Packaging & Branding

Packaging design is in a state of flux. Where once there was a clear definition between packs for branded goods and own-brand lines, the categories are noticeably merging. Judging by poor showing in creative awards, mediocrity prevails.





Packaging design is in a state of flux. Where once there was a clear definition between packs for branded goods and own-brand lines, the categories are noticeably merging. Judging by poor showing in creative awards, mediocrity prevails. This is against a backdrop of unprecedented technological change and increasing demand for sustainability and waste control. With the likes of Marks & Spencer taking their responsibilities to heart, others will surely follow. These are among the issues addressed in this supplement. The challenge has never been greater for packaging designers, but sharing information and experiences might help them face it.

Lynda Relph-Knight, Supplement editor


Branded packaging: An overview
Jonathan Ford looks at some examples of cutting-edge branded pack design

Getting it right
Design Week previews work on display at the Packaging Innovation Show

Eco bottles
Eleanor Sharman takes stock of the latest initiatives on the sustainable packaging front

The man who fell to earth
Sarah Verdone tracks down hyper-prolific, jet-setting designer Karim Rashid

Crossing borders
David Benady provides a global perspective on brand communication

Own-brand: An overview
Paul King checks out recent developments on the own-brand packaging scene



Branded packaging: An overview

By Jonathan Ford

The 2007 Design Week jury couldn’t give an award for own-brand packaging, and at the Design Business Association’s Design Effectiveness Awards, the Grand Prix went to one of the most questionable-looking pack designs ever.

British packaging design is coasting dangerously on a ‘we know best’ reputation, but there are a lot of us chasing the same UK projects, many of which are mishandled by inexperienced clients. Creative standards are dropping, and are becoming skin deep and insular.

In my view, the UK only has a few really good packaging designers and clients who understand the design relationship. As a result, our reputation is suffering, and it is now also under threat from abroad.

However, working around the world, I’m refreshed to see some fabulously inspiring ideas from a variety of cultural influences.

The US has often been lambasted for bad packaging design, but Apple’s approach to design – from product to packaging – has changed things, and big business now knows the value of great design and is starting to get behind it.

Target, a US retail phenomenon, has also intelligently incorporated design into its business. For example, it used a student project by Deborah Adler, at the New York School of Visual Arts, as the basis for a redesign of its pharmaceutical packaging to make it more effective. Based on insights Adler gained after a relative had taken the wrong dose because of poor packaging, the new design is non-threatening, clearer to read and colour-coded for differentiation.

Target is also offering a fresh take on the organic sector with Archer Farms, avoiding the clichés of rusticity and instead giving it a contemporary, evolving identity.

Meanwhile, Method and Mrs Meyer’s are both revolutionising household goods through graphics and sustainable structural design. Method’s simple, stylish look makes cleaning chores seem desirable, and Mrs Meyer’s does it by using engaging copy – an American trait, achieving a balance between content and information, set against modern, soft-touch physical shapes.
Also in the US, its great to see layers of confusing typography reduced to the most essential communication for Somme Institute skincare. Absolutely beautiful.

Japan thinks creatively like no other nation. The 100% Chocolate Café, for example, with individually numbered packs and a totally thought-through in-store presence, is a mouth-watering design experience. And the Japanese banana smoothie packs also restore my faith by rivalling the classic Jif lemon pack for sheer ‘idea power’.

France is the home of luxury, and what better brand than Veuve Clicquot to celebrate the power of design and add theatre through secondary packaging to enhance its core brand offer. Designed by Pablo Reinoso, its stackable bottle holder creates a wine cellar to die for out of nothing.

Europe, Australia, South Africa, Scandinavia all have strong traditions producing great work, and, as developing nations like China, Brazil, India and Russia grow stronger and participate in global consumerism, the competition for packaging design is set to widen.

When there is an oversupply of packaging designers contributing to the world’s landfills, how many of us are thinking deeply about the environmental implications and communicating it to our clients?

UK designers who are serious about retaining a global reputation should harness forward-thinking creativity about how to design for a better environment by going below the surface to keep the creative competitive edge.

