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From the Design Desk: Practical Package Design Principles

If you've ever watched a competitive cooking show like Iron Chef, Chopped, or Cutthroat Kitchen, you've probably seen at least one episode where a contestant creates a delightful and delicious dish but very nearly forgets to include the special ingredient.  Either it's left out entirely or they add it in at the end as an afterthought, and weakens their whole plate.
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Often when it comes to design, we are taught to think "outside the box", to push the limits of our creativity.  This is especially true in package design, where first impression is key to getting customer to pull your product off the shelf.  But package design in particular comes with a hefty set of rules and regulations, monitored by various federal and state agencies, to make sure that the information included on your packaging is up to standards.  Your design might be innovative, but if you're not following the right guidelines you might be forced to alter your design to meet compliance.  If you learn to start with those regulations in your mind from the get-go, and incorporate them into your design instead of adding them on at the last minute, you'll be better poised to create a one-of-a-kind piece without running into any issues.
The Dieline recently posted a stellar article about the history of package design in regards to regulations.  Check out the full article here.  I particularly liked the infographic timeline (shown here on the right) that goes into some interesting details about the agencies and individuals involved in advancing the guidelines for labeling food and drug products.
Sometimes when you come up with a unique idea or concept, you work backwards - in packaging and print alike - to try and manipulate the process to fit your idea.  We get hung up on a specific process or finish, only to find out too late that it isn't cost effective or practical. Alternatively, if you forget to pay attention to the requirements for your product or mailpiece, you could find yourself facing hefty recall or reprinting costs.  While the Dieline article focuses on packaging for food and drug, the same principals apply to mailings, as postal regulations are equally strict for various types of postcards and mailpieces.
Learning the rules for your industry is paramount to producing a great design piece, regardless of whether it is two or three-dimensional.  When you are aware of the appropriate guidelines, you can work forwards instead of backwards and learn how to push the boundaries without breaking them, giving you a better chance at creating something that is both unique and practical.

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