Navigating the “Real vs. Ideal” of Packaging

Posted on Oct 24, 2019 by

Recently I visited one of the major big box stores. My motivation was simple – stores that previously carried what I wanted were closed, and because I waited until the last minute, this was my only sourcing option. So to make the best of it, I decided to pick up a few additional items I needed, and self-guided my way to the appropriate aisles. Now I will freely admit, I have been doing an increasing amount of shopping online, mainly for the convenience of having products delivered directly to my door but I experienced a genuine sense of shock when I arrived at my destination. I could not believe the state of disarray that was surrounding me. It was, simply said, a hot mess.

Products ranging from major national brands to store brands to private labels cluttered the shelves. Unlike the classic store shelves where packages were neatly stacked in contiguous rows, face panels gazing off the shelf, attempting to connect with consumers; the shelves in front of me instead suggested a new norm, not unlike my sock drawer, where you simply have to dig around to find what you are looking for. Color me a conspiracy theorist but I had an epiphany – were retailers actively driving customers out of brick and mortar stores, pushing them forcibly to online outlets by “curating” an environment of chaos and confusion on shelf? What happened to creating an environment enveloping a consumer with a positive in-store experience?

We all need to grapple with the “ideal vs. real” of packaging. It might just be easier to design for the worst possible scenario but that would be giving up too easily. Consumers still have and want to affiliate themselves with brand and product characteristics. Design and creative standards can be upheld yet tempered to anticipate the reality of multiple and varied retail environments that will maximize impact and encourage consumer interaction.

Here are some helpful hints if you haven’t done this (that won’t break the budget):

  • Take a field trip to a variety of retail outlets to see what is happening in a real-world situation – remember you are a consumer as well!
  • Itemize specific issues the package may have to contend with and include those as key understandings in your creative brief
  • Take mock-ups of packaging prototypes and view them on shelf – how do they stand up to the competition, to the shelf, to you?
  • Evaluate design concepts in lighting similar to store environments – test the stability of your package and recommend any kind of support system needed to keep the package upright and facing outward

Regardless of what you are developing packaging for, adopt a cohesive and continuity driven approach to keeping branding front and center and engaged with your consumer. Work with packaging creative teams that not only design to the highest creative standards, but that also experience products in retail environments, and that can anticipate and experience the myriad of issues that exist in the real world.

 If you need help with packaging structure and design that will ensure your product’s success, we invite you to start a conversation with us by contacting us at 920-886-7727 or