A Word (or 900) with GPI’s Art Director – Art for Commerce
April 6, 2021
So Ryan…

“So, Ryan,” you may ask, “What is the most challenging part of board game design and packaging for the retail environment?” “Well,” I might reply, putting my hand to my chin and looking upward (seemingly in deep thought), “Let’s talk about that…” 

How Do I Make My Game Standout?

A popular question we love to answer is, “How can we make our game stand out on-shelf at a big box retailer?” and it’s a very good question. Anyone with an appetite for toys and games can walk into a Target or a Walmart and be knocked senseless by the huge number of products wrestling with each other for eyeballs. There is a LOT of noise, and that’s great when the game you’re selling features a Lucasfilm, Marvel, or Disney license, but what happens when your game is a homegrown concept, and you don’t have an entertainment license you can lean on with decades of consumer equity? That’s where the hard work starts, and that’s where GPI’s Design and Development folks jump into the fire.

Lemme start by saying that this is a conversation about a game’s external appearance only, the package cover, the billboard trying to grab a shopper’s attention as they wheel by at 60MPH on their way to the grocery aisles or home goods department. We know your product has some killer components underneath that cardboard (maybe we created them for you), but without that shelf presence, your job to sell it is that much harder. 

The first step is always research and a lot of it. We begin work by making a visit to the retailer where the game will live and simply look and take notes on what is physically present. If a competing product is on the shelf now, it’s a safe bet it will be on the same shelf in 6 months when your game is hitting the market and sitting next to it, so we make sure whatever we create looks NOTHING like what’s already there. A competitor used a lot of yellow, then don’t use a lot of yellow yourself! Sounds simple, I admit, but publishers like what’s popular (popular sells, fella), and it’s our job to convince them that you don’t want to look like the biggest title out there just because it has consumer recognition. Remember, your game will sell because it’s an original take, not because it looks like Exploding Kittens, so don’t be fooled into piggybacking on another product’s success through imitation. You’ll lose that race more often than not.


It goes without saying that your overall aesthetic (art school talk for branding) relies entirely on the illustration style, design, and colors of your package. Yes, it has to first and foremost be appropriate to your consumer (no dark, murky branding for preschool games, etc), but you also want to push the boundaries enough to stand out in your board game design and packaging. For example, don’t feel like the character illustrations on your game (should they be warranted) should look like what’s being done by the Hasbros and Spin Masters of the world, and in fact, Why would you want it to? It’s big and expensive-looking, yeah, but let them do what they’re good at and try something fresh and relevant to your brand.

For example, Uno, Connect 4, and Scrabble have looked essentially the same forever, but they’ve earned it. They’re ubiquitous, and the consumer can spot the Cards Against Humanity package from 8 miles away, so pick another path. You’re coming into this young and fresh-faced, so look that way! When we’re identifying a cool “new” art style at GPI, we reference any and all consumer goods for inspiration. Good design is sticky, and if a style works in fashion, or book cover design, or on Instagram, then it may work for the game aisle too, and be a refreshing change to boot.

Make sure the game name is visible and bold. Again, sounds basic, but how many restaurants will you drive by when looking for a place to eat, and miss a spot that’s set back off the road, or without a noticeable sign? A package where the name is lost amidst overpowering graphics or a mess of marketing copy is a common mistake on the board game shelves, and we’re amazed at how often it’s repeated. Go for that singular, powerful image married to a hard-to-miss title, not a salad of ideas that suffocate each other. Your name – and we can help you create one if inspiration hasn’t struck you yet – is what will sell the game, so don’t bury it and assume the consumer will stop to investigate because the art is so pretty. Make sure you lead them to it.

No Pandering Allowed

And finally, don’t pander to an intelligent board game consumer that is tired of being pandered to. I may be repeating myself here, but originality matters. Not every adult party game package has to be 2 colors with a san serif title font, not every item targeted at girls has to be pink and purple (STOP THAT!). The consumer wants to see something new as much as you want to give them something new, and remember, this only helps you stand out better. Ever hear the myth that green packages don’t sell? Nonsense. Ask Starbucks and John Deere what they think about that (remember, it’s the same consumer in many cases). The smart publishers have sold games in boxes featuring every color in the Pantone book, and color diversity helps create a line that is visually wide-ranging and engaging; something for everyone. When it comes to board game design and packaging, welcome all colors to the table. 

And that’s about it (for now anyway). I’m officially nearing the 900 word count and I can sense you’re eyeing that slew of vendor email responses, so thanks for your time. Please contact the office and ask for Ryan…I’d much rather talk to you in person. Thanks!

Ryan Noonan, Art Director, GPI Design & Development

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