As the days grow shorter and 2014 begins to loom closer on the horizon, the yearly inundation of prediction articles begins anew. There’s plenty of solid information and innovative thinking in these prognostications, but I find that quite often the more things change, the more they stay the same. Let me clarify: the technology and the delivery methods may change, but the core essence of what something is remains constant.

Package design is a great example of this. The keys for standing out on the store shelf haven’t really changed, we just have new ways of presenting them to the shopper. So when I think about the trends for 2014, I’m really focusing on the essential best practices for package design, rather than some in vogue fad. Take these pointers to heart and weave them into your design, and you’ll be successful regardless of the year.Screen Shot 2016-05-10 at 15.14.35

Focus on the structure – The shape, size and material that the product is contained in will always be a priority, as each one of these can be a differentiator or help you associate with a category. For example, it’s quite easy for a yogurt start-up to look like any of the major brands because the packaging is standardized.  On the other hand, Dannon sets itself apart with a unique rounded square-shaped container.

While consumers are always happy to purchase the value sizes, there is a shift toward smaller portions that I believe will continue. Yes, buying 16 pounds of butter saves money in the long run, but as more Americans adopt healthier living, smaller serving sizes will supplant the need to buy in bulk. We’re certainly seeing more single-serve or single-use sizes on the shelves.

Size is another key aspect to consider. There is a major trend toward flexible packaging. Consumers appreciate the convenience of saving space. Moving from large protein tubs to airtight pouches is one example of this change in structural thinking. The flexible packages also work well for anything portable.

The materials used in package manufacturing are also vital, as this presents another variable to play around with. Consider the transparency or opacity of the package, the matte or glossy finish to the label, glass or plastic. Finally, the recyclability or the amount of recycled materials used in the package is a structural element that will continue to be top of mind for consumers.

Keep a consistent message – There are so many products on the shelf plus consumers are easily distracted and starved for time. The messaging on the package needs to be concise and clear. It should focus on answering two pivotal questions.

First: what are you? The FDA calls this the statement of identity, but you need to clearly tell the consumer that you are a shake or a drink or a powder. If there’s any ambiguity about the product, the packaging should make sure to clear up any confusion.

Secondly, what are the benefits of using the product? Determine the one or two best features and promote them on the package. But don’t flood the design with claims: your product shouldn’t look like a PowerPoint slide. People just don’t have the time to analyze a crowded package. Being succinct doesn’t just apply to the package copy, though; messaging is communicated through images and overall design, as well.

Stay on brand – The design will help to create an emotional appeal for your product, deliver key messaging points and give you an identity. Proper branding comes from knowing who you are, what you provide and why you should be considered over the competition. Working with colors, fonts, words and images, these elements unite to position the product so that the consumer understands the brand and can identify with it.

Here’s an anecdotal example that will sound familiar: a novice yoga gal is probably not going to buy a product that looks like a manly bodybuilding product. Take the same formula and wrap it in a more approachable package and you may be able to get her attention. Knowing your customer is key to identifying how the brand should be presented.

Power to the people – Social media is already an important facet of any product’s marketing strategy. More and more, we’re seeing products defined not by corporate messaging, but by the connections and interactions formed by the two-way communication between consumers and brands. Everyone now has a voice and I expect those voices to become more heavily involved with packaging decisions in the coming year.

Whether it’s a contest to design the product’s new label or making packaging decisions based on an online Facebook poll, crowdsourcing is a great way to captivate an audience and get constructive feedback at the same time. These are the people buying the product in the first place; invite them to become involved at a more tangible level and the bond between brand and consumer will only get stronger.

*This post expands on an interview conducted with Natural Products Insider