Top 15 Questions To Ask Your Client Before Designing a Product Package
Understanding The Value of The Client Discovery Process.
What Questions You Should Ask Your Client BEFORE Giving a Quote, Taking a Deposit, and Starting a Package Design Project.
I don’t push pixels. I develop brands. And that’s what you should be doing and that’s what your clients should be doing.
Before you even think about colors, fonts, and composition you need to understand the product and more importantly the brand. But there is also a long list of other technical considerations that you and your client should be asking before you jump into the design process.
These are the top 15 questions I ask in the discovery process. I can usually get through this in a 30 minute phone conversation. Do you need to ask all of these questions, in the same order, every time? No. Use common sense and your client’s specific situation to guide the process. But first you need to know questions to ask and why.
1. Where are you right now? Is this a re-brand or a new product?
You need to know how far they are already invested in the process. A client that is re-branding will be much more sophisticated and realistic about the design process than someone who is launching their first product. They will also have a wealth of knowledge and materials to draw upon. Clients launching their first product will need more hand holding and require more education.
2. What is the product?
You need to get up to speed on what their product is. Ask follow up questions until you “get it”. If you don’t “get it” you can’t really design a killer package and have no business even trying until you do.
3. Who are your competitors?
You need to understand your client’s market before you can design a package. This will not only inform the design itself but will shape the brand story and differentiators. A great package not only looks good but it conveys a clear distinction among a sea of choices. Understanding your client’s competitors, and the consumers’ expectations for the product’s category, is the first step toward segmenting the market to your client’s advantage.
4. What makes you different? Why would someone choose your product over another option?
Many clients have a hard time articulating this so ask them up front. They may come back at you with a finely honed message or it may be a loose collection of vague attributes. This competitive advantage (what makes them different) is called their differentiator and it must be refined and distilled into a compelling brand story. You can’t do your job without understanding this differentiator. Read my “How to Create Product Packaging That Sells” to learn more.
5. Are your suppliers, copackers or private labelers all lined up or are you still exploring production options?
Your client’s suppliers and manufacturers, and the methods they used to produce and distribute the product, will affect what options are available to you. A hot fill container will have a different shape than a cold fill container. A product that must withstand boiling temperatures will require a different type of film than one that is stored at room temperature in a cabinet. A basic glossy paper label can easily be printed in process color with a couple spots, but printing directly on a plastic container will probably reduce your color options to six or less spot colors and prevent you from doing any fancy gradients to avoid stepping (when a gradient doesn’t blend seamlessly and instead creates a banding effect). So unless you and your client are willing to be disappointed when you’re forced to redesign the label, make sure you get all the printing and production specs finalized before you design.
6. Have you finalized what bottle, jar, box, can, tube, or bag you will be using? Do you need help with sourcing this?
Will a client ask you to start designing a label for a bottle that doesn’t exist? They sure will if you let them. So don’t let them and require that they source their containers first. This is a must so never waiver on this. Your client will thank you later.
Here’s a list of quality container suppliers you could suggest:
One of the largest glass container companies in the US
Owens-Illinois Inc. is probably the biggest glass manufacturer in the US and possibly the world.
Huge selection of plastic containers for all product types.
I guess the name says it all.
7. Do you have your dielines ready?
This is often the $1,000,000 question that stops all forward momentum. A dieline is the outline of the package when it’s flattened out. All packaging, whether it is a complicated three dimensional box or a two dimensional label will be printed flat. This flattened shape is the dieline and you can’t design a package without it. A box dieline will usually be created by the printer that will be printing your package. This is one of the main reasons you need to choose your printer first.
However, a two dimensional label can be easily created by yourself if you have the final dimensions or an actual sample of the container itself. Personally, I never design even a simple label without actually having a physical specimen of the container. Not only do you need this for prototyping it’s also the only way to double check the accuracy of your client’s specifications. You can learn how to make a dieline using my dieline tutorial.
8. Are you working with a printer already? What are your anticipated print runs? Do you need a printer?
As previously noted in question #7, a box dieline is usually created by the printer that will be printing your package. This is one of the main reasons you need to choose your printer first. Also, all printers will have certain minimums and set up costs, as well as unique costs for custom dielines. This will often make a difference on whether you go with flexo or digital printing. Flexo printing is much cheaper on a per unit basis, but the start-up costs are higher and the print minimums are usually at least 25,000 per SKU. However, with digital you pay more per unit, but the start-up costs are much smaller and there are no minimums.
Then there are color restrictions that are related to the chosen printing method. Digital is largely unlimited in its ability to reproduce color, while flexo will have plate restrictions (usually nine or so), and direct to container printing may have even more restriction on number of plates. All these factors affect your design choices.
Your print runs matter, so you better choose your printer first as not all printers will handle short run projects while some specialize in short run prototyping.
Here’s a list of quality printers and short run prototypers you can suggest.
