What does a packaging designer do?


What does a
packaging designer do?

Besides hide underneath their desk

I love packaging. It's one of the reasons why I go to the grocery store multiple times a week. At RISD, it was one of my favourite classes (taught by the wonderful, hawk-eyed Aki Nurosi) and I love how it is a combination of prototyping, colour-application, material selection, and designing. While job-hunting I treasured it as one of my many possible career routes: Book designer! Trader Joes packaging designer! Film title designer!  

I never imagined that I'd be a part of the cosmetic industry and I'm learning a lot about business, the start-up culture, and how cash flow > aesthetics. My designated title is "Junior Marketing Manager," but as our small design & marketing team currently consists just of yours truly, a priority of mine is designing skincare products. Our products can be described as minimal, travel-friendly, and clinical. 

Concept, prototype, SKU

Skincare has its staples: sunblock, creams, face wash, etc. But before a product becomes a full-fledged SKU it begins, as most creative projects do, as a concept.

  • What is it? Face wash or face serum

  • Who is it for? Teenagers with acne or busy working millennials

  • What will it be packaged in? Plastic airless bottle or glass dropper bottle

  • What will the quantity be? 15ml, 30ml, or even larger?

  • Where will it be sold? Online (e-commerce) or in-store

The conceptual stage is the most fun because you have the most freedom. Cost isn't a factor, yet. Once a draft is ready (this could be as simple as a scanned sketch or a more refined AI file) we send it to printing and manufacturing vendors to get a quote.


Mockups & Mockups & more Mockups

This is my favourite part! I find peace in assembling mockups. It’s repetitive and therapeutic — printing and cutting and taping pieces together. Resources, namely paper and ink, are easily eaten up during this part. I honestly don't see a way around this because you can't gauge distances on screen.

  • Is it optically balanced?

  • Is the kerning too tight?

  • Should I make the logo slightly larger?

  • Does the barcode sit a little too close to the die line?

  • Is there enough space for the batch code to be printed?

If we can agree on the formula, MOQ, copywriting, product design, and product packaging, then in a few short months a new skincare product will enter the fascinating and burgeoning cosmetic industry. Sometimes an unforeseen issue will occur and delay a product for months, even years. To borrow from the entertainment industry, we can now proceed to the excruciating doldrums of Development Hell.

Development Hell

Projects can be repeatedly shelved, reinstated, and shelved again. Sometimes a problem arises in the middle of production or it occurs near the finish line. It's frustrating when there is nothing you can do to speed up the process.

Unto you, a product is born


Restless nights

My conviction for sustainability has admittedly struggled under the professional identity I've built since entering the real, working, adult world. To maintain sanity (and peachy work relations), my focus has been inward and I'm trying to be more considerate about the resources I use. I'll confess that I am terrified of sharing my views in the office, especially when some of the colleagues I respect are comfortable with their lifestyles. Should I zealously rebuke a coworker about her daily, single-use, disposable hot beverage purchases? Maybe I can buy a reusable beverage container (stainless steel thermos, no paint coating) and leave it on her desk with an anonymous and mildly passive aggressive note? I suppose the best way is still to lead by example, maybe one day I'll have the guts to be more assertive.

Conscientious & utilitarian design

That's what I'd like to work towards. Eliminating packaging for everything is impractical and impossible. But a lot of excessive and unnecessary packaging exists, not only for the things we actually use and need but also for the innumerable things that feed a consumerist lifestyle. I still believe that packaging has a crucial role to play. We certainly don't need to preserve and archive every single object, but we can reconsider how to best protect life-sustaining things such as food and medicine. Let packaging be a concession, not a mandatory requirement.