Striking the Balance Between Visual and Structural Design in Packaging

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Derrick Lin


Written by Corey Gustafson, President at JohnsByrne.

When creating a visually appealing and dynamic package, designers need both structural and visual design. Combining these two elements will display your product in the best possible light. The structural design will offer maximum functionality and visual design will ensure your product is eye-catching. To do this, think of how the two can work together to create the ultimate packaging. What kind of packaging will benefit your product while also being visually appealing to the consumer?

Striking this balance can prove difficult. How do you create the perfect balance of one or the other for your product? Each individual end-use market must treat visual design and structural design a bit differently.

We’ve thrown together a few tips on just exactly how to achieve the perfect balance between structural and visual design.

Let’s get to it:

Never overlook functionality
Functionality is one of the most important factors that go into structural packaging design. A functional package can reduce waste which is highly appealing to customers nowadays. Designing a functional visually appealing package is not as complex as it may seem.

When designing your packaging, make sure it’s versatile. Whether it’s 100% recyclable or can double as a plate for the food packaged, functional packaging can go a long way.

Minimalism is at the core of structural design. Less is more. Harness this principle when designing for functionality. Create minimalistic functional components of your packaging to house different parts of the product. It’ll go a long way.

Put some pizzazz into that structure
Once you’ve decided on how to really optimize the functionality of your packaging, design comes into play. How can you combine structural functionality and design to ensure your product sells?

Incorporate your brand colors to really make your structural design pop. Find a coating or ink that aligns with your brand standards. Emobssing or debossing, for example, will give a unique texture and look to your packaging design.

Decide on a way to take your 3D design to the next level. Would your product benefit from a unique shape to unite with your brand identity?

Don’t shut down unique shapes, colors, textures, and graphics. These combined with functionality are what make products sell.

Not all products are created equal
When striking a balance between structural and visual design, all products are different. Depending on the industry, there will be certain benefits to designing a product’s structure and design in different ways. Whether your packaging distilled spirits or point of sale displays, your packaging will have different goals.

Here are a few tips to balance visual and structural design depending on the industry and product:

Point of Sale Packaging
Point of sale products need to appeal directly to the consumer. Since point-of-sale products are most likely to end up in a retail environment, your product needs to pop off the shelves while also emphasizing functionality and structure. It’s all about influencing the impulse buy.

Create a connection with a consumer. This can be done by incorporating certain visually appealing aspects such as:

  • Case bins
  • Lenticular walk-by-signage
  • End caps
  • Shelf-talkers
  • Counter displays

These aspects connect to a consumer and are sure to make your product stand out from all the other retail items.

Cannabis Packaging
The cannabis industry is booming. As more and more states legalize, more and more opportunities arise for cannabis products. Setting a cannabis product apart in this fast-growing industry can prove challenging. But packaging can lend a helping hand to this challenge.

Visual and structural design play a huge role in cannabis packaging. Structurally, cannabis products have to hold up to a wide set of government regulations such as child resistance. Child Resistant Certified cartons are a reliable option for cannabis products.

Design shouldn’t be overlooked in cannabis products. Folding cartons allow for a variety of design options such as finishes, effects, and different structural designs.

Distilled Spirits Packaging
With distilled spirits packaging, you’ll want to truly embody the environment and experience of the product through its packaging. Try to really convey the “place of mind” a consumer will have when enjoying the product. You’ll need the best in class structure and visuals for your distilled spirit packaging.

As for structure, create a packaging that showcases the beauty of your product. Spirits are often designed to impress, make sure your structural design does the same. Since the bottles can be large and cumbersome, a 750 ML bottle, for example, requires a package that can sturdily hold the bottle in place. Structurally, your packaging needs to be tested to make sure it can hold the bottle in place with the label facing the customer.

Visually, graphics are key. Graphics are the secret to identifying the brand and the equity it’s built within the market. Make sure to design your product in a way that aligns with your brand. For example, a tequila product would benefit from a textured design that resembles an agave plant. Or… a whiskey product may benefit from a wooden and rustic feel to convey the distilling process of whiskey.

Lastly, adding value to your packaging is the perfect way to get consumers to try or gift your spirits. 20% of new customers in the spirits market come from specialty or VAP promos so don’t overlook value-added packaging!

Sales Kits
Sales kits need to “wow” your audience the moment they lay eyes on them. Since they’ll be used in presentations and meetings, they need to showcase all that your product has to offer. As for the structure, design your kit in a way that showcases every aspect of your product. Include separate compartments to emphasize the value of each different factor of your product.

Visually, since this might be your first interaction with a customer, you need to emphasize your brand. Really stick to brand colors and make a huge impression with an exquisitely polished design. Stick to this and your sales kit is sure to have that “wow” factor.

Beauty & Personal Care
With beauty and personal care packaging, brands have a second to stand out in a cluttered retail environment. Many brands have spent a lifetime building equity while new brands spring up and get noticed by a perfect storm of recognition starting with a great solution-formulation and results. A client with strong influence can lead to an overnight success while other brands move to the back in markets mind…

Packaging is the perfect way to push beauty products to the front of the market once again. With beauty and personal care, you need to hit the balance of standing out and staying relevant.

With health and beauty packaging you want to convey the genuine benefits of the product. Visually, colors will go a long way in this industry. Target colors that emote the benefits of your product. As for structural design, a beauty and personal care product needs to stand out. Just like spirits packaging, you want to showcase the real beauty of your product. Use formfitting and clear packaging to showcase the transparency of your product and business.

Overall visual and structural design are equally important. Striking the perfect balance between the two will boost your sales and establish your product as a reputable brand. Follow these tips are you’re sure to find that balance in no time.

About the author
Corey S. Gustafson serves as the President at JohnsByrne. JohnsByrne Company, a custom packaging and print solutions provider, has been a leader in the print and packaging industry since 1959 and partners with major brands in health & beauty, food and beverage, and consumer products. With a culture built around innovation, quality, design and speed, their offerings span value added folding cartons, specialty packaging and high impact direct mail.