By Yvette Tan

You have a great product and are ready to go to market. How do you make yourself stand out in a sea of consumer goods?

There are many answers to this, one of the most important of which is packaging.

Packaging is often the consumer’s first interaction with your product. We have all been told not to judge a book by its cover, but the fact of the matter is that part of a person’s decision to buy something is based not just on how pretty it looks, but also how it complements their personality. Thus, it is important not just to have good-looking packaging, but one that speaks to your target market as well.

Some products that Natural Selection has designed.

“Packaging design is important because this is your main touch point with your consumer. It is your primary identifier if you’re a purveyor of food products, apart from the product itself,” says Marla Darwin, Creative Director and Co-Founder of Natural Selection Design, a graphic design company with a growing clientele in food packaging, particularly those geared towards a young, mostly health-conscious demographic.

Products they’ve designed packaging for include Take Root Kale Chips, Oh So Healthy! Fruit Crisps, Turmicap Turmeric Capsules, Haynayan Ketchups, and Crackle Snacks (potato chips and chicharon).

Part of what will make a consumer buy your product is how it makes them feel, and how it fits into the way they perceive themselves. “I say “grow a relationship” because in a sense, what people have with food, especially specialty food products, is a relationship,” Darwin says. “We’re seeing it play out in interesting ways online because it’s where people in our generation are seeking out information, and at the same time, talking about the food we consume has become a way to present ourselves.”

Attractive packaging will especially help if you plan to sell onlline, where consumers have to rely on what they see in exchange for what they can’t touch. “It’s happening through online platforms and having attractive packaging for a product helps in enriching the narrative,” Darwin says. “When consumers feel like they have a relationship with your product, that creates loyalty, which is the one of the most significant currencies to nurture with your market.”

Why you might need a professional designer

If you want to reach a large market, asking your nephew who has knowledge on Photoshop to design your packaging isn’t enough, at least if you want to make it big. If you want to reach a wider market, it can help to hire a professional who can execute your vision for you.

“Designers are trained to provide solutions. Any designer worth his salt also has an understanding of color psychology, the use of appropriate typography, and figuring out how to maximize impact in such a limited space (especially if the food product is housed in a container with unusual proportions),” Darwin says. “A packaging design project is a project. Designers are trained to map out deadlines, consolidate research, and transition the final artwork to production. Consider all of these things when you feel ready to pursue packaging design.”

Good design can help sales 

Design isn’t superficial. Good design will convey the message your product wants to send without you having to be there to explain it. Is your product healthy? Is it fun? Is it indulgent? Is it budget-friendly? The right design will relay this to a potential customer at a glance, and this can translate to sales. Good design isn’t just about how goodd a product looks, it’s also about how it makes a buyer feel.

“We notice that consumers generally get excited by packaging design refreshes. When a brand unveils a new look, especially one that’s striking, we’ve noticed people document it online on their social media platforms, all on their own without any prompting. That’s free advertising,” Darwin says.

“Also, whether it’s a rebrand or not, attractive packaging and having beautiful pictures of it also come in handy when there’s a need to present to media. The food market is very saturated and any leverage you can get with the press is so useful.

“As for a more concrete example, recently a client launched a new look for their products and told us that a variant that had some difficulty moving suddenly was being picked up because of the new packaging design.”

What makes good design?

Creativity aside, there are a few guidelines that characterize good design. Darwin enumerates: “functional and readable type, color pairings that subscribe to color theories, balanced proportions, and a respect for white space (blank areas that serve as breathing room and guide the eye to what they’re supposed to be looking at).”

Another thing to consider is timelessness. “I also have a bias for design that isn’t trend driven and communicates a brand’s personality really well,” she adds.

Choosing a designer

Most people will want to save as much money as possible when starting a business. And while design may seem like a frivolous expenditure to many, it is actually a service that can add to your product’s competitiveness in the market.

“Good design will always cost money. There’s so much work that goes into it that all that time spent cranking out designs and researching deserves proper compensation, similar to how you commission other experts in their fields to do something for you,” Darwin says.

Hiring a designer will cost money, but finding one that understands your concept and is able to articulate what you want visually is the kind of investment that’s hard to find, and shoud be cherished.

“Choose your designers wisely and take the time to vet them,” Darwin says. Working with designers is a relationship and clients should also look for the chemistry they have with potential designers and not just look at the portfolio.”

Not all good designers are expensive. There are many talented designers out there who are willing to work within a budget. All you have to do is ask nicely. “Some designers are willing to adjust their process and output to be able to work with your budget. The key is to be upfront and respectful,” Darwin says.

When looking for a designer for your agri product, it helps to search for one who specializes in, and is passionate about the industry. Since a lot of agri products revolve around food, Darwin uses this as an example. “It helps significantly if a designer is passionate about food,” she says. “I manage a team and the designs really come alive when I assign certain projects to designers who are interested in them. They have a grounding on what the consumer would expect and that informs their decision-making, kinda like how I would give a Star Wars project to a Star Wars fan.”

Another service a businessowner might want to consider is a designer who can do things aside from just design. “Find a designer also who has experience with seeing the designs until production,” Darwin says. “Some designs look fantastic on a computer screen or printed out on a home printer, but it’s not a guarantee that it will look great on the actual product.”

Once you’ve found a designer to help develop the look of your product, the best way to make sure they do their best work is to trust their expertise. After all, that’s what you’re paying them for! “When you find a designer you enjoy working with, trust them!” Darwin says. “Give your guidance and expectations, but magic happens when you trust your designers.”

In a world filled with visual stimuli, products, no matter how good they are, need an extra push to stand out. Well-designed packaging can help with.

As Darwin says, “Good packaging design will bring people to the door if they don’t know anything about you, communicate your values and pertinent information, and grow a relationship with your consumers.” (Photos courtesy of Natural Selection Design)

This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s September 2019 issue.