The Architecture of a Custom Label

As an architecture enthusiast, I spend a lot of time reading and thinking about buildings. And, over time, I’ve come to understand that a well-designed custom label is like a great work of architecture. Every single aspect of its design works towards the same goal, and the pieces come together to create a whole much greater than the sum of the parts. So how does your package become the Falling Water of digital labels? How can you become the le Corbusier of labeling design? Well, I’ve developed this four-step framework that can, perhaps, help you create your masterpiece.

Program: Application

A program is an architectural brief. It describes the building’s purpose. Is it a gymnasium? Mixed-use residential? Government offices? It also deals with the factors that have to be accommodated; does it need to be LEED certified? Have lots of common space? A good program answers all these questions and is the center of architectural planning. In the same way, a good label should have a program. What does it need to do? Communicate the brand? Display nutritional information? Adhere to regulations?

Just like a well planned out building, you have to have a program for your label. In short, what does it need to achieve, and what are the other factors that have to be accommodated. Many buildings, and custom labels, start out with one goal and then add things on as they come up. This is how busy, unorganized pieces are created. Start with a concise and well thought out ‘program’ and everything else is easier.

Form: Shape

So you have your program, you know what the label needs to do. Now you have to decide on the form. The form, in architecture, says a lot about the building. Monolithic to show importance, structural to show how the building is supported, or cantilevered and suspended to inspire a sense of wonder.

Well, the same principles apply to custom label printing. A small, intricate shape (or series of shapes) on a larger container can create a pattern; can indicate precision or a sense of detail. Big, blocky shapes speak to industrial and heavy-duty products. The shape may be evocative of the product within, or your brand. Before the consumer reads the custom label, the shape has already caught their attention. Considering the shape of the digital label, and its size is very important. Just like in architecture, the concepts of form and void are used to talk about objects and negative spaces, how much container you leave exposed is an important choice.

Materiality: Substrate

A large cathedral is made of stone to show its permanence and importance. A park center may use timber construction to indicate its relationship to nature. Concrete is used to create an industrial or modern look. Basically, good architects use materials to talk about a building. Every material has its own strengths and weaknesses, and designing to accommodate, or even emphasize them results in amazing structures.

The same principle applies to custom labels. A handcrafted or natural product could use a textured wine stock or an actual wooden label to demonstrate the quality of the product within. A heavy duty cleaner or performance product may want to use a heavy vinyl or laminated BOPP to demonstrate the durability of the product. Of course, there are actual performance issues to consider (will the product be exposed to moisture, will it be in the sun, etc.) but always keep in mind the design and brand implications of the material you choose.

Foundation: Adhesive

The city of Chicago has some of the most innovative design on earth that you can never see. Chicago is built on a swamp, and in order to construct its skyscrapers many new foundation technologies were invented. Even though you can’t see the foundation, it’s critical to execution of great buildings. The same goes for adhesives. Even the most beautiful label will look terrible peeling up from the bottle or sliding off in the heat. Always make sure to cross your ‘t’s and dot your ‘i’s when it comes to adhesives. Make sure you’ve considered the application process and the conditions to which the product is exposed. Designers don’t need to be adhesive experts, just make sure you ask your digital label printer questions and explain the lifespan of the label. Every label needs a solid foundation in order to do its job.

If you’ve thought out these four areas, you’ve considered the most important aspects of your label design. I can’t promise you’ll end up with a masterwork, but you’ll at least be thinking about your label design in a productive way. Good luck and call us if you need any help!