I'm looking for examples or case studies for designing a manual for a physical as well as a digital product.

We have an app which needs to be controlled by a physical checklist. Now I'm starting to design the so called starter-box including the checklist, a manual (explaining the whole process), and some other physical artifacts (like stickers, a pen, and a flag).

I would like to reach great unboxing experiences like Apple's iPhone box or Ikea's assembly instructions.

Does anybody have guides, examples or best practices for this kind of experience design? (unboxing and instructions)

edit: Thanks a lot for all the answers. They had different perspectives and merged surprinsigly good to a round view: package design, storyboard, little extras, expactation matching, materials and fitting, layering, timing, manuals and test it finally. Now, its hard for me to give the bounty to one only. So I will give the bounty to the answer, which had the biggest impact on my inspiration. @wootcat 's mention of layering and timing gave me some good ideas. Thanks to all of you.

  • 2
    Not sure Ikea's assembly instructions are a great example of quality unboxing. Most people dread opening Ikea stuff ;)
    – DA01
    Commented Jul 14, 2013 at 22:17
  • 5
    I love putting together IKEA stuff!
    – elemjay19
    Commented Jul 15, 2013 at 17:34
  • 3
    Not having to destroy part of the packaging (except tape) while opening is important to me. Commented Nov 21, 2013 at 14:31

11 Answers 11


Fit and finish are core elements to a quality product. Those same elements should apply to the packaging as well. There are many good answers here. See @Surreal Dreams and @Kiorrik

Nothing should "float" around the box. If there are required sheets of paper that must be included, consider putting them in a paper or high-quality plastic envelope or package.

Another thing Apple does really well in unboxing is the concept of layers. I remember a non-Apple monitor I unboxed recently. The screen was wrapped in a pieced-together cardboard frame which fell away as I pulled out the screen. The manuals and warning pages were slid in an open cavity which had to be removed before pulling out the rest of the monitor. With Apple, there is a clear and obvious progression. There is no doubt as to how you proceed to unpack the item.

But more than that, the layers are defined. There seems to be obvious stopping or "pause" points where the user is maybe meant to reflect for a moment: just inside the lid is a package of manuals and paper which covers the entire area of the container, the product beneath that is also fit snugly in the box. Each layer almost completely hides what's underneath, allowing you to appreciate what you are currently looking at, and not seeing items below, causing you to look past what's in front of your eyes.

  • Layering and timing - that's awesome! Thanks a lot.
    – FrankL
    Commented Jul 18, 2013 at 17:38
  • 2
    The "layers" point is very important to me as a customer. With each layer I feel I'm getting more for my money. I would add that the box should be reasonably robust, yet easy to open. Those hard plastic wrapped things that cut you when you open them make me hate the product before I've got my hands on it. I personally find paper, cardboard and that recycled brown colour very "comforting" when I open the box. Commented Jul 22, 2013 at 7:34

The following principles are all quite high level and can be applied elsewhere too:

Six principles of good packaging design:

  • Simplicity
  • Honesty
  • Personality
  • Practicality
  • Sustainability
  • Authenticity

All of these principles, on their own, lend to the unboxing experience. But, once you start pulling them together you get the 'Delightful experience' which you are looking for. There is an element of simplicity, an element of personality, an element of practicality and so on. Look at some of the existing examples to draw some inspiration and draw out these characteristics for your products.

That being said, I think there is no one size fits all formula for the first time unboxing experiences. Apple is quite well known for their packaging and show room experiences since they spent resources in that direction.

Here is a pretty interesting concept of unboxing and instructions from samsung.

A good list of interesting packagings.

  • 2
    As you said packaging design is the core of it. I really like the Samsung experience. It's going to be our direction, because we also need to educate the customer. Thanks for the good links.
    – FrankL
    Commented Jul 9, 2013 at 7:31
  • 1
    Here is a nice small article on Apple's Packaging Commented Jul 11, 2013 at 14:45

Thinking of my positive unboxing experiences, here's what I come away with.

Plastic tends to have negative connotations. Shrink wrap keeps you away from the treasure inside the package. Blister packs are far worse. Both show some distrust to the customer - these are security layers, they feel cheap and unpleasant.

