Structure design for toy packaging

Structure Design: Make it Ownable, or Let Your Competition Win

As many of you already know, I have a penchant for innovative structure design. At Design Force, Inc., we view package structure as a powerful brand differentiator – yet another opportunity to build visual brand equity. As brand marketers and package designers, this opportunity should never be wasted. If you’re presented with the chance to develop a new structure for your brand, why not ensure that it thoroughly aligns with your brand in a unique and ownable way? Pass up this opportunity, and you’re just giving your category away to your competition.

In almost every toy category, the retail environment is rampant with unconventionally-shaped packaging vying for consumers’ attention. Much of it is poorly-executed or arbitrarily-designed and fails to leverage visual assets associated with the brand or the product’s specific play pattern. As often as I peruse the toy aisles, I find that most package structure design just becomes part of the overall visual noise. So, when I do stumble upon a package design with a brilliantly-conceived structure, it inspires me to identify the specific manner in which the structure benefits the brand.

There are many ways to leverage an ownable structural design strategy to make your brand stand out among its competition. Too many, in fact, for one blog post. But, here are three highly effective structural design approaches for you to consider as you develop or refresh your brand’s packaging:

Structural shape as package design architecture

Distinctive package design architecture is what consumers recognize first. Whether consciously or subconsciously, it’s what they look for when they’re trying to find their favorite brands at retail. It should always derive from the most significant and equitable visual assets associated with the brand – visual assets that have the potential to resonate with consumers on an emotional level. If your package design architecture can be further emphasized through structural shape, it will make an even greater impact with consumers at retail.

A great example is a blister card structure design that we developed back in 2002 for Toy Biz’s and Diamond Select’s Marvel Select action figures. Why am I digging so far into the past for an example here? Because it’s still being leveraged as the structure for the latest Marvel Select releases today.

Package structure as package design architecture

The structure is a very simple yet distinctive shape that defines the package design architecture – a vertical front panel that holds the Marvel Select logo, character name, and artwork that communicates the character’s super powers. This artwork continues onto a clear label applied to the blister structure where the character’s icon appears. The structure design also establishes an uninterrupted left side panel that holds a full-bleed character illustration, giving the Marvel Select packing high collector appeal. The package design has evolved somewhat over the years, but the structure remains unchanged. This structural shape is the single most equitable visual asset of the Marvel Select product line, and is immediately recognizable to every action figure aficionado.

Structural shape as storytelling

Rather than merely developing a structural shape that’s visually distinctive, why not leverage structure design as a vehicle that begins to tell the brand story?

Structure design tells brand story

This is the case with the packaging for Spin Master’s B Pack, a line of trendy little fashion dolls and accessories that clip onto your backpack. Not surprisingly, the packaging is shaped like an actual backpack with a “zipper” built into the blister so it opens like the large compartment of a real back pack. It’s also a “blind box” style package with 9 surprises inside, including the B Pack doll. The structural shape of the packaging, as well as the way in which it opens, immediately tells you what this product line is all about. The storytelling continues once the outer package is opened. The doll and all of the accessories are sealed in little paper bags disguised as things you might find in a girl’s backpack.

Simple. Brilliant. The best structure designs always are.

Structural shape as brand icon

If your brand is associated with an iconic shape, whether it be part of the brand name or an attribute of the brand identity, it is essentially a built-in visual brand differentiator. Therefore, you would be foolish to NOT leverage this shape as the basis for your packaging’s structural design strategy.

Package structure as brand icon

This is exactly what Innovation First did with when they developed the packaging for their HEXBUG brand. When the brand initially launched, every single product’s package structure incorporated a hexagon motif in a prominent way. Sometimes it was the footprint of the structure. Other times it was the shape of the entire front panel of the package, or simply the shape of the window die-cut or thermoformed blister. They’ve since moved away from this as an overarching structural strategy, but still retain the hexagon-shaped platform structure and domed blister for some of their products, including the HEXBUG Fire Ant micro robotic creature. When leveraged as the package structure, the iconic hexagon shape is the visual thread that refers back to the HEXBUG brand itself.

These are just three ways to distinguish your brand at retail through package structure design. If you’re a marketer or package designer, please let us know how you’ve leveraged structure to help a brand resonate with its target audience in an ownable manner at retail.

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