From creating a brand identity to enhancing the functionality of a product, packaging design is essential to the marketing of any brand in existence. One of the most important roles of an FMCG packaging design is to influence the purchase decision of potential customers. With a consumer-centric approach, Design Thinking can help you enhance your packaging design and level up your brand marketing game.

Did you know a consumer purchases a product within 5-7 seconds of their interaction with the product’s packaging? At a supermarket, you are exposed to approximately 50-70 brands pitching almost the same stuff with the same messaging. Yet you purchase only one of them. This is the power of a great packaging design. More than being an attention-grabbing aspect of the brand, FMCG packaging design taps into the consumer subconscious. To be at the top of your marketing game, giving attention to retail packaging design is more important than ever.

As packaging design is driven by consumer experience, keep Design Thinking at the core of your packaging design strategy. The idea is to build a unified brand that communicates to consumers to create a fiery FMCG packaging design.

Packaging can be theater, it can create a story – Steve Jobs

What is Design Thinking and Why Use It To Create Your FMCG Packaging Design?

While you create an FMCG packaging design, always stick to a rule – “It’s never about the brand; it’s always about the consumer”. From the consumer viewpoint, the excellent design translates into an articulate, easy, and enjoyable experience. Brands need to be adaptable and foresee the requirements of the end consumer. Always be prepared for a “next step” product to avoid a mismatch between the brand’s promise and the user experience.

If you merely consider the aesthetics, you are likely to miss out on the deeper connection of brand with design. We see excellent packaging for poor products far too frequently. It appears like the folks who make the product have never communicated with those who create the packaging. Why do the product and the package differ from one another? There is frequently a reluctance to change packaging procedures that have been in place for years.

Although Design Thinking has been around for a while, it has lately been recognized by businesses worldwide. Design Thinking is a human-centric approach that takes into consideration the consumer experience while creating a solution. In the case of packaging design, it guides the designer to keeping the needs of the final user at the core. When applying design thinking principles, incorporating empathy creates the foundation for designing any kind of packaging.

But, how do you apply the process of Design Thinking to the next redesign of your retail packaging design?

Also Read: Importance of Design Thinking for Business 

5 Design Thinking Principles to Enhance Your Retail Packaging Design


The application of design thinking begins with the design team, who asks questions from experts in R&D, product development, production, and sales. Since they have access to all key decision-makers, the design team pools its resources to deliver a seamless product. The above-mentioned packaging approach is followed keeping in mind a strategic five-step process—empathizing, defining, ideating, prototyping and testing. Let’s examine the five design thinking steps and how to make use of them.

1. Be empathetic 

Empathy is the first phase in the design thinking process. While planning to design FMCG packaging design, ask yourself a few questions about the consumer of your product. “What feeling does the packaging give to consumers who will use the product?” “What challenges are they facing that need a solution?” “What do they want from the packaging?” “What kind of design looks attractive to them for the product?” In true sense, try to understand the FACE of consumers expectations from the product and packaging F-Functional, A-Aesthetics, C-Commercial and E-Emotional.

As you empathize with the end user of your product, you’re likely to create product packaging that is relevant to the user and not what you think is relevant for them. For instance, take a juice carton. When the concept of a tetra-pack juice carton came into being, it was highly appreciated for its recyclability and how it made porting liquid from one place to another. However, the only thing that was unappreciated was how it used to open which led to unnecessary spilling. Over time, the retail packaging design evolved with the use of technology and now we have a spout cap at the top which makes pouring easy and effective.

The gist is to spend some time learning about the end-users of your product. You can even conduct a survey asking what they want from an FMCG packaging design of a similar product as yours. If you succeed in connecting with your target consumer, they will start to see you as a dependable brand and resort to your products to address their problems.

2. Drawing insights and defining design principles 

Once you have an understanding of what the consumer needs from your retail packaging design, you come to the next stage, which is drawing insights and defining design principles. With the help of insights from the consumer, you can have a fair understanding of what consumers need. 

To understand how important it is to draw insights before designing or redesigning your packaging,  let’s take a famous, or rather infamous, Tropicana packaging redesign failure. Tropicana, a former American fruit-based beverage company, decided to redesign their packaging with an aim to add freshness in their packaging and to reach out to new and potential customers. The brand replaced its good-old ‘orange with a straw’ imagery with a glass of orange juice, and gave its spout cap a quirky look by replacing it with a cap that looked exactly like an orange. The new branding failed to create an emotional bond with the existing consumers as they never wanted this change. They couldn’t recognise their favorite juice brand with this new packaging and could not relate with it as well. The redesign didn’t appeal to the new customers either. That’s because the brand’s identity as a ‘100% pure orange juice brand’ got lost within the new design, making the design too generic and offering zero value to the customers. If only Tropicana asked its consumers if they really wanted their packaging redesigned or not, had they not witnessed a loss of a whopping $35 million. 

At this stage, take advantage of your consumer insight and set some ground rules to establish and define design principles to further work on the project. Make as many rough sketches of the product packaging as possible to cover all aspects of consumer feedback. 