Jonathan Ford is creative partner of Pearlfisher London & New York


Getting it right


Manufacturers and designers have teamed up to produce new concepts for existing packaging technologies for an exhibition centrepiece at the Packaging Innovation Show. Design Week previews the results of the collaborations



For this year’s Technology and Creative Innovation Challenge, a range of partnerships consisting of a design group and a manufacturer were asked to come up with a new concept that uses the manufacturer’s technology innovatively. The main themes to be addressed were improvements for retail display, convenience of opening and resealing, product enjoyment and environmental responsibility.

Manufacturer: Red AK47
Technology: Product origination company Red AK47 specialises in the creation to order of patentable products and processes for clients in need of technical edge, regardless of industry or sector. It created the intellectual property behind the Revolution can.
Designer: The Cool Can Company
Concept: The Cool Can Company has created a food can and a beverage can fitted with its Revolution end. The concept addresses public safety and energy-efficiency concerns. With 80 000 Britons a year injuring themselves opening tin cans, including 28 000 accident and emergency cases, according to DTI Domestic Accidents Related to Packaging, November 1997, The Cool Can Company noted that existing technology – even ‘easy open’ ends – is letting consumers and brands down. The Revolution design reduces the risk of injury by eliminating the need to touch the end directly.

As a packaging material, metal is surprisingly Green, with one of the lowest CO2 footprints in both manufacture and recycling. However, energy efficiency is compromised if the contents are not fully consumed and the can and its end are not both recycled – many can ends finish up in landfill even if the can is recycled. The Cool Can Company has addressed both these issues by making the can resealable, using its patented opening process. This extends the opened can’s consumption timeframe by reducing oxidation and odour release, and allows the can end to be refitted for disposal or safely rinsed and dropped inside, without being touched.

Manufacturer: Field Packaging
Technology: Field Packaging is part of Chesapeake Corporation, one of the world’s largest producers of consumer packaging. It produces printed paper products – cartons (in board and transparent plastics), labels, composite tubes and special packs supported by design and technical skills, pre-press and packaging machinery expertise.

Designer: Design Reality
Concept: Design Reality used Field Group’s innovative packaging technology to create a product designed to enhance the consumer’s level of enjoyment.

The designers came up with attractive and tactile packaging for precious flowers and plants, thus introducing a distinctive form of packaging to the gardening and horticulture sector. The design provides enhanced levels of protection in transit, and also allows the plant to grow in a protected environment.

The product can be branded and adapted for a variety of purposes including special occasions, unusual plant specimens and limited- edition runs. This also produces less waste at the manufacturing level, while the packaging promises to keep the product healthy.

Manufacturer: Robinson Plastic Packaging
Technology: Robinson Plastic Packaging is a manufacturer of custom injection-moulded plastic packaging, primarily for customers operating in the food and beverage, home and personal care markets. Innovation, diversification and strategic opportunism are at the heart of the company’s philosophy, coupled with investment in new technologies.
Designer: Design Stream
Concept: With Robinson, Design Stream came up with the Rinban packaging system concept, which addresses issues of food and packaging waste as well as meeting the needs of an aging population.

Rinban is an environmentally sustainable glass jar, which uses printed circuit technology and recyclable shape-memory plastics to enable easier opening without compromising security. A printed circuit board powers a heating disc that activates the shape memory plastic lid. The heating circuit is completed only when the consumer places their fingers at specific points on the jar. These are ordinarily protected with a tamper label to prevent accidental spillage in transit. On contact with heat, the form of the lid changes, making it easier for the consumer to open.

Manufacturer: ITCM
Technology: Product and packaging machinery specialist ITCM developed its ‘late particularisation’ manufacturing approach to maximise productivity and production flexibility across a product line that has many variants. Based on the assumption that most of the ingredients and processes used in manufacture are identical, ‘particularisation’ – the adding of an individual colour – can be made late in the production process. This avoids costly time spent changing from one line to another as with batch production, and enables a business to reduce its stocks of finished goods significantly.
Designer: Smallfry
Concept: Smallfry and ITCM have developed a combined product and packaging concept that provides the consumer with flexibility through an intelligent last-minute mixing mechanism. The concept could be applied in a variety of markets (food, sunscreen, medical), but to illustrate it they have developed a cosmetic product. Consumer insights revealed issues with applying foundation and getting the formula right given variances of an individual’s skin tone, especially between summer and winter months, and allowing for holidays and sun exposure. The product solution is a base foundation with an in-built tonal range that the consumer adjusts to suit her skin tone.

