Creating structural packaging designs

Learn how to create structural packaging designs.

Start by planning

It’s much more fun to start designing right away. However, it is fundamental to plan before creating a packaging design.

Your first step is to create a reference guide (some people call this document art direction document, product sheet, product guide and so on). This should be a simple document with the important information about the packaging:

  • Materials that can be used in this packaging design (glass, paper, wood, etc)
  • Tech specs: size, specific requirements, chemical details, etc
  • Priorities: visibility, size, cost, resistance, aesthetics.

Materials and technical specifications are usually simple to define. They will follow the brand identity, the budget for this project and any specific details (for instance, if you are designing food packaging there are several important features that the packaging needs in order to protect the food).

Priorities are extremely important – and often forgotten by designers. Go straight to the point: what is more important for this packaging design?

If the product is going to be sold at online retailers, than it doesn’t need a beautiful packaging – it needs a small and eco-friendly packaging to lower costs with logistics. If the product is delicate, resistance is priority. Some toy packagings can have any size, as long as they have good visibility.

Write down 1 or 2 priorities for your project and go on to the next step.

Simplify the product

Try to visualize the product in simple geometric shapes. Some techniques include:

  • Draw the product in different angles
  • Make a 3D model of the product with simpler shapes
  • Make a foam or plastic model of the product
  • Study the product sheet and make a simpler version of it

I really like sketching the product as much as possible before I start working on the packaging concepts.

The goal here is to really understand the product. You have to be able to visualize the product in your mind.


Create basic structures

Now that you can visualize the product, start sketching some basic structures. Don’t forget your priorities: if size matters, don’t make anything too big. If visibility is important, make some structures that feature the product well.

Right now you don’t have to worry to much about graphic design or aesthetics. Your main concern is how the product is going to fit inside the packaging. Use your creativity to create intelligent designs, still in a very simplified stage.


Make some prototypes

When you have something more solid, finalize the best models and start working with prototypes. Paper packaging is very easy to prototype and you can use other techniques to test different materials.

Focus on the structure to find problems: how is the product placed inside the packaging? Can you see the product? Is it safe? How is this packaging going to be assembled?

The cycle Creation – Prototypes – Correction will continue until you have great structure models. The next step is to explore your creativity again to work on the aesthetics and visuals of the packaging in order to create an unique product.



Mário is our creative director.

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