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10 Design Tips for Effective Product Mock-Ups

This post is part of a series called Top Design Tips.
10 Top Tips for Creating Awesome Icons
10 Top Tips for Designing Your Own Business Cards
Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

Generally, products are designed and developed in isolation, and understandably so. Branding and logos need to be created digitally before they can be printed onto posters, banners and tee-shirts. Mock-ups are a great way to visualize the product in an end state, without having to actually commit to the production and risk costly mistakes. This helps to catch any unforeseen issues with the design and helps to draw attention and create excitement for the product.

Envato Market has a great selection (over 14,000!) of high-quality product mock-ups to make your job easier. But how do you know which mock-up to use with your product? Let's look at 10 design tips to make sure your product mock-up is effective and serves to increase the visibility of your product.

1. Know the Product

This may seem like an obvious statement, but I've seen this very simple idea be ignored and lead to embarrassing results. If you are a designer hired to craft an effective marketing campaign for a product, it's likely you are not intimately familiar with the product, and it is very tempting to just grab the product shot and slap it onto a cool-looking mock-up. This may be quick and easy, but ultimately is a disservice to the product and the client.

Take the time to fully understand the product before drafting a mock-up. As an extreme (and oversimplified) example, you wouldn't want to put the logo for an animal rights group on a fur-coat mock-up. Do your homework to make sure you are not accidentally committing a similar mistake just because you don't have a good understanding of the product. For example...

Digital content doesnt mix well with newsprint
Newspaper Mock-Up

This. Doesn't. Work. If the product is touting its interactive, all-digital features, newspapers are probably a poor choice for the product mock-up.

2. Know the Message

This is a logical flow from the first point, but requires a bit more work. Once you have full confidence in what the product is, seek to understand what the product can do for the intended buyers. What need is it fulfilling? What service is it providing? 

Then choose a mock-up that communicates this message. Mock-ups that place the product in front of a slate-grey background with some elegant cast shadows may be attractive, but don't do a great job of communicating what the product is actually for.

Business card mockup
Business Card Mock-Up

So if you are designing a business card for a nutritionist, it's a good idea to use a mock-up that contains elements of healthy food.

3. Know the Audience

This one can be tricky to navigate effectively. The idea is to develop a mock-up that is appealing to the target audience. To do that, you first need to understand who that audience is, and have a grasp of what their general preferences would be. 

The challenge is to accomplish this without falling into the trap of stereotypes. Avoid assigning a preference based on gender, ethnicity, religion, body type, culture, or political affiliation. 

Instead, craft a preference based around the shared interest of the audience. If the product is targeted at hunters, a product mock-up could include elements like camouflage, rugged boots and an outdoor setting. A product mock-up for a coffee app would work well in a coffee-shop setting with steaming mugs and biscotti. 

So if the product is a mobile app that records and edits audio, it's a fair guess that a major portion of the clients will be musicians. With that in mind, it's a good idea to incorporate musical instruments into the design, like this phone mock-up.

iphone mock-up on a guitar
iPhone 6s Mock-Up

4. Know the Medium

Every artistic medium is different. Each method of displaying a creative work has its own set of advantages and drawbacks. Understanding these is critical for an effective design. 

The classic example of this is including the color white on printed materials. Generally, the print medium doesn't include white. White is assumed to be the color of the paper. So if you are doing a mock-up for an invitation on material that isn't white, be sure the white portions of your design are the paper color.

For example, this ad uses a great deal of white. It's integral to the message of the product, because the winter season is closely associated with cold and snow, plus the high-key photography contributes to the effect.

Winter wonderland photo

So developing a mock-up of this product on a printed page might dull the brightness of the whites and negate the impact of the ad.

Newpaper printout of the ad
Newspaper Mock-Up

Instead, the ad comes off much brighter and more effective when using a mock-up of a digital display.

ipad display mock-up on top of teh newspaper mock-up
Newspaper Mock-Up

5. Resolution Is Critical

One of the biggest mistakes I see with product mock-ups is a mismatch of resolution or image quality between the product and the mockup. This can happen in several ways, but frequently it stems from a misunderstanding of how much resolution is required for the final image (this is related to the "Know the Medium" point above). 

If the product mock-up is going to be printed out on a full-sheet poster, you will not be able to simply grab the thumbnail of the product logo from the corner of the website and blow it up to fit the poster image. There will be an obvious mismatch in image quality.

When working with logos or branding, work with vectors wherever possible. These will scale nicely and prevent issues in the final results. When dealing with images, get high-resolution (generally 300 dpi or better) versions of the images to work with. Likewise, be sure the mock-up elements are of equivalent resolution and quality.