Dragon Plastics
Technology: Dragon Plastics designs and manufactures child- resistant closures, both the push-down-and-turn, and squeeze-and-turn varieties. It has taken out a number of patents in each design – innovations include a complex five-piece closure assembly for a vodka bottle and a volumetric closure system with a self-mixing chamber for toiletry applications. The Dragon closure is significantly lighter than competitors’ products, creating less packaging waste.
Designer: Steam To Go
Concept: Steam To Go is working with Dragon Plastics to bring self-heating packaging to the convenience market. This self-heating pack delivers hot freshly cooked food from the refrigerator. By simply pressing a button you get a hot meal in four minutes.

The MkX self-heating pack concept uses Steam To Go’s patented ‘direct steam heating’ technology. The steam is generated using fuel-cell developed nanotechnology. The pack incorporates a board made from fibre derived from local agricultural byproducts, and all plastics are biopolymers. The proposed recycling method is fermentation with recovered gas turned into fuel. Thus the concept plans for the future by investing in low total life cycle energy solutions.

The Technology and Creative Innovation Challenge is on display at the Packaging Innovation Show, 15-18 May at the NEC, Birmingham


Eco bottles


The design industry is in a great position to lead the way and make a real impact on the amount of waste produced in Britain. Eleanor Sharman takes stock of the latest initiatives on the sustainable packaging front


In the UK, 30 million tonnes of household waste are generated each year, and yet 57 per cent of UK consumers now claim they are committed recyclers. With public opinion rallying round the demand for a reduction in waste and an increase in sustainable packaging, it is up to designers, brands and manufacturers to make a change. And ‘until legislation kicks in with clear directives, the design industry has a huge opportunity and responsibility to make a difference’, says Samantha Dumont, creative partner of design group Dragon Brands.

A massive 80 per cent of a product’s environmental impact is decided at the design stage, and, as the catalysts for significant change, ‘designers have a responsibility to deliver sustainable, environmentally friendly packaging as much as they can’, insists Darren Foley, realisation director at Pearlfisher.

For four years, Foley has been running Innovation Scout, a programme aimed at discovering and putting into practice new technologies in packaging. ‘Our responsibility in the team is to challenge the client. It’s just about helping the process, changing people’s outlook,’ he says. Two years ago Innovation Scout uncovered corn starch, a commercially compostable plastic made from renewable corn stocks rather than oil, already being used in the US. The Realisation Team immediately showed the product to fruit drinks innovator Innocent. Innocent’s 250ml ‘breakfast thickie eco bottle’ is the result of this enthusiasm to encourage sustainable packaging, and it is trialling on shelves.

At Dragon, sustainability is put high on the agenda, and training sessions on the key principles of creating sustainable packaging and how to work with different materials are held for the creatives. But, as Dumont explains, ‘Unless client organisations pursue the path, it is very difficult for designers alone to make a difference.’ Added to the fact that proactive design groups such as Pearlfisher and Dragon are in the minority, with many design groups operating ‘in a very insular way’ without engaging with the manufacturers, the progress up until now has been slow.

The question is, what is the UK doing to reduce its terrifying waste output and respond to the 75 per cent of the British public who now believe they have a duty to recycle? The Government, of course, has a responsibility to enforce regulations, but designers, retailers, brands and environmental organisations are taking their own initiatives. Heading the drive to produce sustainable packaging is the Waste & Resources Action Programme, with a series of initiatives, agreements and programmes aimed at reducing packaging waste.

A lot of the emphasis on sustainable packaging is being focused on improving current processes rather than inventing recyclable or compostable material. As Foley explains, ‘There’s a big push by the industry, aside from materials, to deliver weight reduction.’ Indeed, significant progress has been made in reducing the amount of packaging required, especially for bottles and cans. Last month, the Co-op launched what is believed to be the world’s lightest 70cl spirits bottle. Weighing in at just 298g, the bottle is designed to reduce manufacturing costs, cut carbon emissions and minimise the amount of glass used. Developed by Rockware, it has been incorporated into Wrap’s Container Lite programme.