The box itself is important. Anyone who has ever opened an iPhone box remembers it - it's sturdy and has a near-perfect fit. The two halves fit snugly and must be made with strict tolerances to get that feel. The boxes are sturdy and crisp and have a nice texture and feel to them. It's pretty obvious that Apple spends a little money on them, and it makes it easy to believe you are opening a high-end device. Altoids and Penguin Mints come in a little tin, which I am loathe to throw away even after the mints are gone. Even a nice sturdy clear plastic box, which some small toys or gadgets come in, can be very nice. The perceived value of the package can enhance the perception of the contents. I have a board game that I rarely play, but I display it on a bookshelf because it came in a painted wooden box shaped like a large book.

Sometimes you open a box and there are manuals, discs, brochures, instructions, warnings, cables - all kinds of loose items sloshing around. In a pleasant unboxing, everything has a place and extra junk is at a minimum (or absent). Every time I open a Wii game box for the first time, I pull out the manual, tucked into it's slot. That's nice. Then I pull out the little junky flyer from behind it and throw it away. Not nice. The materials that hold the contents in place matter - Styrofoam is messy and brittle. Super-cheap recycled paperboard is Earth-friendly, don't get me wrong, but doesn't have a luxury feel. Plain cardboard can probably span a range of "feels", based on how nicely it's trimmed and finished and its texture. Something molded and custom shows care, as do nicer materials.

Extras are nice - the stickers, pens, etc. Not to be ungrateful, but unless they are quality extras that feel like they have some value, I can interpret them as a cheap offering to make up for a cheap product. I was given an Office Space DVD once that came with a stack of extra items - a mouse pad, mechanical pencil, a red(!) stapler, and a notepad of TPS report coversheet. The mouse pad was thin and flimsy, and the pencil felt cheap. Both are long gone. The pad was fine and I probably used it up. But the stapler is on my desk right now at arm's reach. It's a real stapler, fits in with the movie, and has been my work stapler for 10 years. While not the best one ever made, it's a reliable item and a conversation item as well. I think the message here is to make the extras count. Make the stickers from good sticker material with a design people would want to stick on something. Or consider a cling - no adhesive, less permanence. Flags will seem a lot nicer when made with fabric (preferably one that is not unpleasant to the touch). I'm not a pen connoisseur, but I can tell a $.10 Bic from a $1.50 Pilot. For me the test is simple - does it feel nice to write with?

Also, make sure the item is ready to use if practical. Nobody like to open an item that they then get to charge for 16-20 hours before switching on. That's just annoying.

I think it boils down to conscious effort and an investment in materials. I think it's hard to stomach for so many companies because when you're opening the box, they already sold you the item - why keep courting you? Making the unboxing of the product a nice experience continues that courting experience and sends the message that you are opening a product somebody cares about enough to pack and present like a gift, not junk.

  • Pens and useful extras are a great idea. We are offering a service, which should be used with out starterbox. So we want our customers to be encouraged by all items in it. In our case it's the beginning not the end of our relation.
    – FrankL
    Commented Jul 18, 2013 at 17:20
  • Brilliant answer, one that makes me wish I could favourite answers. Commented Jul 22, 2013 at 9:34

I think the unboxing is a really, deeply emotional moment - you're meeting someone/something for the first time, who/what you expect to be your companion for years to come.

I realized this first when I've unboxed my first Mac, a Mac mini.

2005, East-Europe. Dormitory of a Software Engineering / Electric Engineering faculty, 12th floor. Macs were a distant technology, a unique thing of the strange West, the faraway US. Most of my roomates haven't even seen one before.

We stood around it.

It's a nice little box, around the size of 1000 sheets of A4 / Letter paper (a bit more close to the square, some 1:1.3 ratio).

Its sides are gray, bottom and top covers are white, in front, a mini, with the words written Mac Mini. Perhaps even a star, and denoting: actual size. It has a hinge.

First you remove the stickers on the top side (now front to you). You realize, that the ears of the paper is full 90 degrees, with a quarter-circle. Then you start to pull the top cover upwards. Again, you realize, that the ears are of maximal width for the front cover as well.

