Packaging Design Can Kill (Your Business)

Design came to mean a lot to me in business when the lack of it nearly killed my business in 1993. The Palo Alto Software of those days had only me and two other employees. We got into retail with packaging that was environmentally friendly and ethically “nice” (and I’ve tried to find a better word for it, but for smaller boxes using recycled materials with dull colors, particularly back in 1993, I can’t think of one).

Kathy Kolder, a VP at Fry’s Electronics, put it very concisely: “Tim, your boxes suck.” In fact, they almost killed the company.

So I came to appreciate design; and the fact that I’m not a designer. Packaging design for retail feels almost like a tax, adding no value, really, but required.

And I’ve learned that it isn’t a matter of what I like. There’s none of that “I know what I like” business with me and packaging design. I know enough to know that what I like is completely irrelevant.

What’s design? What works and why? The fact that I don’t know makes me only that much more appreciative of good design when somebody else points it out. So take a look at what gets honored as  great book designs for 2008:

The Book Design Review

I’m not claiming any expertise on this subject, just thanks for the list here, with the visuals.

One of my mentors sent me to the design shops in the late 1980s, when I was too far into the do-it-yourself mode. It felt like a tax, but it helped. Then, through the following years, cheapskate at heart, I forgot, and started doing it myself by 1993. Never again.


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