Supermarkets are also taking a front seat by increasing and promoting sustainable packaging. In September 2006, Sainsbury’s announced an initiative to cut 3550 tonnes of plastic a year from its output by replacing 150 million plastic trays and bags with maize, sugar cane or starch compostable packaging, all of which may be disposed of in a garden compost heap. This measure is combined with their target to reduce packaging by 5 per cent every year, and a commitment to providing recycling points for their customers as well as clear recycling labels on their products.

Andrew Jenkins, sustainable development manager for products at Boots, heads a team that takes into account the entire lifecycle, ‹ from cradle to grave, of the product, and this ‘common sense’ philosophy, which takes the line that ‘there’s no waste in nature’, is shared by Pearlfisher. About a year ago, Boots started to recycle its own PET bottles for reuse in the store, and it has since produced more than four million recycled bottles. In June, the high profile Botanics range will be relaunched in PET, doubling production of its PET plastic. It also has a target to reduce single-trip packaging by 2010 by 10 per cent.

Added to this, Boots and Sainsbury’s are two of the 13 companies that have signed up to Wrap’s Courtauld Commitment agreement, whose objectives are to design out packaging waste growth by 2008, to deliver absolute reductions in packaging waste by 2010, and to identify ways to tackle the problem of food waste. The supermarkets represent 92 per cent of the UK grocery market, and have been joined by brands including Heinz.

But, as Jenkins points out, the use of sustainable packaging will only take us so far. ‘There is no national Government labelling scheme for recyclable packaging, so people don’t know what to do with it,’ he says. Foley agrees, saying, ‘Manufacturers need to be very clear about how things biodegrade. It’s a question of badging. The concern is that lots of people jumped on the bandwagon without considering how people will dispose of the packaging, because you can’t necessarily put it in your compost.’ If no rules are enforced to ensure clear labelling, and allegedly compostable bottles sit on composts refusing to break down, the results could be as disastrous as the current situation.

How does the UK compare to its counterparts in the race for improved packaging sustainability? Given the complexity of the sustainability question, this is difficult to assess. According to Dumont and Foley, the UK is middle of the road, especially when compared to Germany and Sweden, which hold sustainability as a ‘core societal value’. With an infrastructure that has been in place for generations, it’s part of their culture, not just a ‘knee-jerk reaction to global warming’. This is what needs to happen in the UK if significant progress is to be made. Unquestionably, the Government must play the key role, but for its part, Dumont stresses, ‘the design industry needs to take a firmer and more driving stance’.

Guide To Sustainable Packaging

Wrap estimates that 150 000 tonnes of glass could be saved each year if the food and drinks industry reduced the average container weight by just 10 per cent. Working through Wrap’s Container Lite project, Grolsch’s reinvented beer bottle is a fantastic example of the success of this project. Already on the shelves, the reduced bottle maintains the classic Grolsch bottle profile, but with a 13 per cent weight reduction – without any detrimental effect on brand image or bottle strength. With annual sales of 150 million units, the new bottle will save 4000 tonnes of glass each year.

Heinz is paving the way for packaging reduction in the can sector, having reduced the thickness of the ends of its cans for baked beans and soup by 0.02mm. Ten per cent thinner than Heinz’s previous ends, this tiny reduction has brought massive changes, saving 1400 tonnes of steel and £404 000 for Heinz every year, without any difference in the can’s appearance.

Marks & Spencer is adopting an innovative new way to seal flexible film bags and pouches that allows a reduction of at least 10 per cent of the original packaging. The new technology will be applied to all M&S salad bags, which are expected to be in store by the end of the summer.


