Heirarchy in Packaging Design – Thinking About How to Lay Out Your Trade Dress

Alright, last time we visited this RCA package, we talked about logo placement, and that was pretty key, right? Well, today, I’m going to talk a bit about information hierarchy. What is this hierarchy? It is the pecking order of the product’s sell points and specifications on the package.

Contrary to what marketing people will say, there can be only one most important thing on a side of a package. One focal point that draws in the customer. After that everything else trickles down to zero in terms of importance. It is very important to think like this, especially when you have a product with a very small bit of packaging to strap on sell-points. The best sort of main point is a claim of quality or usability or something that states how the product is better. It could be the better stain fighter or it could be the longest lasting or maybe even the cheapest.

After the main point (and there are many names for this main point) comes the supporting information or sell points. These are the details that either re-enforce the main point or talk about other secondary points. They are the kind of catch-all that brings in the fringe shoppers and go something like this: high-powered spotlight for dark areas, bleach-free scrubbing power or up to 20oz. free.

The next level of importance usually comes things that are basically specifications that re-assure the customer that they are buying the right sort of item.  Specifications are hard product facts like 7ft. long, 4 AA battery capacity or safety blue.

So, to put this in list form:

1. Main marketing statement!!!

2. Supporting detail 1
3. Supporting detail 2
4. Supporting detail 3

5. Specification 1
6. Specification 2
7. Specification N

There’s a lot of talk about certain things jumping in front of various things in this list. One dubious thing is for the product name as the number one thing. I’m not talking about ‘Crystal Lite’ for example, I am talking about the need for ‘Fruit-flavored drink’ to trump the former. This is dumb. It will make your product look generic and while you may need this to keep Legal happy, NOBODY shops for a ‘Fruit-Flavored Drink’. People search for a drink that has far more flavor or is lower calorie or something but certainly not to make sure they’re buying a ‘Fruit-Flavored Drink’. Remember also that chances are where your product is in the store, will probably be in the same location as other ‘Fruit-Flavored Drinks’ -and probably in the ‘Drink’ aisle – so the customer pretty much knows what they’re looking at already. Keep the description on the package for sure, but don’t make it your headline.

The other bit that you will hear people talk about is that the brand has to be number one on the package. In a way, they are right, but then again, they may not. In the instance of the above network cable, we are not selling ‘RCA’s, we are selling network cable right? Nobody wants to buy an ‘RCA’ – whatever that is – they need to connect their computer to the interweb. The brand isn’t in this list because the brand is the frame around the product. It is the aura that grounds the product but allows the product to shine through, just like an ornate frame around a classic painting in a museum. The frame could be a work of art in itself but it mainly focuses attention to the wonder that is the painting.

So once, you have your list of points set out, the next thing to do is to locate the most prevalent portion of the package. That is where the main point should go. On this RCA card, that spot is just above the product blister, but below the hang hole.

Moving on to the supporting bits, things get a little trickier. This package doesn’t really do any favors, in terms of real estate, so you have to be a little creative like the previous designers have. Taking a page from them, the next most visible places are on the sides, going vertical, next to the blister. (I’d be remiss in not pointing out that there may be a savvy way to jam one under the primary point at the top.)

Finally, this brings us to specifications. These, while important to be sure, are relegated to the peripheral corners of the package, as those are the last visible areas to play with – and seemingly under-utilized on this example. The best corner would be opposite the logo at the top of the card , but care must be taken to not overshadow the brand logo. It’s to have these specifications at the corners as it allows for easy searching for the right dimension – think of shopping for pants and how great it is to see the sizes on the colored hanger tabs. Same thing here.

Now, all that took a lot more breaths than I anticipated so it looks like there’ll be a third installment, so stay tuned. I know it’s riveting!

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