The Sonic Series: Packaging Barriers To Entry Part III: Intuitive Design

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The Sonic Series: Packaging Barriers To Entry Part III: Intuitive Design

Wed Sep 13, 2017

“Intuitive design” has become somewhat of a buzz word in today’s packaging market. The intuitiveness of a product is now intrinsically tied to product value and success. The more intuitive a product, the better its chance of survival. Still, countless brands are scratching their heads, wondering what exactly “intuitiveness” means in terms of packaging. Why does it matter? What makes packaging intuitive and what role does it play in establishing barriers to entry? Most importantly, what can be done to make packaging designs more intuitive? 

Understanding Barriers to Entry

Barriers to Entry are obstacles to prevent competitors from easily entering an industry or area of business. They can be erected deliberately, strategic or artificially, or they can exploit naturally existing barriers in the market, also known as structural barriers. The goal is to create barriers to entry that prevent competitors from becoming serious options in your category. The ability to establish barriers to entry is key to the long-term success of a product.

Brands that come to the realization that packaging is more than the “wrapping paper” around a gift, that it is innately connected to the way a user experiences a product, are the brands that erect a strong barrier to entry in the marketplace. Unfortunately, many brands take too long to figure that out. 

Intuitive Packaging– What is it?

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines intuitive as known or perceived by intuition; directly apprehended. Respectively, intuition is defined as quick and ready insight; immediate apprehension or cognition. In other words, the less conscious thought that goes into end-user interaction, the better. Common characteristics include packaging that:

  1. Protects both the product and the user
  2. Simplifies usepackaging barriers to entry
  3. Reduces steps
  4. Informs and instructs
  5. Minimizes frustration

For packaging to be intuitive, it must enhance the user experience (UX) with a product. It must seamlessly work in conjunction with a product’s purpose.


To be purposeful, packages must provide, not contain

By nature, a primary function of packaging is to protect the product contained within. The reality is that protection is just one of many purposes that packaging serves. Packaging is a communication tool for delivering information about a product along with instructions regarding use. It is a promotional medium that can be utilized to reinforce brand identity and generate consumer loyalty, a problem-solver of consumer pain points, a transportation mechanism for product portability and convenience, a storage unit, a security measure, an organizational tool and much, much more.

A product’s packaging is the first touchpoint when a user experiences a product, making it a tangible manifestation of your brand. When designing for an intuitive experience, it is important to have a clear purpose. Ask the following questions:

  1. What purpose is the product intended to serve, and how could packaging help fulfill that purpose?
  2. What message is the packaging communicating (or not communicating) to the end-user?
  3. Is the packaging easy to understand and interact with?
  4. Does the packaging promote ease of use with minimal instruction?


To be intuitive, packaging must be user-focused a.k.a. “easy to use”

Consumers are becoming increasingly impatient. An overcrowded marketplace has led to an ongoing “battle of the brands”. With endless product options available, most consumers will not bother with anything that requires additional learning time. There is a reduced desire to learn new interaction techniques, which is where usability becomes a barrier to entry.

An essential part of intuitive packaging design is usability. Intuitive packaging is engineered with the realization that a product’s package directly impacts usability and performance. Respect for what the consumer is going to do using the product is paramount when creating an intuitive packaging experience. When a user interacts with a product, they should know exactly what to do. The packaging should be easy to use; allowing the user to focus on the product and access it with ease.  

Packaging will complement or complicate a product’s usability. Truly intuitive packaging requires no instruction or directives regarding use. It delivers immediate apprehension or cognition for the user.


To be portable, packages must be designed with convenience in mind

The phrase “convenience is key” is an understatement. Product packaging must aspire for the highest level of portability and convenience if they hope to be relevant to an on-the-go society. The more that packaging is decoupled from additional steps, the more convenient it becomes. The portability of product is directly associated to the packaging it depends on.

There is a growing demand from consumers for convenient packaging. Fewer steps in the process add value. Stand-up pouches, re-closable pouches, dispensing closures, and other intuitive components are on the rise. It’s a race to innovate for added convenience in the packaging world.

How Intuitive Packaging Design Creates Barrier to Entry

All packaging serves a functional purpose, but not all packaging is intuitive. Engineers behind successful packaging understand that people will continue using a product if it is packaged in a manner that is easy to navigate, serves a clear purpose, affords convenience, and looks great.

Packaging design does not become intuitive by magic. Brands need a set of packaging design philosophies and inputs to provide guidance. They need a system to “sniff out” good packaging decisions from poor ones. What is important when design intuitively for packaging? Sonic offers the following advice:

  • Aim to deliver at least twice the usability of competing products in your category
  • Stick to standard visual identifiers, things that people are accustomed to and are already trained to understand
  • Minimize the gap between current user experience and the level of experience needed to access the product
  • Design methodically. Aesthetics should directly reflect information relevance, i.e. a user’s eye should immediately be directed to the most important parts of the package

Consumer impatience will not go away. If anything, consumers are becoming more impatient. Packaging should add value. It should complement the product and enhance the overall user experience. Product design starts and ends with packaging. Brands that have established barriers to entry understand the connection between intuitive packaging design and the success of a product.  At the end of the day, we get what we put in. If the packaging is an afterthought, your product will be as well. For more information about how to build barriers to entry through packaging, contact Sonic Packaging.

Packaging Praise

It’s important to give credit where credit is due. To view Sonic’s top picks for intuitive packaging design done right contact us for our Slideshare account.

How are you using intuitive packaging to innovate, differentiate and build barriers to entry in your markets? Sonic would love to know! Please share your thoughts and examples with us by posting on Sonic’s social channels!