'formula' based package design.

Eric_West's picture

Hopefully I posted this is in the right forum.
I'm looking for any advice on maybe the best way, or a process as to go about packaging design for lets say, detergent (soap) and other P&G style products. Lots of gradients etc...

Any input welcome ...


beejay's picture

Eric, one approach:
* sketch some concepts on paper ...
* build a package in a vector app. such as freehand or illustrator
(you can create 3d boxes and custom gradients fairly easy)
* use photoshop for final touchups

do you have specific requirements or ...

Dan Weaver's picture

Eric, products aren't just designed. The amount of marketing that goes into a product is almost silly. By the time the designer gets the project they are painted into a very small corner.

If this is a students project then just take a package open it carefully and use it as a template for where to place graphic elements. Last point gradients don't make a product good or bad. Some of the best packages on the market today are toothpaste and they are using metalic based papers and printing on them. Its a process you'd be hard to copy using a computer.

jupiterboy's picture

Define the scope of the design needs. Find out about the printing to be used, everything including the shipping carton that the detergent is transported in will need art. Whatever is designed needs to translate well to these low end methods and work as a system. Also be sensitive to the costs over time. With large production runs special materials and methods can become expensive. Try to get an idea about every product to be included in the line. How will your detergent box art look when sized down to fit the small boxes at a coin laundry? And on small sample bottles? Or a coupon? Can it be rendered flexo, which can't produce a screen lighter than 10%.

Eric_West's picture

Thanks for the input. Not for a student project, mainly to build up my portf. some. Cinci is a big packaging town. Thought I'd do some. So,

Dan, I only mention gradients because, everyone I go to school with refuses to use them, no matter what. Which is a bit ignorant in my view. Given packaging, you almost always use some kind. I have an affinity for gradations *not abusive,* as they are a naturally occuring phenomenon,

BTW ... I'm thinking of a bit of a parody package. Das Boot branded saltwater clothing detergent? Do you think any employers could appriciate the humor? Or should it be serious?

david h's picture

1. Why pardoy? This is a risk. Unless, of course, you want to join the Comedy Central network.

2. What is most important is the concept; what type of audience are you targeting with this project

3. How do you differentiate your product from your competitors?

Dan Weaver's picture

David, underscores what I said, Marketing is what package design is all about. I think what you should do is know the underlying process of how a product comes to market so when you get to talk to a design firm that does product design you will come across as informed.

Eric_West's picture

Why are we talking about products? I'm talking about packaging. How would you suggest, do these people that do tide really sit back and say, what kind of gradient do consumers need? or prefer?

david h's picture

3. How do you differentiate your packaging from your competitors?

you like gradient, huh? :)

do you have a sample — something that you like?

jason's picture

Why are we talking about products? I’m talking about packaging.

Can't have the latter without the former, and the former is (for the most part) all about market research.

You don't mean to imply that companies create items that people need and then wrap them in attractive packages, do you?

It's pretty much always been more about grinding out enough research to best devise how to convince a bunch of people to buy something they don't want or need. You're not dressing up an object, nor selling what's inside, you're selling an idea, regardless of how asinine or useless the item or idea might be.

So, you identify the market of people who think they need over-priced coffee products, then nail down their weaknesses, then determine the best visual attack to play on their insecurities, then smack them over the head with the right colours, shapes and fonts. Next thing you know, they're beating each other senseless to get to the check-out first.

[Jeez, looks like I need some beautifully-packaged, over-priced coffee to take the edge off this afternoon. Phew.]

Eric_West's picture

Ok, so, next logical step. Since I cant really develop and market my own product, devote hundreds of thousands of dollars to marketing and research, what do I do.

Here's my deal,the school I got is not so good for what i want to do, and I know, because I've seen the lows and the highs of what a design school is, it's obviously up to me to make my work stronger, if thats even possible. It's quite frustrating.

david h's picture


You don't need money or "hundreds of thousands of dollars". Are you a student? Do you have the book by Robin Landa "Graphic Design Solutions" (Third Edition)? and the book by Alan Swann "How to understand and use Design & Layout"?

jason's picture

Eric, I doubt my post had any influence, but I do hope I didn't cause too much discouragement with my anti-consumer rant. I read last year (or so) about the designer's manifesto (I can't remember the specifics, I'm sure someone here can point us in the right direciton) and the debate around it. To me, anyway, it was basically an attempt to reconcile the creative and technical side of what we do with the rather ugly and hucksteristic side of the game. The problem is, there is no reconciling it, really. In order to do what we love to do, and to pay the bills, we pretty much have to sell garbage for billionaires and billionaire-wanna-be's. And, occassionally, good folks wanting to do something decent; the bug here is that the latter are usually pro-bono clients, and that's fine, great even, but it doesn't pay the bills.

I think what the folks here have been stressing is that it's hard to present a mock-up packaging sample because clients like P&G don't care if you're a good designer, only if you can sell what they're shucking out, and it would be really hard to present an impressive example of this sort of work without all the research to begin with.

That said, if you CAN come up with such an example, you'll make a big impression.

Eric_West's picture

I think what the folks here have been stressing is that it’s hard to present a mock-up packaging sample because clients like P&G don’t care if you’re a good designer, only if you can sell what they’re shucking out, and it would be really hard to present an impressive example of this sort of work without all the research to begin with.

Thank you.

loft's picture


Cincinnati is indeed one of the most packaging centric design communities in the country. It is heartening to know that young designers are considering “package design” as a career choice. Unfortunately, there are no programs in the area that focus on the specifics of package design as it relates to the actual practice of packaging as an integral component of a MCG’s marketing budget. That said, it is important to realize that most portfolios new graduates interview with have “no” packaging examples in them.

When I interview candidates, I look for strong type, color and composition skills. You need have competent software skills. Most PKG design firms in Cincinnati are going to require that you know Illustrator and Photoshop inside and out. Other software is a bonus. Package design is a unique practice in that “your style” is much less important than your ability to design to a particular target consumer set. Bold type and colors for laundry vs. sophisticated, quieter solutions for beauty care. Personality is a key component that is reviewed as well. Most firms have large teams that work on a range of projects over the course of a week. Deadlines are tight and demands put a lot of pressure on team members. I always look for some I think will work well within a team environment.

Don’t worry about creating comps etc. Strong design skills, dedication to craft and a team oriented personality will be enough to land you an entry level job – regardless of where you went to school.

Package design firms in town to consider are:
Fisher Design

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