When you’re preparing a product for retail, one of the most important aspects to focus on is the product label (and/or packaging).
Depending on the strength of your competition, your product labelling will often hold the ability to make or break your product, especially if you’re planning to retail in large brand name stores/supermarkets (e.g. Tesco, Walmart, etc.), where your product will most probably be surrounded by your competitors’ products.
The problem is, designing an effective product label can be complicated, especially if you have little/no graphic design experience.
Sure, you could simply go out and hire a great designer to do the job for you (which is what most of the big brands do), but without significant guidance, chances are that you’ll still end up with a mediocre product label that doesn’t fit your needs.
With the aim of simplifying the process of product label design, I decided to create a simple step-by-step guide to product label design that I hope will serve as a good starting point.
Here it is:
Step One: Know Your Competition
Before you start work on any aspect of the actual design process, you need to do your research.
What your competition is/isn’t doing will influence most of your decisions when it comes to designing your product label, especially if you’re planning to sell the product in retail stores.
To illustrate the reason(s) why, take a look at this typical retail store shelf:
Instantly, you’ll probably notice the huge range of different colours, typography, and imagery/photography present on the shelf.
This is because every single brand is attempting to stand out from the competition, and essentially fighting for the attention of the consumer.
It’s the same story with virtually every product. You’ll notice here (above) that each jam jar label varies greatly; some are clean and minimalistic (i.e. a white label with simple black text), others match the colour of the jam itself, and some even introduce new colours into the mix.
It’s extremely important that you analyse the competition before designing your product label(s), as you’ll need to ensure that your product label is as different as possible.
Believe it or not, most consumers make the bulk of their buying decision in-store, so you need to create a product label that stands out on the shelf in order to have any hope whatsoever of convincing them to purchase your product.
Step Two: Figure Out How to Differentiate Your Product Label from the Competition
It’s important to make sure that your label stands out not only in isolation, but also when surrounded by competing products (hence the reason analysing your competitors is so important).
Now, there’s no exact science/formula to this, but I’d suggest noting down common themes present throughout your competition so you can avoid creating something similar.
Here are a few things you can look at to discover common themes:
The Colour of the Product Label
Colour is one of the first things most people will notice about a product label, so it’s important that the colour of your label stands out on the shelf.
In order to achieve this, the colour of your product label needs to differ from that of the competition.
For example, if you notice that red labelling is a common theme in your industry (as it appears to be in the coffee industry – as pictured above), make a note to avoid this colour when designing your product label.
Similarly, if you notice that most labels are relatively dull (e.g. black and white) in your industry, make a note to avoid these colours and instead opt for brighter, more colourful product labels to make your product as eye-catching as possible on the shelf.
If you struggle to notice common themes in your industry, you may instead want to base your decision primarily on colour psychology.
It’s important to choose a colour that invokes the desired emotion in your target consumer; this choose will most likely come down to both your brand (i.e. what your company stands for), and to an extent, personal preference.
Note: Colour psychology is important in any product label design – regardless of what your competitors are doing – so make sure to consider this when making your decision.
The Imagery Used on the Labels
You need to choose imagery for your product label that not only represents your brand and product, but also differentiates your product from the competition.
A good example of what not to do (in my opinion, at least) comes from the tinned tomato industry (pictured below).
You’ll notice that almost every single brand of chopped tomatoes featured in the image above features roughly the same imagery: it’s either a photo of a whole tomato, sliced tomato, or chopped tomato.
Because of this, virtually none of the brands stand out from one-another.
Now, you might be thinking, “what other image can you possibly put on a tinned tomato label?”
Well, take a look at this brand:
While the product still features an image of a tomato, the style is very different. Not only is the product photography of a much higher quality than the examples above, but the rest of the label is extremely simple (i.e. a jet black background), which creates a more minimalistic design.
This product would almost certainly stand out on a shelf of similar products (like the ones pictured above).
So, whatever industry you’re in, take a look at the imagery your competitors are using on their labels and consider how your imagery could be different. You may even choose not to use any imagery at all.
The Typography on the Label(s)
Typography is another hugely important – yet often overlooked – aspect of any product label; it’s also yet something else you can use to differentiate your labels from the competition.
As an example, let’s take a look at a couple of jars of honey.
This jar of honey utilises a couple of different typefaces and it’s clear that the labels are professionally printed.
It’s likely that you’d probably expect to see this style of typography/printing on only a mass-produced product (which is most likely what this jar of honey was), which gives the impression of a satisfactory, yet not particularly special product.
Conversely, this jar of honey utilises nothing more than simple food labels (you can get food labels like this from FastLabels.co.uk) with what appears to be a home-printed design.
While these product labels may not look as “professional” as the first, the typography and label style gives the impression of a handmade product of superior quality (perhaps a jar from a limited batch?).
You should keep both your competition and perception you’re trying to create in mind when you’re designing your product label.
Step Three: Don’t Neglect Your Brand
The final step is a relatively simple one: never neglect your brand.
No matter how much you want to differentiate yourself from the competition, it’s of upmost important to keep your brand in mind at all times.
You need to make sure that your product label represents your core values and instantly communicates to the consumer why they should buy your product (rather than your competitors product(s)).
So, while colour, imagery/photography, and typography are all important when differentiating your product(s) from the competition, they’re equally important when representing your brand.
The bottom line is this: don’t choose a colour just because none of your competitors are using it; you also need to make sure it represents your brand and is consistent with the rest of your brand identity.