10 Tips for Developing Eye-Popping Packaging

While people shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, they do. This is why it is so critical that you spend the time and money to get the packaging on your product right. It doesn’t matter if it’s a book, a CD collection, or a record album. People will never get to experience your brilliance unless the packaging gets them to pick it up and explore it.

Consumer Shopping at a Book Table - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/MivPiv, Image #17031391

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/MivPiv

This is especially important in today’s world. You have never had more competition. The market is increasingly crowded—and noisy. You need every advantage you can muster. Packaging is a key component in the selling process. This is often where the war for the consumer’s mind is won or lost.

I am not a designer, but I have worked with hundreds of them over the span of my career. I have been responsible for hiring them, evaluating their work, and picking the designs I believe will work. I have had tremendous successes—and abysmal failures. Regardless, I have learned along the way.

With that perspective, I offer these ten tips for developing eye-popping packaging and thus increasing your chances of sales success:

  1. Know your audience. A year ago, I had to speak to a group of college students. I hired a design firm to prepare my slides. When I got them back, I didn’t care for the design. However, I showed them to my two college-age daughters. They loved them. The slides were a big hit with my audience. The point is that it’s not about you. It’s about your audience. What would they find compelling?
  2. Consider your brand. While the audience is important, so is your brand. You have to strike a balance between reaching your audience and representing who you are—or want to become. This means paying close attention to fonts, colors, and even textures and materials. All of them communicate subtle messages about your brand.
  3. Review the bestseller lists. It is worth taking a look at the bestsellers in your product category. What current design trends do you see? What seems to be working? Review the top 100 products and take notes. For example, I am currently writing a marketing book on building your platform. I have reviewed the top business books and taken copious notes. This has expanded my design horizons and stimulated by thinking.
  4. Make the investment necessary. You won’t get a second chance to make a first impression. If your packaging looks cheap, dated, or confusing, your prospective customers will assume that your actual product is cheap, dated, or confusing. Therefore, you need to invest in the best designer you can afford. Don’t try to do it yourself to save money (unless you are actually a designer). Remember: There is nothing more expensive than a cheap design that doesn’t work.
  5. Don’t provide too much direction—at least initially. Don’t limit the imagination of your designers. If you do, you won’t get their best work. Instead, describe your product and the audience. (If you are publishing a book, give them a copy of your book proposal. This is a quick way to get them up-to-speed, since they likely won’t have time to read your manuscript.) Then, get out of the way and see what they come up with.
  6. Insist on several comps. I tell designers up front that I want to see several comps (short for “comprehensive layouts”.) I want to be able to pick and choose from various alternatives. I often find that I like the type on one version, the illustration on another, and the color selection on yet another. If you and the designer limit yourself to one option, you will find that you often get stuck and have a tough time moving forward without friction.
  7. Be careful with design metaphors. By this I mean the illustration or photo you use to represent your message or story. For example, sitting on my desk right now are books with illustrations of a chair, a chess game, a light bulb, a sunset, and an elephant trunk. Some of these are perfect. Others leave me scratching my head. If you use a design metaphor, make sure the connection to the title is obvious. Think about all the messages it communicates.
  8. Don’t let the design get in the way. My favorite designs are those that are simple and elegant. They are kind of like the drum track on a great song. You’d miss it if it weren’t there, but you barely notice it when it is. Or to say it another way, the design doesn’t compete with the message for attention; instead, it facilitates it. Be especially wary of designs that require an explanation for you to “get it.” Your prospective customers won’t have the benefit of someone standing next to them in the store explaining what it means.
  9. Evaluate the packaging in-context. Once you are close to a final design, you need to evaluate it in the various merchandising environments in which your product will appear. For example, will the cover “pop” on a shelf with similar titles. Is the type readable from five feet away? What about ten? What about the online context? If it’s a book, how will it look when it is reduced to 260 pixels high, as covers are in the Amazon store? Don’t get married to a design until you have seen the product in the appropriate environments.
  10. Ask your fans. If you already have a blog, Twitter, or Facebook following, you can test various design options with your best prospects—the people who already want to hear what you have to say. You can use a service like SurveyMonkey to display cover options and then let your fans vote. It’s also helpful if they can comment, because they will offer other options or see things you may have missed. This is crowd-sourcing at its best!

