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drug delivery device in packaging

Packaging a medical device: packaging design

Published: January 2023

Caroline Mackie
Caroline Mackie, Design Consultant
Zoe Hill
Zoe Hill, Marketing Lead

The global medical device packaging market size was valued at $36.3 billion in 2022 and is set to reach $48.1 billion in 2027. It is therefore no wonder that packaging design is such an integral part of the overall product experience. Being the first point of contact the user will have with a medical device, there are many layers to packaging design mostly to meet the challenge of balancing adequate protection with improved usability and an engaging user experience.

In Caroline’s role as Design Consultant, she has worked with and designed bespoke packaging for medical device manufacturers. Here she shares insight into the process and the main design considerations when packaging a medical device, along with thoughts from Marketing Lead, Zoe, on why packaging is not just about functionality, but how it’s an essential part of your marketing strategy.

Structural Design

Firstly, is to consider the functionality. The structural integrity of a piece of packaging is vitally important, after all the primary role of packaging is to protect the product. Structural requirements should be defined early in the development process to ensure that the design takes these into account throughout the concept development phase.

Through material choice and carton design, the strength of the packaging can be tailored to the needs of the product while also creating an engaging user experience.

Balancing this with ensuring the carton can protect the product to the standards set in the specification can be a challenge, therefore we often see novel and innovative solutions such as inserts, unique opening/closing methods and materials.

Creating ‘frustration-free’ packaging helps to build patients’ confidence from the beginning. A device’s packaging provides the opportunity to reduce patient anxiety and user error; therefore, quick start guides should be integrated into the design, including Instructions for Use (IFU).

The image shows an open box containing an injection trainer device branded "Shore." The box is white with a grey interior and an orange tab for easy opening. Inside the box, the injection trainer is securely placed in a custom mold. The device is white with an orange tip and a clear window showing its mechanism. The box lid displays step-by-step illustrated instructions for using the trainer, labeled "1. Prepare," "2. Start," "3. Inject," and "4. Remove," with visual cues for each step. Next to the device, there is a folded instruction leaflet titled "Instructions for Use" with the name "Alvie Injection Trainer" in orange text, explaining that the trainer does not contain a needle or medication. The leaflet also includes a simple line drawing of the trainer.

Packaging should provide guidance on product use, improving usability and reducing user error.

A recent project for a medical device company has found us designing a box to hold multiple devices along with the IFU, a ‘kit’ essentially. As part of this, it was imperative that we highlighted the ‘hero’ product so that it would stand out from the accessories. Using an insert allowed us to showcase the main device whilst also adding more structural support to the other components. The insert design was also easily adaptable, allowing us to store accessory products inside which meant we didn’t need to increase the size of the carton.

Following careful consideration, we successfully created an engaging user experience that showed the devices in the order they would be required.

design sketches for medical device packaging

Packaging design to hold a hero medical device and accessories.

The protection of the devices was crucial in the development of the packaging. We utilised a pre-existing standard carton design to reduce development cost and time. There are benefits to sticking with proven packaging structures mostly since it is simpler to communicate the design intent with suppliers and the design can easily adapt for different dimensions. This was applicable for this project due to the dimensions and form of the individual packaging however in some instances it may be necessary to opt for a more custom carton.
We also have considerable experience in designing packaging to pass ASTM testing and do so for all packaging projects. This essentially optimises shipping costs.

Brand Design

It’s no longer the case where a consumer solely cares about the product, it’s all about the experience and packaging plays a vital part in this. Recent studies have shown that 70% of consumers form an impression of a brand based on the packaging of its products.

Do you remember when Cadbury launched its powerful campaign to remove words from Dairy Milk packaging? The main purpose was to raise money for charity, but we can presume that Cadbury didn’t worry about people not being able to recognise the product as people are so familiar with its shape and more importantly, the Dairy Milk purple.

Also, do you know what brand we’re referencing when we mention the blue and red pizza boxes? Domino’s was award-winning for its striking use of colour in its packaging. The vividness of the colours was created with a special dye so that they wouldn’t be affected by the heat of the pizzas, and now everyone recognises its boxes. Domino’s also ensured that the packaging is sustainable – an area of packaging design that warrants a whole discussion alone.

Interestingly, skincare company, The Ordinary, has pharmaceutical-inspired packaging to convey the approachability of its brand to customers. Using a neutral colour scheme and minimal wording about its ingredients reflects its main goal: honesty and integrity. 

beauty product with packaging alongside

The Ordinary has pharmaceutical-inspired packaging.

Unboxing Process

The unboxing experience should not be treated as an afterthought. It’s the first point of contact with the product and the first indication of the brand and the brand values. In fact, there’s a lucrative market out there for influencers creating videos of unboxing.

The finer details can make the difference in an unboxing experience: different finishes, layers and colour choices can create a premium feel which should reflect the product.

In our recent project, early prototyping was important to capture the unboxing process and understand which aspects could be improved.

Apple’s unboxing process of revealing its products as soon as the lid is opened may sound unimaginative, but did you know that it invested heavily in the process? The suction between the lid and base is specially designed to detach in 3 seconds, creating suspense and excitement when revealing a product.

Evoking emotions is key with medical and pharmaceutical products. Users, whether it be patients or HCPs, need to feel confident that they can use a device, and that it’s right for them.

We often find that customers leave packaging as the last block of work, thinking it’s a straightforward process. However, we emphasise that it’s part of the product and marketing strategy you need to consider of the user centricity of packaging and think carefully about the whole unboxing process experience.

Sustainable Design

Now more than ever it is important that packaging design has sustainability at the forefront. Whether this is reducing the volume of materials or looking at the design of the packaging itself to make recycling easier, there are a variety of ways to protect products today that aren’t harmful for the environment.
  1. Use recyclable materials – for example plant-based packaging.
  2. Sustainable manufacturing processes – identifying and selecting packaging manufacturers who have sustainability at the forefront.
  3. Avoid single-use packaging – use packaging that can be reused or repurposed to fulfil another need such as storage.
  4. Designing the product box to be as compact as possible – to optimise cold chain shipping and palletisation.
  5. Avoid over-packing in the supply chain – moving from the manufacturing to the packing process, additional packaging may be used for transporting products to the packing facility.


This is discussed in much more detail in part two of our Packaging a Medical Device series.

If you’re looking to integrate packaging further into your product and marketing strategy or need to solve a packaging challenge, then contact us.

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