers who are drawn to unique or timely products. Festive and thematic designs resonate emotionally with consumers during specific times of the year.

Eye-catching graphics and imagery. Does your packaging design tell a compelling brand story about your product? High-quality visuals not only enhance the overall design but communicate the features and benefits of your product. A well-crafted visual narrative can leave a lasting impression.

Minimalistic design. Sometimes simplicity speaks volumes. Embracing minimalism in packaging design might be a step forward in the right direction. A clean and minimalistic design can be eye-catching, especially when it's coupled with a well-defined focal point. Take the opportunity to highlight your brand design by name, logo, or a key visual element that will compel consumer attention.

Innovative materials and finishes. Experiment with innovative materials and finishes to add a tactile element to your packaging. How to choose the right packaging materials is something you need to think about. Think about adding a tactile dimension to your product design like unique textures, embossing, or special finishes like metallic magic or holographic effects that create a visually stimulating experience for the consumer. Also think about your audience, designing packaging for children’s products will differ to what you might design for a more mature audience, in the same way packaging would be different for food and beverage products. It’s all about crafting a memorable packing experience. It might seem like little changes, but it could be the key to pushing your consumer towards purchase.

Catching the eye in retail packaging is an art that blends creativity with strategy. By implementing these techniques, brands can enhance their shelf presence, captivate consumer attention, and ultimately increase the likelihood of their products being chosen in the competitive retail landscape.

Beauty shelf display

Clear Communication

Clear communication is key to capturing consumer attention and influencing purchasing decisions. Accessibility matters when it comes to the packaging design, you need to make sure that you ae creating an inclusive packaging design. Make sure to employ effective communication into your brand strategy.

Concise typography. Use fonts and typography that are easily readable from a distance. Packaging design mistakes to avoid might be hard-to-read fonts that hinder quick comprehension. You want to have typography that makes your product pop. The goal is to convey essential information without causing visual strain. Ensure that important information, such as product benefits or promotions, is prominently displayed. A clutter-free design enhances the overall visual appeal and makes it easier for customers to absorb relevant details.

Display essential information. Identify key information that consumers need to know about your product. It might be product name, unique selling points, or essential safety details – prioritise this in your packaging design. Play around with font size, colour, or placement to help consumer’s focus. A minimalistic design can help you in communicating a clear message.

Iconography and imagery. Integrate icons and images that complement and reinforce the communicated message. We live in a visual world –and icons can serve as visual cues, conveying information quickly. Make sure your imagery aligns with your brand identity and the product’s essence. Here this will contribute to a cohesive and memorable communication strategy.

Consistent branding elements. The key to clear communication is to maintain consistency with your brand’s visual elements, such as logos and colour schemes. What do you gain? Brand recognition! Your consumers associate the communicated information with your brand identity. A unified visual language contributes to a sense of trust and familiarity.

Establish a clear hierarchy for information presentation. Design elements should guide consumers through a logical sequence, starting with the most critical details. Whether it’s the product, name, features, or usage instructions, a well-defined hierarchy aids in effective communication.

Test for clarity. The lifecycle of packaging design – from sketch to shelf can be a long process. Before finalising your packaging design, get a second opinion! Conduct testing to ensure clarity. Do people understand your product from the get go? Gather feedback from potential customers or conduct usability tests to assess how easily individuals understand the communicated information. From doing this, you can refine and improve your design so that it effectively communicates your intended message.

Clear communication in retail packaging is about providing consumers with the information they need swiftly and comprehensively. By implementing these strategies, brands can create packaging designs that not only catch the eye but also communicate a compelling and clear message, influencing consumers at the critical point of purchase.

Methodology Bottle 4

Image source: Methodology

Brand Consistency

Building brand recognition is an ongoing process, and retail packaging is a prime opportunity for it. Make sure you are maintaining consistency in your colour schemes, logos, and overall design elements across product lines. A cohesive brand presence helps to build a sense of trust and familiarity, making it more likely for customers to choose your product over competitors.

Brand consistency begins with the establishment of a unified visual language. The crowded nature of retail shelves demands that brands stand out swiftly. Consistency in branding aids instant recognition. When consumers can easily associate a product with a familiar brand, it streamlines the decision-making process and contributes to a better recall, both at the point of purchase and in subsequent interactions.