Don’t under-estimate the importance of great design. When it comes to selling your product, it can make you or break you.

Question: What tips have you learned about product design? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
Get My New, 3-Part Video Series—FREE! Ready to accomplish more of what matters? 2015 can be your best year ever. In my new video series, I show you exactly how to set goals that work. Click here to get started. It’s free—but only until Monday, December 8th.

Get my FREE video series now!

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are snarky, offensive, or off-topic. If in doubt, read My Comments Policy.

  • Alan Kay

    Being a fully recovered ad guy I add that you can use the same principals when designing a name or logo for your business. Too much time is spent second guessing if the name/logo is right without going through the above steps. What matters is most is the strategy for your  name/logo and what the product is going to do for people, not if you think it’s the perfect design. It also takes leadership to make a choice – seeking others opinions is a sure way to blunt the opportunity. Imagine Steve Jobs 20+ years ago doing focus groups on the names MacIntosh and Apple – for a computer! 
    Finally, names/logos are a stake in the ground – plant them and let them grow into what they become. So, give the designer a good briefing and a good process and stand back.    

  • http://www.warriorshepherd.com/blog Dave Hearn

    Be bold. Remember your book/package is going to be  on the shelf with dozens of competitors just like it… so make sure it stands out.  

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Agreed.

  • Tom Rawls

    I get a bit frustrated with design people who show me ONE
    (1) example of their creative work on my behalf and say “This is what
    we’ve created for you!” Like you’ve said in your blog today, show me a few
    different designs and allow me to pick. I have now developed a philosophy –
    unless the first design is amazing, eye-popping, innovative and powerful, I
    tend to have NO as my default response; give me options – I want to choose. Tom Rawls

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I like to tell them this at the outset, before they have invested any time. It also helps them manage their own resources. I want them to invest in rough comps and not get too far down the road without giving me a chance to weigh in.

  • http://www.christianfaithatwork.com Chris Patton

    I like number one – Know your audience.  I am in the automobile business and found out long ago that we can sell more cars if we stock what others like versus what I like.  There are some cars and colors that I cannot believe people will buy!  In addition, I am shocked when they walk right past one of my favorites without as much as a glance.

    I suspect it is even easier to want the cover or packaging on the product “we created” to be something we like!  However, unless we plan to buy all of our own products, it is much wiser to focus on the audience we are targeting.

  • http://geoffreywebb.wordpress.com/ Geoff Webb

    Great list. My only build would be an addendum to #5: Not only should you not provide too much initial guidance to your designers—don’t allow yourself to get married to your own ideas either.

    I’ve discovered that while I’m a pretty good artist, I’m not a designer. I’m always impressed with what a gifted designer comes up with—partially because I try to drain my mind (and heart) of preconceived notions.

    Thanks!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I totally agree with that. I am always excited when a designer exceeds my expectations.

  • Hanne Moon

    Thanks for this post, Michael… your insights on so many different facets of the business and/or publishing world have certainly helped steer me as I get my own small indie publishing business off the ground. I appreciate you being willing to share the things you’ve learned with the rest of us. God bless!

  • http://www.touchtheskye.org Chris MacKinnon

    I’m amazed at how little people consider their brand. We really need to take more time as individuals and small corporations (including churches) understanding this. 

    I also like to look over the bestsellers, and would add just one thought: check the bestsellers in your genre. A business book cover looks very different from a fiction cover.

    A good tip is to make the effort to use someone other than yourself. I can do some graphics because of time in an art department in another job. But I’m not an educated, proven graphic artist. I’ve designed my own covers in the past, but I recently found out about 99designs.com. You can put your concept out there and others will compete for your project. You can interact with the individual designers and tweak ideas. You can even tweet or Facebook your project and ask your network to rate the ideas to help you find one that reaches your target audience. The catch is that there is a price. But it’s a great alternative.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I actually got my logo through a service similar to 99designs. I literally was able to pick from over 200 designs. It was a very positive experience.

    • http://www.warriorshepherd.com/blog Dave Hearn

      This is a great idea for small projects ! Thanks for the link…

  • http://brevis.me Robert Ewoldt

    As I was reading your list, I was thinking to myself, “Would the outcome of this step affect whether or not I purchase a book?”. The answer was, “Yes.”. These are all things that would affect my purchase. Especially your point about making an investment. You can’t make the mistake of dismissing the importance of the design of your book, and making it sub-par.