  1. Ideate

Continue to expand on the first solution you came up with! This stage is often referred to as the “yes, and” step. At this point, you should build a solution by fusing your extensive knowledge of the consumer with the issues you are attempting to address (or any gaps that may exist) while creating your FMCG packaging design. Finding a comprehensive answer for your customers is unlikely to come from a single brainstorming session with your coworkers in a conference room. Make sure you’re being diligent and going the extra mile to meet the needs of your customers.  

While creating an FMCG packaging design, ask yourself these questions: Do you have any further thoughts to add to this? Are there any other approaches you might use to advance it? Can this also integrate a different problem? Continue until you run out of ideas. There is no such thing as a terrible idea, so remember that when you’re in the ideation stage, you can never predict where a proposal might lead.

When ideating the designs, try to tell a story through your packaging that tells your brand’s vision and connects it with the consumer. For instance, the famous blue box by Blue Tiffany & Co. has been the symbol of gifting since its inception in 1878. The famed Blue Tiffany & Co. box has evolved into a universal representation of wealth and sophistication, and collectors and jewelry fans today covet it nearly as much as the jewelry itself! Given that it is, to put it simply, just a blue box, the fact that it has been called “the most recognisable and most sought retail container in history” is evidence of its enormous success.

Many believe that the founder Charles Lewis Tiffany chose this shade of blue because affluent women at the period were fond of turquoise jewelry. At the time, the color would have been associated with the finer things in life, and once the luxury brand had made a name for itself as a high-end product, it is fairly challenging to overcome such a reputation. In essence, a number of factors were at play in this situation, including the widespread use of turquoise, the color’s association with luxury around the world, and the brand’s continued promotion of this notion. All of these elements combined to make those tiny blue boxes more of a status symbol than a means of packaging.

4. Prototype

This step is the most exciting one! It’s not always easy to see a design’s flaws on paper or a computer screen. By building a prototype, you can actually see a working example of your retail packaging design and assess which elements are effective and which ones require improvement. This is your opportunity to collect more precise requirements and market input.

While prototyping, the goal is to fail as quickly as you can because, in design thinking, failure still counts as success. When a prototype fails, it usually means that you received the proper input to enlighten the areas that need improvement and have a better understanding of what would work.

Generally, FMCG packaging can be created using CNC machining, injection moulding, and 3D printing. You must take into account if the plastic material you have chosen is appropriate for the specific prototype procedure. For instance, polypropylene is a plastic that is perfect for machining, whereas ABS is a substance that is better suited for 3D printing. Will the material be suitable for injection moulding if it is not suitable for the other two processes?

While designing the FMCG packaging, the maker must also take into account the material to be used during the making of the prototype. Consider using a material that can be recycled to create the final packaging. Manufacturers typically advise thermoplastics over thermoset materials to ensure the plastic may be recycled or reused.

5. Test, and keep testing!

As early in the process as you can, test your innovation prototypes while still making sure that what you’ve created appropriately reflects the course you’re taking. You can optimize a successful design more quickly the earlier you can pivot in response to feedback.

While taking feedback for your FMCG packaging design from customers, chances are you start to feel like your approach is going back once you start putting these designs in front of users for feedback. If you feel so, there is nothing wrong with that! Simply continue to Ideate and Prototype while incorporating what you learn along the way. This also indicates that you have reached the last stage! But bear in mind that the process should keep going back until you have a successful design that satisfies the needs of the users.

Your solution will be more precise the more you iterate it through testing and incorporating the feedback you acquire from your target market. Why? Because at the end of it all, even if it takes several tries, you’ll know you’ve produced a genuine design for customers that they genuinely require.

The Bottom Line

retail packaging design

A retail packaging design and marketing strategy take a lot of work to develop. In the end, applying design thinking to your strategy of creating an amazing  FMCG packaging design can be incredibly beneficial. One hundred percent of your customers will interact with  your packaging, so if you and your team are still unsure of its higher value, think about this. The packaging, which should be a distillation of your complete brand story and experience, will catch their attention even if they never see your ads or visit your website. Every investment that you’ve made in your brand will be perceived by the buyer since the moment they see your packaging for the first time. There is no way you shouldn’t be investing your time (and money) in brilliant concepts and excellent design that touches a chord with your customers.

If you follow the above-explained stages of design thinking to create your retail packaging design, you will be able to make the biggest impression on your customers and earn lucrative sales for your business!

About the author

Anuradha is a passionate Design Thinking practitioner with 10+ years of industry experience. She has dived into the field of Design and Design Thinking, where she is trained to design experiences. She is the Founding Partner and Design lead at Humane Design and Innovation (HDI) Consulting. Her professional career spans across various roles in Advisory, UX Design, Service Design, Engineering Design, Design integration and Training. She was the lead designer of the Design Thinking and Innovation practice at KPMG. She has designed multiple digital experiences by conducting strategic UX workshops and design experiences that add functional and emotional value. To her friends & peers, she is the Bonding Agent of the team and always a Go to person. She is an avid reader, blogger & a painting enthusiast.

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