Consistent branding conveys a message of trust and reliability. When consumers see a product with the same visual elements they’ve come to associate with quality and positive experiences, it instils confidence in their purchase decision. Trust is a powerful motivator in consumer behaviour, and brand consistency is key in driving and maintaining that trust. You’ll find that brand consistency helps in differentiating your products from the myriad of choices.

Visual hierarchy isn't just about aesthetics; it's about guiding the consumer through a seamless and engaging visual experience. By strategically placing elements, ensuring clarity, and maintaining brand consistency, retail packaging can not only attract attention but also communicate essential information in a matter of seconds. In the fast-paced retail environment, mastering the art of visual hierarchy is a key ingredient for packaging that not only sells but leaves a lasting impression on the consumer's mind.

Retail store shelf

Maximising Shelf Impact

Your products will always be fighting for attention on those retail shelves, so what’s the best way to maximise your shelf impact? Creating a visually compelling presence will not only attract customers but will influence their purchasing decisions. Take a look at key strategies to ensure your packaging stands out. How many of these elements does your product tick off?

✅ Bold and Vibrant Colours

Opt for a colour palette that is aligned with your brand. Make sure it stands out against the backdrop of other products. With this strategy you can capture attention, making your products visually striking. Consider the psychology of colours and choose hues that evoke the desired emotions and associations.

✅ Clear and Legible Typography

Typography plays a huge role in shelf impact. Use clear and legible fonts that can be easily read from a distance. Consider the size of text in relation to the overall packaging and check to make sure all essential information is displayed. Typography should not only be functional, but should complement the overall design aesthetic.

✅ Strategic Placement of Key Elements

Guide the consumer’s gaze through strategic placement of key elements. It might be the product logo, name, or a specific image – consider the visual hierarchy to lead the viewer’s eye.

✅ Eye-Catching Imagery

Think about what would catch your eye. Make those products visually appealing. High quality imagery not only enhances overall design, but creates a memorable impression. Your imagery should align with your brand identity.

✅ Mix Up the Shape and Structures

Play around with shapes. Differentiate your product by being unique in the shape and structure of your packaging. Unconventional designs might capture attention and spark curiosity. One thing to keep in mind – make sure the shape aligns with the product and does not compromise functionality.

✅ Limited Edition and Seasonal Variations

Get involved with the seasons! Create a sense of exclusivity packaging to specific seasons to instil a sense of urgency and novelty. Limited-time offers are timely and can be the mediator in pushing your consumer to purchase.

✅ Consideration of Shelf Layout

Understand the layout and positioning of your product. The top and centre areas of a shelf are prime real estate and attract more attention. Tailor your packaging design to ensure your product stands out in these key zones.

✅ Consistent Branding Across Products

Maintain consistency in branding elements across different products. A cohesive visual identity strengthens brand recognition and makes it easier for consumers to connect with multiple products from the same brand. Consistency builds trust and loyalty.

✅ Consumer-Centric Design

Always consider the perspective of the consumer. At the end of the day, that’s who you’re selling it to. What information is most crucial for them to see? What will push them towards purchasing more? How can the design cater to their preferences and needs? A consumer-centric approach ensures your packaging is not only visually appealing, but resonates with the target audience. For instance, if you're designing packaging for a child, you need to consider safety when childproofing your package. You might need to revamp your packaging design to suit the season.

Woman shopping with bags

Understanding Retailer Requirements

Meeting retailer requirements is a pivotal aspect of achieving shelf success. Retailers, with their unique constraints and preferences, play a significant role in determining how products are presented to the world. So, here’s some key considerations when it comes to understanding and meeting retailer requirements.

Compliance with Retailer Branding

Retailers often have specific branding guidelines that extend to the products on their shelves. Ensuring that your packaging aligns with the overall aesthetic of the retailer’s brand creates a seamless integration. So this means you might need to get clued up on colour schemes, typography, and design elements that resonate with the retailer’s visual identity.

Shelf Space Optimisation

Space on retail shelves is a precious commodity, and retailers are keen to maximise it efficiently. This requires understanding the dimensions of the allocated shelf to make sure your design packaging fits. Considerations should include not just the product dimensions but also how the packaging interacts with neighbouring products.