  • http://www.myoneresolution.com/ Don McAllister

    I’m going to need this someday soon, so I just evernoted it. Great advice! thanks!

  • http://twitter.com/johnlambert John Lambert

    I like #8, “Don’t let the design get in the way.”  I am trying to discipline myself to be more clean and uncluttered.  Less is best, if less is done better.

  • http://joeandancy.com/ Joe Abraham

    Thanks for a well-written ‘how-to’ of designing and packaging. About #5, from my experience I found that designers like those who understand and appreciate their skill in designing as you are skilled in writing. And as both work together, superb outstanding designs come forth!

  • Droy

    They are really very good pointers from the point of view of package designs. I got some similar info about packaging design ideas here at http://www.packaging-films.com/articles/packaging-design.html

  • http://successbeginstoday.org/wordpress John Richardson

    Very helpful list Michael. I agree that great design is key in differentiating your product from the rest. Unfortunately many people when building their platform may find they need to be their own designers. They simply can’t afford to hire someone to do their book cover, one sheet, business cards, or logo. They can either go with pre-packaged designs or learn to do the design work themselves. Three programs can help.

    1. Photoshop: Back in 1996, I took a Photoshop class. It was on version 3 at the time, and it was one of the best things I ever did. While the program has changed dramatically, the basics remain the same. I use Photoshop every day.  Photoshop will allow you to create and edit graphics for the web, press, and still photography. It has a rather large learning curve, but the investment in time is worth it. For people on a budget, you can purchase the student version and learn the ropes. Check your local adult school or community college for classes.

    2. Powerpoint: Did you know that you can design killer graphics, titles, and logos with the Powerpoint program that is part of Microsoft Office? Powerpoint is actually a graphics powerhouse, but it requires some strategy to output graphics properly. You can create amazing logos, charts, and titles for the screen and then use a screen grab program to capture them in their full glory. (For some reason, the graphic save part of the program reduces the resolution and is not usable in most versions.)

    3. Jing: With a screen capture program like Jing, you can design great graphics in Powerpoint, and then capture the hi res presentation screen by using a hotkey. Jing provides you with crosshairs to capture just the part of the screen that you want. You can create amazing titles and logos in just minutes with Powerpoint and capture them quickly with Jing. While these may not be suitable for print, they look great on the screen. The good news, most people already have Powerpoint on their machines and Jing is free. 

    I put together a tutorial a few years ago about creating graphics with Powerpoint. It may be a little dated, but you might find it useful. http://goals4u.us/rgcwYt  

    If you can’t afford a designer for your blog or website, this may be a great place to start.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Thanks for this list, John. It’s very helpful.

      I have just started using Acorn for Mac in place of Photoshop. It is much cheaper (like 10% of the cost) and much, much easier to use. It does 99% of what I can do in Photoshop.
      Also, I often use Apple Keynote (similar to PowerPoint) for quick designs. In fact, I used it to create my various ebooks. It is also good for quick graphics especially since you can export a page as JPG, PNG, or PDF.
      Thanks again for your input.

      • http://successbeginstoday.org/wordpress John Richardson

        I’ll have to give Acorn a try. Keynote with Jing would be a powerful and quick tool for business graphics. Great resources… Thanks Mike.

    • http://www.warriorshepherd.com/blog Dave Hearn

      At the same time, people have to realize their limitations… not everyone is a designer and Photoshop or Powerpoint/Keynote templates alone will not make a good presentation/product/package.  

  • http://paulcoughlin.com Paul Coughlin

    ok, I’m beginning to think there might be something wrong with me now..

    Almost every blog post you write Michael, sparks off connections in my mind of how your content taps into basic truths, and can be applied in all sorts of ways..I’m not actually thinking of writing a book (yet) – but this post just shouts ‘website design’ at me!- and is a brilliant approach to designing the cover of your web presence -> which is your website appearance.Everything you say is very relevant about good website visual design too..

    thanks..

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Paul. I think you are right!

