advice for an ID student wanting to do packaging?

Hi guys,
some very very helpful postings i have read here and i thought this would be the place to ask for some advice.

I am an industrial design student that is very interested in getting into packaging design.
Funny thing is, I just realized i have this passion recently and I haven’t been sharpening my skills in this area.
We do not have packaging design courses at school either, so I basically have to do a little bit of an exploration + self learning.

I am more interested in the structure of the packaging.
I am good with paper, and I love to transform a 2D material into 3D objects.
However I am not sure if packaging design focuses much on the structural elements?
it seems that graphic is the predominant one.

What advice would you give me? what skills are essential in the packaging design world?

Well I actually fell into doing a lot of packaging design, despite prefering ID. Important skills:

  1. Graphics, yes, unfortunately you will have to learn to use Adobe CS very well to merge illustrator, indesign and ps.
  2. Understanding of materials: Card, stock, GSM, corrugations etc.
  3. Spacial awareness and tolerances: to make everything fits inside packaging (similar to the way you would fit an ID around a circuitboard for example) and also that a diecut will fold properly and fit together nicely.

You will probably spend 90% of your time doing graphics, depending on the type of company you work for. A lot of it in my field (consumer electronics) is applying graphics to pre-made die-cuts and sometimes re-designing the inner workings to be more functional/attractive.
The only projects where I got to design the packaging from the ground up is where I designed the product as well. Again, this is my experience and it depends where you end up working.

Yes it does. The packaging world is split between structural packaging designers and graphic designers. The structural packaging designers typically hold more responsibility and compenstation is a bit higher than the graphic side. Most of the packaging you’ll be working on will be for machinery applications so they’ll be technically challenging and unique in their own ways. In other instances, you’ll be creating packaging for hand pack operations which allows you a little more flexibility on creativity but also a different set of challenges.

There are also different paths you can pursue in packaging as well. One path is on the supplier side which is difficult in it’s own way and leads you into a particular substrate. You can do glass with O-I, aluminum with ReXam or Ball, paperboard with GPI or MeadWestvaco. There are a few other companies out there like PCA and Rock-Tenn. The other path is to work for a CPG company focused on structural packaging. This path will give you a more general understanding and responsibility over all substrates. Some of the companies you could look into would be Coca Cola, MillerCoors, Pepsi, Procter & Gamble, Sara Lee, etc… The last path is on the agency side which is more graphics biased.

Software that’s primarily used is ArtiosCAD for the paperboard inudstry and SolidWorks for glass/aluminum. You should also have a working knowledge of graphics and the printing process which would include illustrator/photoshop. More than likely though you would use ArtiosCAD 90% of the time and the other stuff 10% of the time.

Look into groups like IoPP and some packaging groups on LinkedIN such as Packaging Professionals.

My advise to you is to become proficent at the structural side of the industry and have a good understanding of the graphics/pre-press/production side. By doing so, you’ll gain more flexibility in your career and a good grasp of the whole process to control your work as it goes to commercialization.

Great advice Boosted!!

Boosted pretty much covered it all. The only other part that I would throw out there is to start to understand consumer insights and consumer testing formats (focus groups, one-on-one interviewing, etc…) This is a very important part of package design. This is because packaging is the first touch point of any product, there for it has to resonate well with the consumer. With out understanding the consumer you will not know how to create the proper package for them.

I would also encourage you to not think of it any differently than any other part of ID. The process is the same, and the principles you learned in school to create consumer products should be applied to creating a great consumer package.


oh this is very helpful information.
I never knew the different paths that a packaging designer could take.
And gosh, i didn’t know there was a software for structural layout…
now i definitely need to learn this program.

thank you guys for all the advice once again.
I think yea, I will need to start focusing on my graphic side as well now.
I am ok, but when compared to a communication designer, i am not good enough.