Digital and Flexo Label and Sleeve Printers
Fantastic digital labels. Perfect for short runs. They can also do flexo and gravure print runs starting in the 25k per SKU range.
High quality digital and flexo labels for all types of products
Digital and flexo printing.
Good choice for gravure printing. You’ll need big print runs in the 50k plus range per SKU to take advantage of their services
I haven’t used this company personally but based one what I know, they look like a top notch company.
Box and Paper Container Printers
Short run box printing for all types of products.
NEPA is your one stop source for beverage carriers and cartons.
Custom printed boxes, paper boxes, and custom folding cartons.
Zenith produces a wide variety of packaging for fast food, bakeries, coffee, and specialty foods.
Short Run and Package Prototyping
Conceptual design for packaging and displays. Short run boxes, headers and displays.
Custom short run package prototyping. Retail ready, POP and product packaging.
9. What are your distributions channels? Direct to retailers? Selling to distributors? Private label? Box stores or mom and pop? Online only?
Not the most crucial fact to know when it comes to designing a package, but it rounds out your overall plan. For instance, for an online only item, a UPC code may be completely unnecessary. However, a box store like Costco will probably want retail ready packaging such as a branded case where the top can ripped off and the products nicely displayed straight off the pallet without the need to shelve individual units.
10. Do you have your UPC codes ready? Do you need help getting them?
Most everyone knows they need a barcode but most first time entrepreneurs have no idea where to get them or what they are really about. UPC stands for Universal Product Code. All these codes are issued and managed by GS1US. A barcode is a graphical representation of these codes that can be easily scanned. You can generate your own barcodes from your client’s UPCs with this free online barcode generator.
Discourage your client from buying a UPC from a reseller because most large retailers will NOT carry a product that uses a third party UPC. And guess what, ALL these resellers actually got these UPCs from GS1US anyway. So encourage you client to spend the $750 and sign up at GS1US. Every account also includes one hundred UPCs so that comes out to only $7.50 per SKU.
11. Is your body copy complete? How about your name and tagline?
Does a fifty word brand story to take up much less space than a hundred word brand story? You bet. Every single letter that you need to put on the label affects the layout, so make sure you have finalized copy before you start. If your client doesn’t have finished copy, then you, your client, or a writer they hire will need to take on that responsibility. Now if you happen to be an excellent copywriter, then you have more freedom. More often than not I’m writing my client’s body copy as well as creating or refining taglines and calls to action. I do this because I can’t let them go to market with clumsy, confusing, or ineffectual content – so I fix the stuff they give me. This allows me to rewrite the copy on the fly to fit available space.
12. Do you have a print ready logo or any other graphics that you want to use?
There are two reasons why you have to know this upfront. One, you can’t design a package without knowing what’s going to be on it, and two, depending on the experience level of the client the term “print ready” may mean very different things. It may mean getting a ready-to-go vector logo with all fonts converted outlines, or a useless 300 pixel wide GIF. It could mean getting a royalty free high resolution TIFF, or a low resolution JPEG snatched off somebody’s web site. So get these files up front to save yourself any unpleasant surprises.
13. Are your nutritional facts done? How about ingredients?
Lack of nutritional facts or missing finalized ingredients are simple things that can hold up a packaging project. If your client already has their nutritional facts, you can use my nutrition facts templates to format that data into a FDA approved label. If your client needs FDA approved nutritional profiles created for their product, Brooker Laboratories is a good place to start. They can generate a nutritional profile based upon your ingredients or by analyzing the actual finished product.
14. Are there any USDA or FDA requirements for your packaging?
For meat products this may include a safe handling instructions label or the USDA passed inspection icons for meat and poultry. For other products there are restrictions on what you can or cannot claim as far as benefits depending on whether it’s a cosmetic, a dietary supplement or a conventional food. So make sure this is all settled and approved before you design a package claiming that it will cure cancer.
15. When is your projected launch date?
Some things take longer than others, so by knowing the launch date you can work backwards and find out what your real timeline for deliverables should be.
So Now What?
If there are a lot of “I don’t knows” after completing the discovery process, then your client is either not ready or they are looking to you to provide the “total package”. If they are not ready, you’ve saved yourself a lot of time as they’ll need to figure out the missing pieces before they can come back to you. To ignore these gaps, and take the job anyway as if everything is fine, is dishonest.
However, if they are looking for a branding and packaging consulting experience – someone to guide, shape and execute the entire process – then you’ll know what you are getting into, what you’ll need to charge, and what vendors you may need to bring in.
Launching a product is complicated so don’t ignore these questions no matter how tempting it is to just accept the project and start designing. Your client is most likely very excited to move forward but you have an obligation as a professional designer to pull the reigns if you don’t have all the materials and specs necessary to ensure their product has the best chances of succeeding in the market.
File Under: Client Designer Questions, How to Conduct a Package Design Discovery Process With Your Client, Important Questions to Ask Your Client When Designing a Product Package