The True Art of Package Design

May 5, 2011

The True Art of Package Design

Published in The Dieline
Features | May 2011

Pro #6:  Peter Clarke, Product Ventures CEO & Founder

Top Packaging Advice from the Pros

When I entered the field of packaging design some 20 years ago there were few, if any, examples of packaging like the ones we see today. The small number of iconic packages at the time existed in low-volume, high-margin categories such as beauty care and spirits. Within food and beverage, personal care and fabric & home care, packaging was viewed as an expense and not as a value-added brand ambassador. Though packaging’s importance to the brand has made great strides, the struggle over cost continues, as unrealistic timelines and naïve expectations are driven by the short tenure of marketing leadership and lack of long term strategic packaging vision.

Early on in my career as an industrial designer, I saw the potential for packaging to make a significant contribution to brands and to the people that use them. I clamored for the opportunity to apply my training in styling, ergonomics, and materials & processes to turn the mundane into the iconic, annoyance into pleasure, and the useless into the essential. This led to the founding of my company, Product Ventures 15 years ago, with the goal of turning labeled containers into value-added delivery systems. Since then I have continually been honored to help many notable companies with their best known brands.

Product Ventures’ design for the Duracell® Easy Tab TM package empowered people to change their own hearing batteries, enabling them to wear their hearing aids without worrying about the batteries failing. We were able to assist Procter and Gamble with its moment in history as Folgers® forever relinquished the coffee user of the burden of can openers by providing a blow-molded canister with a value-added handle. For Heinz® we brought back the heritage of the Heinz® glass ketchup bottle facets to an optimally proportioned large volume ketchup bottle that best fits people’s hands and the fridge. The Fridge-FitTM packaged increased consumption, penetration and now Heinz® is selling more ketchup and less packaging which is good for the business and the environment. Our redesign of the International Delight® coffee creamer package is a great example of the impact that packaging can make for the business, the consumer and the environment. By addressing the multitude of manufacturing, consumer experience and brand communication factors, the new creamer package now visually fits the International Delight ® promise— is functionally superior to the competition, maximizes shelf pack out for the retailer, surmounts major production challenges, and netted savings in production costs and environmental savings equivalent to taking roughly 2500 cars off the road nationwide per year.

The typical packaging challenge can be fraught with conflicting needs. To be successful, you must have a proven process that is user driven and business aligned. Often the business objectives of low cost and efficiency may be at odds with the brand’s objectives to stand out on the shelf and enhance the usage experience. The integration of consumer learning early in the process is key and must continue often through the discovery, design and development of packaging solutions. Another important factor is to conduct a thorough assessment of manufacturing capabilities to identify the inherent opportunities and restrictions within the reality of cost-effective manufacturing systems. Too often clients withhold this information for fear of hampering creativity. It has been my philosophy that “true” creativity happens within constraints. Without “real world” constraints you’re left with “pie in the sky” nonsense that will never enhance people’s lives because it doesn’t hit the sweet spot between what a consumer desires and can afford and the business can make for a profit.

Today’s most talented package designers are able to navigate these complex issues and offer a range of possibilities to aid business in doing the right thing. To make a positive contribution requires careful consideration, analysis and resolution of many complex factors within manufacturing & distribution, product containment & protection, brand communication & shelf impact, the usage experience, and environmental impact. When evaluating what constitutes good package design, it is important to look beyond the label and appearance and consider its purpose. Did it achieve what it was meant to do? Is it an effective tool for people and the business? The true art of packaging design may very well be in the systematic processing of the myriad of details along with the high stake challenges that go into creating the perfect package.

Peter Clarke is a visionary entrepreneur who founded Product Ventures 15 years ago to create the ultimate strategic creative agency for the research, design and development of manufactured goods. His passion for excellence and dedication to helping shape products and packaging to enhance consumers’ lives have garnered Clarke enormous recognition throughout the industry. As CEO of his company, Peter has been honored throughout the years to help many notable clients change the course of their business including Procter and Gamble, Nestle and Novartis, among many others. Peter Clarke is frequently profiled in the media, as well as a sought-after thought leader and industry commentator. 

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