For example, this Sign & Facade Mock-Up contains high-quality imagery of realistic signs. But when used with a low-resolution, rasterized version of a logo, the results are underwhelming.

Sign mock up with blurry logo
Signage & Facade Mock-Up

Notice how the logo appears soft, blurry, and pixelated. That's because a low-resolution jpg was used. Now look at the difference when using a high-quality vector version of the same logo.

sign mock-up with sharp logo
Signage & Facade Mock-Up

The sign looks sharp and matches the visual integrity of the background image, which leads to a more convincing composite, which leads to a more effective product mock-up!

6. Color Considerations

An effective product mock-up should draw attention to the product, not distract from it. One easy method of accomplishing this is with careful color considerations. 

If the product has a noticeable color scheme, choose a mock-up design with colors that would contrast with those and make the product stand out. This could be a strict complementary color (the colors are directly opposite one another on the color wheel) or it could be as simple as a warm or cool filter over the background to shift the tones enough to create a subtle color contrast.

In this movie poster design, the overall warm tones of the poster are nicely offset by the cooler tones of the surrounding environment.

movie poster design with contrasting colors
Posters Mock-Up

7. Consider Hands-On!

One very simple way to make the product appear more intimate and user-friendly is to actually include hands in the mock-up. Showing the product physically in the hands of a user sends a subconscious message to the audience inviting them to participate with it. 

Of course, there are pitfalls to be aware of with this technique. If the product is for hand cream, don't use a set of dry, chapped hands in the mock-up. Also, be aware of any cultural sensitivities that might arise from tone of skin or masculine/feminine appearance of the hands. Tread carefully so as not to imply that certain people or groups require certain products more than others. 

Phone mock-up held in hand
Phone 6 Mock-Up

8. Prepare Good Content

If you are a designer developing a product mock-up for a client, make it clear up front that good content needs to be provided. 

If you are on the marketing team trying to put together a good product mock-up from one of the templates available through Envato Market, be aware that the templates will likely include some "lorem ipsum". That is nonsensical, stand-in content used to visualize the final design. This must be replaced with good, well-written content and quality images. Unless the name of your product actually is Lorem Ipsum, do not ever just leave the stand-in content in the design. It may be one of the most difficult and arduous tasks, but well-written content must be developed and included in the design.

Trifold menu with written copy
Tri-Fold A4 Brochure Mock-Up

9. Remember the Big Picture

After the last point stressing how important it is to have well-written, quality content, this point feels almost painful. 

Sometimes that content will not be seen. And that's OK. 

The point of a product mock-up is to get a big-picture visualization of the product in a real-life situation. That often means that some the information or features will be obscured, illegible, or not even visible. Keep in mind that the point of the mock-up is to show the bigger picture, and not to make every line of text accessible. Now, the product itself should be completely user-friendly and every text bit of text clear and readable. But this is not that. This is a mock-up. Let the product do the job of delivering the content, and the mock-up do the job of selling the product.

Laptop mockup showing the envatotuts tutorial screen
Laptop Mock-Up Vol.4

10. Don’t Let It Get Lost

Keep the product mock-up design clean and free of distracting elements. Don't force the audience to search for the product, or they will lose interest and move on. 

If your product mock-up is a banner on the side of a bus, don't put the bus beneath a billboard for a different product or next to a bus stop covered with competing posters. The challenge is to create a scene that is realistic, attractive, and effective at displaying the product without confusion.

Movie Poster mockup
Photorealistic Poster Mock-up

Let's Review

Here's a quick review of the 10 design tips for creating effective product mock-ups.

  1. Know the Product. Before selecting a product mock-up approach, first make sure you have a solid understanding of the product and what it does.
  2. Know the Message. Use the mock-up design to help communicate the message of the product.
  3. Know the Audience. Use elements that would appeal to the target audience, but be careful to avoid stereotypes.
  4. Know the Medium. Every medium has pros and cons, so be sure to understand what those are and how to use them.
  5. Resolution Is Critical. Use vector logos and brands, and high-resolution images to preserve the visual fidelity of the mock-up.
  6. Color Considerations. A solid understanding of color theory can go a long way in crafting an appealing product mock-up.
  7. Consider Hand-Held. Make the product more personal by using a shot of human hands holding or using the product.
  8. Prepare Good Content. Don't let a mock-up leave your desk while it still has Lorem Ipsum or watermarked images.
  9. Remember the Big Picture. Not all the content will be legible in the mock-up, and neither does it need to be. You will need to learn to live with this.
  10. Don't Let It Get Lost. Choose settings that are uncluttered by other designs competing for attention.
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