Inside, the polistyrol's corners are rounded, about an inch diameter. In the middle of it, there's a square hole. In that square hole, there's a gray square.

A single line of text is written on it, in a geometric font, set in plain white: Designed by Apple in California.

You remove the square - it's actually a small box, about a centimeter/half an inch deep, containing the CDs, the manual book (it's a BOOK! not a booklet), and two apple stickers.

Underneath, there is an apple logo, set in gray on shining white plastic.

That's the top of your first Mac.

Its technology is way outdated today, but I've never sold it. And I've never bought a PC ever since.

Grab an imaginary camera, shoot a point-of-view movie about the unboxing. How does it feel? How fast is it? Does anything - pneumatics, locks, stickers - slow it down? If they do, is it a kind of continous slowdown (like the pneumatics of an iPhone box) - or it feels more like an obstacle? Does it reveal anything? Does each of the stages of the sequence send a message about the product?

Path-Portal-Place. You go across something, you're to step into something (a new relationship), and then you're in it.

The order of the things, and the speed of the things are important. What you get to see first? How fast will you get there?

(It's actually a later edition with white sides, but it's still the same box overall)

This experience is designed. I'm pretty sure, a kind of storyboard exists somewhere either at Apple or at Frog Design or some other firm, where they have each of its stages as a comic.

So, Scott McCloud's classics (Making Comics and Understanding Comics), and movie storyboards are there to help you.

Edit: Here's a storyboard / animation for a nexus one unboxing. I don't know if it was for the product itself or wether it's fan art. But it shows the concepts: the order of the stages, the speed of the stages, and what gets the attention, what gets seen in each moment, what gets touched, felt, and what disturbs the attention.

  • You have written a storyboard yourself. I literally could see your unboxing. Thanks, thats a good way to start designing the experience.
    – FrankL
    Commented Jul 18, 2013 at 17:15
  • like the pneumatics of an iPhone box - that's intentional? Eck. I find it frustrating more than anything else.
    – Izkata
    Commented Jul 18, 2013 at 20:01
  • 2
    Pneumatics. Interesting. I never thought about that in relation to an iPhone box, but you are absolutely correct. I liken it to the "gears" used to slow the motion of consumer electronic compartments. Back when I used cassette tapes, there was always a perceived higher level of quality if the cassette tape door on the tape deck opened slowly and intentionally instead of banging open.
    – wootcat
    Commented Jul 18, 2013 at 21:03
  • +1 just for pneumatics. I didn't actually read your answer. Read the comments and found it out. Commented Jan 17, 2014 at 23:37

The more words there are - the less likely anyone is to read them:

Here's a Nokia Setup Guide which is almost useable without reading any of the words at all.

  • Calm and pointed remark. Thanks for an useful instructions example besides the obvious Ikea stuff.
    – FrankL
    Commented Jul 18, 2013 at 17:44
  • When Nokia was at the top it was really at the top of it's game. A great example of a dumb phone guide! Commented Jan 17, 2014 at 23:36

For designing physical artifacts, start with brainstorming design ideas and creating prototypes with them. For example, you can take a regular pen and tape on your design.

Prototypes should be cheap, "discardable", and easy to change. Once you have multiple prototypes, it'll be easy to get feedback from other people to see what they like. Also, you'll gain more feedback having more than one prototype at one time because people can compare the prototypes against each other. From there you can narrow down the best design by cycling between getting feedback and tweaking your prototypes based on your feedback.

For the manual and checklist, you should get people (who aren't involved with the product) to try going through a first-draft of your manual and checklist and see if they get confused and can follow instructions correctly.

This is called usability testing and even though it's a term that people usually use for software, it applies for other things as well. There are also method for conducting usability tests like unobtrusive observation where you just watch the user without helping them at all.

If you choose to do usability testing, make sure you tell the person that you're testing your manual and checklist and not the person's intelligence. Otherwise, they might not tell you if they're stuck on something if they feel like it's an intelligence test.

As for examples, there was an article on UXmag on Unboxing: Nest.

Main point: Create prototypes and get feedback.

  • Good idea to test the instructions too. We already got feedback about the checklist, but all starterbox should be tested too. Thanks
    – FrankL
    Commented Jul 18, 2013 at 17:35

Show that you care. Care about both the product, and the customer.

