Jill Chase has been an Art Director creating eye-popping graphics for the toy industry for over 15 years. Starting her graphic design career in publishing, she learned paper engineering for pop-up books, which developed into a unique perspective for designing product packaging. She has had the opportunity to apply her fresh approach to design and marketing to brands such as Power Rangers, Terminator and Family Guy.
In this super competitive atmosphere of the toy world, it's so important to get your packaging just right. It isn't enough to have a good product. If the packaging isn't great, it might not even make it to the toy aisle, let alone get on the shelf and go home with someone. A great package gives the toy a perceived added value, and a bad one can make it look cheap. In our more than 15 years creating branding for the toy industry, we have come up with some universal truths about great packaging.
1. Know your brand.
This might seem obvious, but it's so important to immerse yourself in your brand and really feel it. If it's a movie or TV license, you can't fake it, you need to really watch it, and know it. Your branding will have a verisimilitude that can't be achieved by just reading a synopsis or script. When we worked on Michael Jackson packaging, we constantly had MJ videos playing in the background, and when we worked on Terminator, we worked to the sounds of the action movies.
2. Know your market.
Again, this may seem obvious, but it's important. If your product is aimed at an 8-year-old boy, it helps if you can really channel that 8-year-old boy inside yourself. We really never grew up, so it's not hard for us. This gets tricky when the brand is really aimed at an older audience than your market. This happens. For instance, a movie such as Terminator might be a brand that can be a bit dark at first glance. Coming up with a look that satisfies both the brand and the market is a tricky tightrope act.
3. Know the competition.
I don't want to dwell too much on what others are doing, but you have to know what's out there to stand out from the crowd. What seems like a great design solution in the isolation of your studio might seem quite stale when you see it in the context of the shelf, next to the competition. What is your product’s point of differentiation? Can I highlight that difference more?
4. Engage your audience.
A set of eye-popping visual elements is critical, but I find it helps if there is one key piece that draws you in and makes you take notice, like a main character that says "look at me!"
5. Establish a visual hierarchy.
Today, many toys multi-task and the packaging has to convey a lot of information. A clear hierarchy of information needs to be decided on, otherwise the consumer is confronted with a cacophony of big red bursts and snipes. Don’t let the client get away with saying “All 10 communications are equally important!”
6. Show product to best advantage.
This starts by deciding if the package should be open or closed. Some toys just can't be packed out in a way that will look great in a window box. If that's the case, an awesome photo shoot or illustration could be your best friend. If an open package, such as a blister, is appropriate make sure the toy looks good against the background. Many designers don't take this into account, which is surprising considering selling toys is the task at hand. Whether open or closed box, photography will probably enter the picture and high-quality retouching is the difference between bringing your A game or getting a C+ package.
7. Resist the urge to use the clients "cute nephew" on package.
At some point, a client will suggest this. Let's just say it out loud – kids are rarely as cute to strangers as they seem to the family that loves them. If a kid shot is what you need, be realistic. Do not weaken. Find the right child. If you don’t need a model shot, be brave and say so. Nothing screams "amateur packaging" like some random child beaming up at you from the box for no reason whatsoever. In this competitive marketplace it pays to go with an agency that knows the youth market and how to speak the language. Kids are pretty savvy and know when they are being talked down to. The toy aisle is a visually loud place and there is an art to making attention-getting packaging that makes that kid say “That’s awesome, I want that!”