We get asked for design assistance and/or recommendations a lot, which suggests there is much confusion about the steps involved in producing high-quality product labels. We touch on the importance of the design phase in various other publications and blog posts, but we’ll try to focus in more detail here.
First, it’s critical to understand that label design is a very important part of marketing your product successfully. A well-designed product label does a number of things:
- It informs the prospective customer about what your product is and what it does. It makes no sense to have a label that simply says “Superior Skin Therapy” if it doesn’t also tell the reader WHY you’re making that claim. Tell them what your product does to justify the marketing jargon – otherwise they’re left wondering and will turn to a competitive product on the shelf that explains itself better. That product may actually be inferior to yours, but information wins the day.
- It shows the prospective customer what your product looks like, preferably in a flattering way. How you do this will depend on the product itself – a food product could show the contents in normal use (e.g. a nicely presented plate as if being consumed in a meal setting). Not all products will lend themselves to a visual representation, particularly if the contents are simply a small ingredient of a larger product, but an image is always worth considering if it makes sense. Again, the intent is to make your product’s use obvious and not expect the prospect to interpret its intended use by reading a lot of text. Attention spans have dropped dramatically in recent years, so you need to design a label that educates in the shortest possible time.
- It attracts attention away from competitive products. An eye-catching product label will always fare better on a crowded shelf than a drab uninteresting one. Yes, this is a major part of the design task and everybody is fighting for the same space, but don’t get carried away with trying to be too radical or you may create a bigger (and more expensive) project than you expected when it comes to having your labels printed. One thing to keep in mind is that a professionally-designed label will usually just look better than something amateurish – after all, poor design is a visual distraction and only encourages viewers to focus on the wrong things.
- Last but not least, a product label design frequently needs to have various regulatory information included to meet legal requirements. Nutrition panels, safety warnings, and even usage instructions are often a necessary part of the label design. This affects how much space you have to work with, and how readable the information needs to be – which feeds into font selection and layout considerations. These are once again specialist skills that many designers do not encounter in their normal work.
It’s important to understand that there are well-proven approaches to product label design that just work – it’s not rocket-science but it is a special skill that comes with experience. It’s not enough to be a graphic artist or website designer without also having the knowledge specific to product design, and labels in particular.
For example, we often see product label designs that simply don’t fit the container properly and create major issues when the client (i.e. you) begins applying the labels to the finished product. This may sound simple, but different container shapes (and sizes) can make the label designer’s task very challenging if they don’t begin with the end product in mind – i.e. they need to begin at the end and work back to the beginning. Too many designers simply say “we need a 3” x 4” label” and begin the design – without testing whether that size and shape works in practice when applied to the product.
As silly as it may seem, beginning with a sheet of paper and a pair of scissors would save a LOT of mistakes we see in our business – and those mistakes are very expensive for you. Additionally, many designers we encounter don’t seem to understand the practical implications of using a particular software tool when their design gets printed. Using Photoshop to design labels with lots of small text is a very common error we see, and we’ve written about that in a separate post –
So, when engaging a designer, always look for one who has extensive previous experience with product labels (and a portfolio to prove it) – which is a very small proportion of the design community indeed. Which leads us to the next critical point – you get what you pay for!
The “connected world” we live in gives us ready access to skills all over the world – but choosing a label designer outside the country is most often based on financial considerations. That may sound attractive at first, but when you consider communication challenges, time-zone differences, responsiveness, and even simple things like measurements (metric versus imperial), a complex design project can quickly become a nightmare. We see them all the time in our business, and in most cases there’s nothing we can do to help a client who’s engaged an unseen designer with questionable skills just because they were cheap.
If you’re serious about your product, you need to be serious about the labels – and that means finding a competent designer with the unique skills that product labels involve. It also helps enormously if the designer is in your own time-space and is contactable by something other than email – a phone conversation is worth a hundred emails in our experience.
That said, high-quality local label designers do not come cheaply – it’s not unusual to see such professionals charging up to $100 an hour or more – but you can usually be confident that those rates are based on experience and competence, and it’s also important to understand that an hourly rate is no indication of value. A good designer might take 2-3 hours to produce a finished label design, whereas a less experienced designer might take many times as long (and bring a lot of heartache into the process as well). It’s no different than hiring an electrician or a plumber or an auto mechanic – buying cheap is a very short-sighted approach and almost invariably carries a higher cost in one way or another (financial or emotional).
At Wizard Labels we do not offer design services (we’re a label printing company and focus on that specialty) – but we do know first-hand the implications of poor label design work. If you want your products to compete effectively in the marketplace and give them the best chance of success, we suggest you need to put some serious effort into finding a local designer with specific experience in product labels. In the long run, we believe you’ll have a less stressful time and your products will be on the shelves more quickly.