The Beauty of Package Design: Inspiration and Tips

package design

pack·ag·ing [pak-uh-jing] – noun

  1. an act or instance of packing or forming packages: At the end of the production line is a machine for packaging.
  2. the package in which merchandise is sold or displayed: Attractive packaging can help sell a product.

To me, the feeling of opening a well designed package exemplifies good design. All the little nuances contribute to an individual experience. Kind of a lame example here, but when I first opened my Macbook Pro or iPhone, I got a feeling who apple is as a company and the standard they hold themselves at (not to mention the reaction to the product itself). This can all happen very naturally, but we as designers look to analyze that process and replicate it. Getting this kind of reaction to a product’s package before the consumer even reaches the actual ‘product’ itself is an accomplishment.

Plant a Seed

I understand that geeking out over unusual packaging is a strictly designer joy, but conveying more attention to detail is something that can be taken at face value, as well as scrutinized to the ‘enth’ degree. If a package grabs someone’s attention, your most likely to hear a “Huh, that’s kinda cool.” There’s no real revelation had by the average consumer. But what your doing is planting the seed that may stick in their mind making the product seem more relevant, or personal to them.

Beyond that, some people just flat out want to be better than their competition. So they look to inject quality into every aspect of their product. Design can convey that message in a very unique and personal way. Whether targeting a specific demographic, or an entire populace, we have the means to convey quality and individuality before the consumer even knows what the product is. Real world benefits are clear to see when a Design firm re-brands a product’s packaging and sales increase 35%. Product packaging is no joke, and serious companies look to designers for results. On the other hand, creatives in the movie and music industry recognize the opportunity for a more artistic approach to selling their products.

The Price Tag

The relevance of good packaging is present in both the corporate and creative ends of the client spectrum. I think most people would agree that a degree of custom packaging would never be a bad thing. One of the main hindering factors in pimping out clients packaging is the price tag. Many start ups or creatives dont have the cash to invest in something that isnt considered 100% necessary. But Im a firm believer in presenting yourself as serious as you want to be taken by others. Now that doesnt mean if your serious your going to automatically get a custom packaging job for your new album. In terms of taking that extra step in presenting yourself, or making sure your product’s utmost quality is preserved for a consumer, there are few better ways to impress than investing in custom work.

judge that book

I know most of you are waiting for the ‘judge a book’ metaphor to be flipped on its ear somewhere
in this article – “go ahead, judge that book by its cover!”… but no cliches here. Have you ever found yourself saying, ‘Psssh, that Limited Edition CD packaging is sooo cliche’. Probably not.

Odds are, the design speaks volumes about the musicians. Whether it’s Beck and his DIY sticker package, or Green Day providing a blank CD to allow customers to burn a copy for their friends. Different artist have different visions… Or at least a unique perspective. So, I think we’ll steer clear from cliches in this article in the spirit of good design.


First off… im a sucker for kits. Any sort of kit that contains a booklet, a t-shirt, and some random goodies has me at hello. I dont care how lame or irrelevant the actual stuff is. Below I picked out some cool pieces.

Custom Packaging

  • Here’s a custom box Set for musician Ben Sidran.

Sagmesiter Book Cover Design

  • This is a very smart design by design hero Stefan Sagmeister. See it in action.

Mf Doom Packaging

  • MF Doom goes custom here with the foil wrap. Nice touch to a limited edition version.

Custom Packaging

  • Heres a really cool book version of a CD package.

Custom Packaging

  • This packaging comes from Switzerland. Migros is a chain of food retailers with a penchant for good design… check out more.


Some Basics.

Get your hands dirty

If your used to strictly working on a screen or are from a fine art background, you’re all too familiar with the training/development of your ‘eye’. This is obviously our creative intuition that dictates pouring over countless revisions until a layout looks just right. On the other hand (hehe), training yourself to think with your hands until something feels right (double pun) is a whole other animal. There are many connections to be made from the two however.

Texture, an element of design, can be literally translated from the eye to the hand. You can go down the line with that train of thought; Line, Scale, Balance…. all can be translated without much (if any) stretch of the imagination. Try shifting your production process from the eye to your hand. If an illustration your working on needs a little texture or weight added to it, don’t look online for a cool picture. Look around you. What makes something heavy in your hand might also apply to your illustration…make your lines and texture more dense…add perspective. Often times a different approach may shake up your design routine opening up new doors for exploration.

Every designer should work with their hands. Whether its sketching or mocking up your original CD package, training your hand allows you to tangibly realize your ideas. Packaging in it’s appeal and production, (here it comes….) is hands on (duh). This means that a customer isn’t only going to look at the cover, but they’re going to be swayed by how it feels and functions.

Packaging (and Design in general) is USEFUL ART. So the obligation to make the project different in form is also accompanied by the obligation for it to function appropriately. How is the package more than just elaborated wrapping paper? Does it do its job?

These ideas apply to every packaging job. This presents new and different challenges to every project. So really what this does is expand your creative tool set to include more ways to flesh out your designs. We’re talking:

  • alternative papers (organic, synthetic, varying stocks…)
  • alternative/custom casing (folds, shapes, varying functionality/different closures)
  • alternative printing (inks, paints, dies, finishes)

and on and on it goes. If your goal in design is to convey a message, these additional tools can only amplify that message.

The more connections you make from one creative discipline to another, the stronger and more diverse your work will become.

Read Up

One thing that is a necessity when trying to break into custom packaging jobs, is getting to know the production process. Printing posters is one thing, getting to how custom die-cut packages are made is a little more involved. Knowing what paper will work with a certain fold or how it will react with a special varnish you apply to it is a matter of research and experimentation. There are many resources out there that help to fill in the blanks.

Here are some choice books to check out:

Beyond reading up, start collecting and creating. If you read design magazines usually there are a ton of ads for paper and printing companies (most notably in HOW). I have quite a stash built up from collecting over the years. And if you’re feeling especially driven, send away for a swatch book from printers or paper suppliers… People have been know to make up companies to get their hands on the coveted ‘source’ book from printers (…). But don’t wait on getting the ‘right’ paper or tools. Start with what you’ve got.

Start making your own mock ups. Get your self some nice blades and start constructing your own creations. You can find some decent paper to work with at art stores, but the important thing is you start thinking about your how your designs can be furthered using custom hand finishing. Remember, good is in the details.

Final words.

For the Hopefuls:

  • Remember, spray paint, exacto knives, band-aids, patience, and paper stores are your friends! Get to know them!

For the Inspired:

  • The Dieline is a great blog and there are lots of books out there. If youre feeling the love, let us know and we’ll keep the packaging articles coming.

For the doubters:

  • Really? Why are you reading this article?…did you not see those pics above? Go to bed.