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How to Make a Truly Iconic Packaging Design

Every food and beauty company dreams of having an iconic brand, a brand that anyone can identify at a glance.

Like those Starbucks cups that you can instantly recognize when you see people with them hurrying to work. Or the Coca Cola cans and bottles that make you suddenly feel the need for some sweet bubbly soda.

Iconic brands are memorable and very easy to recognize. The name of the brand may even replace a common word, like Kleenex instead of tissues or Googling instead of online searching.

While the most iconic brands are huge companies, smaller companies that are just starting out can create iconic brands as well. To do so, however, you’ll need to think strategically and keep the following things in mind.

iconic brand starbucks

Starbucks branding is memorable

Keep it simple

Think about the Nike swoosh, the red of a Coke can, and the golden McDonalds arches. All of these brand designs use simplicity to their advantage. The swoosh and the golden arches are very simple symbols that are also different from any other symbols in the market. As soon as you see those arches or the swoosh, your brain immediately brings up pictures of big Macs and running shoes.

The Coke symbol, on the other hand, is a bit more complex, with lots of swirls and movement in it. However, Coke’s colors are very basic and simple. The red of a Coca-Cola bottle, along with the distinctive way their brand name is written, create a memorable packaging design that can’t be replicated.

If you want your packaging to reach iconic status, keep it simple, whether that’s designing a an unforgettable logo or picking a color scheme with only 2-3 distinctive colors.

iconic brand apple

Apple keeps its branding simple

Tell a story

The best designs also tell stories — and it’s those stories that make them truly memorable. Take Apple for example. Their logo tells two different stories. The first story is that Apple computers are very user friendly. The logo is a simple picture of an item that most people have in their kitchens. That tells people their computers are made for everyone, not just tech geeks. At the same time, it’s very simple, which speaks to the powerful simplicity of their brand.

If you want to tell a story with your packaging design, first ask yourself what values you want people to associate with your brand. What images and ideas do you want to evoke as soon as they see your packaging, before they even use your product. Keep your brand story in mind and your design will be much more likely to reach iconic status.

Get their emotions involved

One reason stories are so memorable is that they make us feel something. In addition to telling a story with your packaging, you should also intentionally think about how you want people to feel when they encounter or use your products. Coke’s bright red makes you feel like drinking a Coke is a mini celebration, and their television ads also bring the emotions of joy and celebration to the forefront.

Nike’s swoosh contains a lot of movement, and the runners who wear their shoes are frequently in motion as well. Their branding makes you feel empowered to get in shape.

What are the core emotions you want to bring out in your customers? Do you want them to feel nostalgic? Happy? Like they’re about to experience something luxurious? Figure out how you want them to feel and design your packaging accordingly.

iconic brand Nike

Nike evokes your emotions

Get people’s attention

Iconic packaging catches customers’ eyes immediately. Three elements help you do this: color, contrast, and size. Take a hint from Coke and McDonald’s and use bright colors and simple color schemes.

Bright colors are more likely to catch people’s attention than muted ones. Choose a color palette with only a few contrasting colors. When colors contrast, the wording on your package will stand out more, and customers will be able to read it easily. Finally, make sure your font size is large enough for people to see it at a distance.

For more resources, check out our food packaging design guide.

Simple color schemes

Simple color schemes

Make a brand a kid would recognize

Forbes shares a tip they call the 5 year old test: Describe a package design and then send a five year old into a grocery store to find it. If they can find it and bring it back to you, you know you’re on the right track. Designs that pass the 5 year old test are easy to recognize and include simple designs that even a young child can understand. Even if your brand isn’t designed for kids, it’s still a good practice to make a design that anyone would understand immediately.

Make it memorable

Does it pass the 5 year old test?

Go on an iconic brand scavenger hunt

I’ve already mentioned Coke, Nike, McDonald’s, and Apple. But what other iconic brands can you think of? Chanel’s plain black lettering and boxy perfume bottles come to mind. So do the tall letters on a Hershey bar. What about the gold and black of a Cheerios box?

I have a challenge for you. Go to your grocery store or the mall, or even drive down a city street. Pay attention to all of the iconic brands you see. Do they have the qualities I’ve listed above? Notice how many of them have simple color schemes and recognizable logos. How do you feel when you see them? Which stories come into your mind?

The more you notice iconic brands, the more you’ll come up with ideas for your own. As the owner of an established branding agency, I have designed branding and packaging for Victoria’s Secret and Avon, and I want to design iconic packaging for your products.

Our award-winning packaging design agency has had decades of experience helping brands stand out. Let’s set up a meeting to dive into your product together and chat about how our approach can elevate your brand presence.

Contact us today!