Magic touch

A tactile, exact model is the perfect tool for packaging designers looking to sell structural innovations to clients. Trish Lorenz investigates


Asking a client to revamp the structural elements of packaging has always been a more difficult sell for design groups than updating on-pack graphics. There are logistical issues to consider – changes to structural designs can impact on production, transportation and retail display – and the process is usually more expensive. But the development of rapid prototyping and other modelling technology is helping consultancies to argue the case with clients.

Designers have long used modelling techniques as part of their creative process, from simple hand-carved foam pieces that help visualise ideas and assess proportion, to more complicated models created using computer-aided drawing and technology such as CNC and SLS, which can prove functional aspects of the design. But using models to convince clients is perhaps even more important.

‘Models are a vital communication tool,’ says Seymour Powell design director Adrian Caroen. ‘We use them the whole way through the creative process. At concept level that might be a basic foam model created either by hand or on a CNC machine. It will be presented to clients alongside more detailed visualisations of the idea, but the model itself is fundamental, especially if it is for a product that needs to be picked up or where scale is important.’

Jones Knowles Ritchie head of structural design Pete Hayes agrees. ‘We’ve found modelling a very useful way to prove design work to clients,’ he says. ‘It helps not just with final buy-in but also with selling in concepts.’

This is particularly the case when communicating complex forms. Designers are able to visualise ideas as three-dimensional objects, but not all clients are as experienced at doing this, which can lead to issues if a finished product doesn’t live up to expectations.

At Blue Marlin, CAD technology enabled the group to sell in a complex design for start-up Norwegian water brand Isklar. Inspired by the structure of glacial ice, the Isklar water bottle, which goes on shelf in the UK from this month, has been designed as a 73-faceted prism. ‘I don’t think Isklar could have happened without CAD 3D modelling,’ says Blue Marlin senior structural designer Tim James. ‘It meant we were able to deliver lots of dramatically different, yet highly finished concepts for the client to choose between.’ The final design was chosen in part because of the visual appeal of the model, says James. ‘We knew we’d designed it to sparkle like a faceted chunk of ice, but when we saw the model it really had wow factor,’ he says.

Hayes points to JKR’s recent Stella Artois project, which saw it working to reposition the brand as a more premium beer, as another example. JKR designed a chalice-style beer glass for the brand, and to help sell the idea to the client, commissioned a rapid prototype model in clear resin. ‘It was a challenging design for a beer glass, particularly in what is quite a staid market. We saw it as an opportunity to raise the perceived quality of the brand, but needed to demonstrate to the client exactly how it would look,’ says Hayes.

Rapid prototyping technology enables designers to feature highly detailed aspects of the design on the model – for the Stella glass this included etching on the stem and full-colour branding. There’s little left for the client to imagine and, as a result, few surprises when the final product is presented. ‘Obviously, the material was different, but as a visual interpretation the resin model was highly realistic and there’s no substitute for holding something in the hand to understand exactly how it will look and feel,’ says Hayes.

It’s this tactile element that is perhaps the biggest benefit of using models. Caroen worked on a recent project to design a bar of soap for Lux. ‘Soap communicates the values of the brand through its form, and you just can’t illustrate that without a model; you need to pick it up, put it in your hand and roll it around your fingers,’ he says.

There’s general agreement that although CAD visualisations are very realistic, they remain no substitute for a physical representation. ‘Clients can’t always see the value of a model early on in the process, but as the project progresses there’s a realisation that no matter how good your photo-realistic images are, there’s no substitute for a 3D model,’ says Hayes.

As Caroen points out, ‘We’re in the business of creating three-dimensional forms. How can we expect clients to judge an idea without seeing it in 3D?’

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