Whether you sell in supermarkets, farmers markets or online, your product label has to work hard as a sales tool. A good label stands out from the competition and quickly conveys what is uniquely wonderful about what you sell. Along with this, it must comply with regulations and meet other specifications.
Here’s how to think about designing a label — and get started on a definitive look for your product. Follow these steps to manage the process.
Step 1: Know the Rules
Government regulations stipulate the dos and don’ts of many labels. Non-compliance will send you back to the design drawing board, so investigate what rules apply to your label before you start the creative process.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), within the Department of Commerce, details labeling requirements for all products sold in the United States. As you might imagine, the guidelines for food and cosmetics are different from what’s required for mattresses or garden care products.
Familiarize yourself with these specifications before you put any creative energy into a design. Also share this information with your designer.
Step 2: Think About Customer Priorities
Part of building a business is learning the ins and outs of what makes your customers tick. Apply what you know about your target market or customers to create a product design that will appeal.
For example, parents purchasing child-care products look for information on a label that touts safety information, whereas buyers of craft liquor will be attracted to a cool design that communicates the care and attention involved in creating your product. If children are your market, lean on images and bright colors in place of lots of text.
Also, make your label quickly readable. Consider using large fonts and skim-able messaging since you may only have a moment to grab someone’s attention.
Step 3: Choose Images
Since our brains process images more quickly than words, using recognizable visual cues on your product label can help easily convey a lot of information. For example, there’s a reason that scented products usually carry images of the fruits or flowers they incorporate — it works. Brainstorm a key image that can quickly convey what is appealing about your product.
If you have a business logo, include it on the label. Designing your product label to harmonize with your logo and other visual branding elements, such as fonts and colors, will create a label that avoids looking cluttered.
Also, consider the shape of your product during the label design phase. It’s easy to create a fantastic label, only to put it on a jar or bottle and find out that only a portion of what you want to show is visible once your product is on the shelf.
Step 4: Draft a Design
Once you have an idea of the elements you want to include in your product label, it’s time to start the actual process. You can take the lead as a first step, or find someone else to build out some options for your review. If you outsource the design, be sure to give your resource all the customer and other insight you have, so they can create usable options.
Plenty of outside help is available. Ask peers for referrals to freelance graphic designers who have label experience. Many print shops include design services as part of their offerings, and can provide guidance for the entire design and print process.
To make your product pop on the shelf, use a different color or palette than your competition. “Spot color" printing, which uses black and up to three other colors, is an affordable way to jazz up your label. You can also get attention with metallic or iridescent product labels.
Go bold with shapes if industry regulations allow for it. Most labels are rectangles or ovals, so consider another shape — for example, stars or triangles — if it aligns with what your product stands for and what you are trying to say.
Step 5: Research the Label Landscape
Once you have a rough draft of a design, assess it against competitors’ labels and make any required modifications to ensure it stands out. Small differentiating details can dramatically strengthen your label’s selling power.
Don’t be afraid to be original — it could be what prompts a customer to reach for your product over a competitor’s. For example, if 90 percent of your competitors use spare, minimalist product labels, a maximalist approach like Dr. Bronner’s might be the best direction. While this is an extreme example that might not work for many businesses, it is important to understand the visual context for any label you are creating.
Plan on plenty of post-design creation time to share your labels with your target customer and others in your market. This “road testing” effort will pay off, since it can help you make tweaks that can result in a much more successful label.