      • http://paulcoughlin.com Paul Coughlin

        You mean there is something wrong with me.. darn it –  I knew there was..  :-)

        • http://www.christianfaithatwork.com Chris Patton

          Paul, as a result of this interaction, you need to check out this post I saw earlier today!

          http://i2ileadership.org/?p=1802

          I think it is appropriate!

          • http://paulcoughlin.com Paul Coughlin

            Hey Chris – thanks for sharing the link.. 

            I agree feedback is great :-)

    • http://www.needleforthechristianbubble.com Joe Lalonde

      Paul, I’m right with you. I see so many ways that these blog posts can be adjusted to fit other areas of my life. I’m of the opinion that it’s working principles are transferable to almost all areas of our life.

      • http://paulcoughlin.com Paul Coughlin

        Good news Joe – ‘transferable’ – great way to describe them..

  • Heather Anne Buret

    Michael, your 10 tips for the cover design really made me think.  Unless you are looking for a specific book, it is imperative that title and design jump out.  Thank you for all the details required to meet this need.  If I ever get that far with my book, I will certainly go back and tick the boxes!
      

  • Scott Postma

    Michael,

    I just wanted to thank you for putting the time and effort into supplying helpful content.  I’ve been following your blog for about 6 months, and have bookmarked many of your posts as a library of helps for each stage of my writing process.  

    Also, my daughter is attending college at Trinity where you’ll be speaking next month.  I hope she gets the opportunity to meet you, personally.  Blessings.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I hope I get the chance to meet your daughter, too. Thanks for your encouraging words.

  • Officialbsj

    Hello Michael,

    Again you’re on point. No wonder you’ve been so succesful at what you do (and have done…)

    To cut a long story short I have been sitting with over 100 manuscripts and 10 times that many rejections. It hasn’t led to the anticipated wrist-slitting or pill popping that I had anticipated from previous readings but nonetheless it is my work and I hate seeing it sit on the graveyard that is my desk.

    I was thinking just today that I had had enough of sitting around the house, drinking too much tea and bathing more times than was necessary, and that I was going to stop waiting for others to decide whether or not I was good enough. So I made the resolution to start a publishing company (very small one) and to open a chain of bookstore-cum-coffee shops that would almost exclusively sell my merchandise. (I’m also producing the film version of my autobiography and will be producing each and every one of the 70 screenplays I’ve completed). So these stores will sell DVDs and other such film related merchandise.

    Your article on packaging is without a doubt the definitive confirmation I needed to take this step. You have summed up the broad scope of my questions and you have done so in a way that excites me with its sheer simplicity. THANK YOU!!!

    I will continue to read your blog and drink from your wealth of experience and expertise. You really are truly a whole other kind of mentor (by default, so deal with it..LOL!)

    Keep ‘em coming sir. You’re building empires!!!

    Regards,

    Byron Sasha Jones 

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Love it, Byron. Go get ’em!

  • Fr. Charles Erlandson

    While I didn’t have this list when I had my recent self-published book published, I think I and the graphic designer I chose did a pretty good job of following these guidelines. I’m thankful for such guidelines because while I appreciate good book cover art (like album cover art back when music was sold as record albums) it never enters into my decision. But I must be reminded that it does influence the decisions of other readers.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Lewie-Eckman/100002601014329 Lewie Eckman

    Not trying to be at all snarky…just thought you’d appreciate knowing that there’s a typo in this piece.  So sorry…”While people shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, they do. This is why it is so critical that you spend the time and money to get the packaging on your product right. It doesn’t matter OF.”  I believe you may have meant, “It doesn’t matter IF.”  I appreciate you taking this comment in the HELPFUL spirit in which it was meant, bruthuh!  God Bless.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Lewie. I have now fixed it!

  • http://www.needleforthechristianbubble.com Joe Lalonde

    Really liked the list.

    A point in number stood out to me: “The point is that it’s not about you.” So many authors and musicians  forget this and wonder why they’re not selling well. If you focus on your audience, you have a much better chance of making the sale.

    • http://www.jeffrandleman.com Jeff Randleman

      I agree 100%!

  • http://ericspeir.com/ Eric

    This is so true. I work with college students on a daily basis and packaging means a lot to them or they won’t hear your message. It’s sad but this is true!

