Product packaging acts as a gateway to whatever it is you’re selling. It’s like a coat of paint, or a welcome mat outside of a house—your first impression. Consumers look at the packaging and respond to its design in the moment. If the consumer feels the product might satisfy their needs, it influences their buying behavior.
This is make-or-break for you as the seller and a real-world example of how important design and behavioral economics can be in business. Behavioral economics is the study of how people make choices. It’s also a great tool for transforming the way you do business. It doesn’t just provide a simplified economic model, but also an in-depth look at the real facets of daily consumer life. It draws on insights from both psychology and economics, providing businesses with a fresh perspective on how our irrational behavior shapes our decisions.
For entrepreneurs, the takeaway from this is that creating a great product isn’t enough. To ensure sales success, you need that something extra, because product packaging affects buying decisions.
Packaging case study: Enios, a Greek olive oil
Enios is a Greek virgin olive oil brand that wanted to stand out from the crowd. There were some common design trends in olive oil packaging the company wanted to differentiate from. Their goal was to connect with the consumers in a new, more engaging and interactive way.
The solution, designed by the Athens, Greece-based creative office Matadog Design, was a label that welcomes the consumer, and literally asks them to take it home. The label on the back reads:
“I am a pure extra virgin olive oil from Greece and I am made especially for you. There is only one promise I can make…you will enjoy every drop of mine!”
The main design element is a giant cycloptic eye. This imagery is accompanied by the word “Hi,” printed in white, in a large size, and reinforced by a second, smaller line that reads, “I want to follow you.”
The packaging design made the bottles difficult to miss on the shop shelf—two bottles positioned next to each other make for a familiar pair of peepers, complete with long eyelashes, massive irises, and a lively shine. As a startup company, Enios kept production costs low by eliminating costly production methods and finishes. Instead, the main focus was on aesthetics and practicality. With a small initial production run of 300 bottles, the labels were first printed in vinyl, giving the Greek company the flexibility to order small quantities.
Choosing the right packaging design company
One the biggest struggles entrepreneurs face when creating a new packaging or starting a design overhaul project is picking the most suitable freelancer or design company. Prior to taking on the “Hi” olive oil packaging project, Matadog designed the award winning packaging “Stafidenios” for Enios, which served as validation that they were the right fit. It’s not a bad idea to test out a potential design partnership with a smaller project before committing to them for large-scale or high-stakes work.
Not all designers are created equal, and browsing options to find your match can be overwhelming, especially with the multitude of different sets of expertise and experience available. I’ve selected a few key areas to consider, to increase the odds you’ll pick the perfect designer for your packaging design:
Tip #1: Take a good look at their portfolio
First, check their style. Are you drawn to it? Is it distinct or unique in any way? If not, is the designer willing to be flexible in giving you what you want?
Typically, the first step in shortlisting your candidates is in looking through their portfolios. Websites like Behance, Dribbble, and Carbonmade are popular choices for designers looking to promote their work online, so you may be able to find their profile before you reach out to them.
Once you’ve narrowed your search down and found designers that you are interested in, it is still important to ask for their portfolio. Here, more than simply looking at the work produced, try to identify specific styles or trends in their work. Consider it their signature—even as a non-designer, you’ll be able to see hints of things you may or may not want in your particular project. Is that minimalist designer a good pick for your splashy retail campaign? Or that talented illustrator with colorful imagery a good choice to build a conservative corporate image for a law office? You’d be surprised at how much you already know about what you want from your design, and who does or doesn’t look capable of that.
One of the most important pillars of any creative project is honesty and transparency. Asking the right questions will help you gauge the packaging design company’s creative direction, their experience with previous projects, and areas of expertise.
Some questions to get you started:
- Which industries have you worked with?
- How many revisions are typically necessary before delivering the final design?
- What are some challenges you might face on this specific project?
Tip #2: Determine the ratio of cost to talent
Your next consideration is cost. Is your designer over or under priced? If they aren’t charging much, they may not be pricing themselves accordingly, and may have too many unengaging small jobs on their plate. If they are overcharging, ask yourself why. Are they good enough to warrant it?
This is a tricky step and relies heavily on your intuition. Prices do vary widely from $25 (and lower) to $150+ an hour, and it’s up to you to assess what the ratio is of cost to talent. In initial conversations, try to assess the designer’s skill level, education, and years of experience. Asking for referrals from your network can be a great start too.
Also, agree upfront on whether the project will be billed by the hour, or at a fixed project price. A good start can be to commission a trial or smaller project to test the waters. This is an efficient way to kick off what may be a long and fruitful partnership, or in the worst-case scenario, a fantastic way to save time and money filtering out freelancers who are just not the right fit for your project. The adage “‘hire slow, fire fast” (made famous among startups) is useful here.
Tip #3: Decide between a generalist or specialist designer
As with so many other elements of good business, finding a creative who can help you tick off your goals starts with creating a list of those goals. List your expectations, and use this list as a stepladder for assessing designer candidates. This kind of preparation will allow you to separate the specialists from those with general expertise.
There are a lot of specialty areas in the design industry. These range from branding, web and app design, advertising, clothing and merchandise, illustration, packaging, and books and magazines, to mention a few.
For packaging projects, you should inquire about the freelancer or creative studio’s experience with production/printing techniques, substrates they’ve worked with (glass, plastic, etc.), and industries they’ve worked with before, such as beverages, entertainment, and so on. The World Packaging Design Society can be a good starting point. Be careful if choosing a company without prior experience in packaging design, as there are lots of intricacies when it comes to selecting an adequate printing process and guaranteeing the best possible quality.
A good tip here is to bounce ideas back and forth with your shortlisted companies. If possible, ask a designer from your network for guidance. It will help you choose more confidently. Keep their skill sets in mind, and keep up a dialogue—the conversation, if you’re being transparent, should illuminate opportunities for you to make use of their skills and experience.
Tip #4: Know the past to understand the present
Your final consideration should be trying to determine in advance whether the designer can deliver on what they promise. Get references from previous clients. This is a professional who will, quite possibly, become your long-term partner—get to know them a little better. Then, get to know them a little better than that.
Holding someone to their references might seem like an “old-school” or overly strict mindset to some employers, but it’s smart and can really pay off later. Ask for and check your designer’s previous work experience. Once you’ve shortlisted a few finalists you’re seriously considering, ask for contact details from their previous clients, so you can understand your candidate’s strengths and weaknesses from the point-of-view of people who were there and worked with them. Ask about areas like communication skills, fulfillment of deadlines, and eventual extra costs. Write up an agreement or a contract with the scope of work to avoid problems later.
For more on choosing a designer (specifically via crowdsourced logo design sites), check out Top 4 Crowdsourced Logo Design Sites for Small Businesses.
Enios is steadily increasing their points of sale in an olive oil saturated landscape, thanks in part to their packaging. In a crowded market, the packaging that strikes the right psychological triggers in the consumer’s mind will help to create a winning product.
Scrutinize carefully the freelancers or creative studio you’re considering partnering with for design. It can make a big difference to your retail success.