Barcodes and Labelling Compliance

Retailers rely on barcodes for efficient inventory management and checkout processes. With the rise of smart packaging with QR codes, you need to have an understanding of barcode placement requirements and ensure compliance with industry standards is essential. Additionally, clear and accurate labelling, including product information, pricing, and any required certifications, is vital for meeting retailer expectations.

Packaging Durability and Handling:

The journey from manufacturer to retailer shelves involves various stages of handling, including transportation and stocking. Packaging logistics must be designed to withstand these processes to ensure that products reach shelves in optimal condition. Be sure to consider your product’s for durability, stacking capabilities, and ease of handling to avoid any damages.

Sustainable Packaging Practices

Sustainability is becoming more of a focal point in retail, with many retailers having specific requirements for environmentally friendly packaging. Understanding and aligning with these sustainability packaging goals is important and will not only appeal to conscious consumers but will also meet the retailer's criteria. This might involve using recyclable materials or minimising excess packaging, to reduce packaging waste. One of our client’s – ‘Cane’ approached us to develop a packaging design that conveyed the brand's eco-friendly values.

Cane Packaging 1
Cane Packaging 3

Image source: Cane

Clear Product Information and Messaging

Retailers appreciate packaging that provides clear and concise information about the product. Ensure that product features, benefits, and usage instructions are clearly displayed. Messaging should be tailored to resonate with the retailer's target audience, aligning with their overall marketing strategy.

Packaging Regulations and Restrictions

Different retailers may operate under distinct regulations and restrictions. The legal aspects of packaging design could include specific packaging materials that are prohibited, size constraints, or restrictions on certain types of imagery. Familiarising yourself with these regulations ensures that your packaging doesn't encounter obstacles during the stocking process.

Branding and Promotional Integration

Retailers often appreciate packaging that seamlessly integrates with their promotional efforts. This could involve leaving space for promotional stickers or ensuring that the design complements ongoing marketing campaigns within the store. Understanding the retailer's promotional calendar aids in designing packaging that aligns with these initiatives.

Communication and Collaboration

Open lines of communication with retailers are invaluable. Regularly engaging with retail partners to understand their expectations, preferences, and any upcoming changes in requirements fosters a collaborative relationship. This proactive approach ensures that your packaging remains in harmony with evolving retail dynamics.

Understanding and meeting retailer requirements is not just a box to check off; it could determine the success of your product on the shelf. By aligning your packaging design with the expectations and constraints of retailers, you not only enhance the chances of securing prime shelf space but also contribute to a mutually beneficial partnership that extends beyond the initial transaction.

Shopping store

Examples of Effective Retail Packaging Designs

The art and science of retail packaging design go beyond mere containment; it's about creating a visual and tactile experience that resonates with the target audience. Let's look at some examples that not only stand out on crowded shelves but also communicate brand identity, values, and product essence in a compelling manner.

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Screenshot 2023 12 07 at 14 34 28

Left image: Behance.net | Right image: Behance.net

Screenshot 2023 12 07 at 14 41 58

Image source: Behance.net

Methodology Bottle 5
Methodolgy Bottle 7

Image source: Methodology

Fine Fettle Box 3
Fine Fettle Box 1

Image source: Fine & Fettle

When Packaging Don't Go So Well In Retail

Back in 2008, Tropicana completed a packaging design refresh of their popular juice. Two months later, Tropicana lost $50,000,000 in retail sales due to a packaging mistake - they changed too much too quickly.

From catching the consumer’s eye with bold colours and innovative designs to speaking to your customers with clarity, it’s clear each element plays a pivotal role. If you want your customers to trust in your brand then you need to focus on ensuring brand consistency. Mastering visual hierarchy isn’t just about aesthetics (though this is important); it’s about crafting a memorable shopping experience that resonates with your consumers. You wouldn’t think the packaging design of products can have such an impact on consumers. Retail packaging is more than just a transactional tool; it’s an art that leaves a lasting imprint on your consumer’s mind. So, what you waiting for?

Whether you are looking to work with packaging designers, or are going to give it a go yourself, we hope these tips will help to guide you. If you need a little nudge in the right direction, we offer Free Brand Reviews at Noramble. At Noramble, we’re an independent design studio with a focus on brand and packaging design - from function to design.

FREE Brand Review

FREE Brand Review