  • John Young

    Mike my reaction is how far the business has come. For years most authors had no real input to the cover. The publisher did all the thinking and the author, just grateful to have a deal, was happy. After spending a year polishing content the cover and final title seemed to come quickly…sometimes too quickly.  I’ve also known book cover artists in Nashville who would be hired to do a group deal with 10 or so covers working off sketchy editorial input but allowing the publisher to reduce costs  by churing out  several at once.  The cover decision should be a time consuming thoughtful process but if a publisher is cranking out hundreds of titles a year, at certain seasons, lesser known authors were part of a manufactured assembly line. Your comments might be actually addressed to the self published author looking for a better idea as even today, with the big pubs, I don’t sense every cover gets this careful attention. I hope your solid reasoning is heard in many pub hallways today      

  • http://jamiewrightcr.blogspot.com/ Anonymous

    I just learned how true this is. My personal blog got a facelift over the weekend and I was surprised to find that I’d acquired a couple dozen new subscribers by the end of the day (not to mention new followers on Facebook and Twitter). 

    I had no idea that my lame packaging had been such a turn off to potential readers.  

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I have had similar experiences. Every time I have done a design “refresh” I have gone to the next level with my blog.

  • Anonymous

    This is really great. Regarding #7, I think that the opposite is true as well. Don’t feel that everything has to be hyper-literal. Yes, it should be easy to understand, but that doesn’t mean that you need to hit your reader over the head with your metaphor. There certainly has to be a balance.

  • http://talesofwork.com kimanzi constable

    I’ve learned to hire someone exprienced that you trust and let them do their thing. You of course will have the final approval. I found that person, you can see how amazing he did with my book cover and website!

  • Al Pittampalli

    Great advice, Michael. We tell ourselves we’re rational. When we find a book at B&N we analyze it, maybe read the first couple of pages and then we think we buy it because of the content. But more often then we realize, we actually bought it because of the cover design.

  • http://twitter.com/toddburkhalter Todd Burkhalter

    I think these are great concepts. If I were to rank any above another I may suggest that Not Providing to Much Direction is critical. Allow designers and creatives the latitude to do their work.

  • http://www.northfacejacket-sale.org women north face jackets

    Pretty good post. I just
    stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading
    your blog posts. Any way I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you post
    again soon.

  • http://www.northfacejacket-sale.org women north face jackets

    Pretty good post. I just
    stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading
    your blog posts. Any way I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you post
    again soon.

  • http://www.jeffrandleman.com Jeff Randleman

    As a self-taught design junkie, I’ve learned the hard way what tends to work and not work, at least within my target audience.  For me, it’s a continual learning process.  Thanks for the great tips!

  • Anonymous

    “My favorite designs are those that are simple and elegant”.  APPLE!  I love simple.

  • http://somewiseguy.com ThatGuyKC

    Wow, that’s one comprehensive list. I’m planning on writing a book and was wondering about packaging. Thank you for sharing such insight from your experience.

  • http://uma-maheswaran.blogspot.com/ Uma Maheswaran S

    Kepp it simple and sweet.  It’s true that product design can make or break success.

  • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

    You’ve hit a lot on design and marketing in recent posts. I’m Evernoting so much of this because it’s a lot to take in but all helpful and hopefully necessary in coming weeks. I appreciate the link to Survey Monkey because I see how you use surveys to enlist the group resources available to you. This is excellent help (if I ever get past reading posts and on to applying the information).

  • Rob Peoni

    Great post Michael! This is insightful advice for any type of packaging, not simply books. I think your most important point is your first one, in regards to audience. It’s not about YOUR likes or tastes, it’s your audience’s. As a marketing specialist for a company that creates packaging for a variety of promotional products and industries: http://www.worldmediagroup.com/graphic-design I can assure you that far too few adhere to this advice. Branding is no small task, but when the proper steps are taken, success can be achieved. Thanks for sharing! I’ll be sure to pass this along.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_WOVZSMCZC57YUMQUYRUIPK6VZ4 Andrew Marshall

    So much goes into creating good packaging and there is a lot for packaging suppliers to think about. But the most important thing is to engage the customer. 

  • http://www.SevenPillarsOfSuccess.Net Louise Thaxton

    Great advice, Michael – thanks so much for all you do on the publishing side of your blog.  It is helping me tremendously as I press forward to get something into print…..!