Here's some elements you should consider:

Custom size

A snug fitting box/lining shows that you care about the product not bouncing around, but also that it's "custom", not just a box size you can use for other stuff as well.

Material quality

There's cardboard, and then there's cardboard. Material marked as recycled shows that you care about the world.

Useful tools

Maybe an allen key to assemble your product with. A pen/pencil-cup and some pencils & pens might come with a desk.


A lot like helpful tools, but less related to your product or slightly over-the-top. Some branded material, like stickers or a t-shirt. For a computer-game, maybe a map of the game world, but made out of parchment-like material.

Your other products

A brochure of your complete range of products. No prices or hard sells, just a catalog. You're showing that there's plenty of more awesome stuff, so make it look good, not cheap.


Make it (look) expensive. Pick a box with sharp corners, not one that bends. Ziploc bags instead of a plastic bag with some tape to close it.

Limited or collector editions of products are a great place to look for inspiration for good un-boxing experiences.

  • I like the idea of value-adding extras indide the box. May be we find something surprising too. Though we haven't too much budget for the box. Anyway, the value matters not the expenses.
    – FrankL
    Commented Jul 18, 2013 at 17:26

This might be worth having a look at. It combined unboxing with an elaborate quick manual:


  • 1
    +1 nice example and good idea, but I think it is too intelectual: The binding of the book is too heavy, you literally must not to miss a single page (rtfm) and follow all instructions and at the end remove AND replug it into a second book is too much effort for a common human.
    – FrankL
    Commented Nov 21, 2013 at 11:55
  • Good point. Experts might be very impressed by the effort while users that really need the help are overwhelmed and get lost the moment they deviate from the intended usage. (some might need a manual to properly use this manual ;)
    – Martin
    Commented Jan 3, 2014 at 11:28

The experience of unboxing a physical medium is more than visual. I think one of the reasons Apple excels with the unboxing experience is due to the materials they use. Imagine the experience, if you opened the same box except it was made with low-grade cardboard.

  • 3
    The experience of having more money in my account due to cheaper packaging is certainly refreshing. Commented Jul 8, 2013 at 19:10
  • You're right it's more than a visual experience. In our case it has to be somehow instructional too. Do you know some examples or articles regarding this matter?
    – FrankL
    Commented Jul 9, 2013 at 7:38
  • 3
    @DeerHunter, if you think user experience should be sacrified for the sake of pennies, you might be on the wrong website. Commented Jul 14, 2013 at 17:20
  • @SteveWaddicor - thank you very much for your considerate thoughts. Commented Jul 14, 2013 at 19:00

What your customer is unboxing matters. People have mentioned Apple here, but another interesting category in terms of packaging is cosmetics. Women pay a premium for the unboxing experience of major cosmetics brands. When a woman opens a cosmetics box she is being delivered many things: an experience of color, of luxury, and both the discovery and promise of beauty. If you want to tap into the emotional experience of unboxing, you have to understand what your customers' expectations are. Apple's advertising and brands sets up a certain expectation and the unboxing delivers on that expectation. You can think of packaging as part of an integrated but multi-platform brand experience. For planning purposes, I agree with the above comment that storyboarding is a good tool.

  • Haven't thought about cosmetics before, but sure that's unboxing too - deluxe way. Customers expectations... jepp that's important. Thanks for answering.
    – FrankL
    Commented Jul 18, 2013 at 17:31

Finally we did it and got good response from our customers!

I decided to post an answer (to my own question 8-) in order to show another example and it might be of interest for some people.

Well, our starterpacket is tailor-made to neatly fit the interior. If you open it, you see a coverletter and envelopes under it. On the left there is a pen situated on a small box, so it doesnt slide during transport. If you take the coverletter you see the envelope under it and take a glance at several others. The envelope have title and numbers printed on top showing the order of open them. You actually uncover them in that order. Inside every envelope are some items our customers need to run our service, but broken down into easy small parts. To be processed step by step. Our classical manual shows the app screens on one page and the other explains it.

The last envelope contains some goodies (besides the pen) stickers and flyers. Industry is logistics, so envelopes felt quite natural for all of us.

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