The man who fell to earth


Karim Rashid’s extravagant, unorthodox pack designs turn faceless items into distinctive, desirable products, but he is also pushing packaging in a sustainable direction, pioneering space-age processes that make use of recycled materials. Sarah Verdone tracks down the jet-setting, hyper-busy designer in one of his natural elements – cyberspace


Karim Rashid is travelling, his assistant informs me laconically. Sure enough, I can see his skin-tight schedule on the ‘events’ page of his website. Hong Kong, then Singapore, New York and Toronto (last week it was Los Angeles and Moscow, and before that, Korea). So instead of meeting with the hyper-prolific industrial designer, I send an e-mail and wait. Meanwhile, I listen to David Bowie’s Space Oddity and wonder if Rashid, who also hires himself out as a DJ at parties, would find the soundtrack to this article too old-fashioned.

Even the word ‘jet-setter’ seems antiquated for a designer whose manifesto includes, ‘A desire to see people live in the modus of our time, to participate in the contemporary world, and to release themselves from nostalgia, antiquated traditions, old rituals, kitsch and the meaningless.’ Instead, I imagine him careening through space in a transparent craft shaped like an amoeba. Inside, he lounges on a fuchsia Superblob sofa (designed for Edra) in a white or pink suit (the two colours he wears) with his white titanium glasses (designed for the Swedish company Sceye). His naturally black hair has been dyed platinum in honour of daylight saving time and the advent of spring. Meanwhile, I sit here on Earth at a wooden desk full of right angles (something the inventor of the ‘blobject’ eschews). Finally. Rashid’s words spin through cyberspace and assemble themselves on my screen. It seems the nomadic designer is available even when he’s unavailable.

It makes perfect sense that Rashid comes to me via computer — it’s all part and parcel of the package that is Karim (pronounced ‘care-im’). Whether you love or hate his ‘tech-organic’ aesthetic, you’ve got to admit he has a distinct vision and he knows how to package it (and then some). At the last count, he has designed more than 2000 products. You can back up your computer, clean your toilet, eat, drink, sleep, smoke, breathe and even enter the afterlife in Rashid’s ‘sensualist’ style (thanks to his new eco-friendly air freshener system for Method and his Nambé cremation urn). His clients, who number more than 150, include Alessi, Veuve Clicquot, Prada, Ronson and Unilever. He has even packaged his lifestyle Karimanifesto in his latest book, Design Your Self – Rethinking the Way You Work, Live, Love and Play.

‘It is time that all our products are beautiful and smart, regardless of cost,’ the 21st century designer/philosopher king decrees via e-mail. ‘Even the cheapest packages.’ Rashid is working non-stop to do his part. One example is his series of designs for eco-friendly household cleaners by Method, a company based in San Francisco. The candy-coloured solutions, packaged in clear plastic bottles reminiscent of lava lamps, are new to the UK, but have already become ubiquitous in the US. ‘I have brought high design, high aesthetics, and high performance to the democratic object,’ Rashid says with customary confidence; false modesty is not part of his package. He is referring to an innovative soap bottle – pick it up and give it a squeeze to dispense, then set it back on the counter. A mechanism in its base seals it so there is no need to turn the bottle upside down. His design unites and conquers packaging and branding issues. ‘It’s minimal with very little branding – the object itself is the brand,’ says Rashid.

Rashid calls this concept ‘casualisation’. ‘It involves thinking about behaviour instead of just iconic shapes,’ he says. It appears to be working. Until recently, most socially responsible products in the US sat quietly on shelves like wallflowers at a school dance. Now some Method products even outsell their big-company counterparts. You could argue that the design is almost too cool for school. An informal survey of my environmentally conscious, clean-freak friends revealed that nobody had realised Method products are ‘Green’.

The words sustainability and Rashid seldom cosy up to each other in a sentence. Yet he says many of his designs are ‘more ecological than existing packaging’. His sensitivity has led him to design useful secondary packaging – for example, the package for an Issey Miyake perfume serves as a travel case. ‘I always find myself defending ‹ plastics,’ he says. ‘Conserving resources means using less raw material and energy throughout a product’s entire life – from its development and manufacture to its use, reuse, recycling and disposal,’ he says. ‘I read recently that despite the fact that plastic plays a role in almost every aspect of our daily lives, its production accounts for only 4 per cent of US energy consumption.’

Whether or not this statistic is accurate, Rashid claims that, ‘We are living in the disposable age. Plastic is now part of our nature.’ He praises it for its ‘democratic’ properties – its ability to make luxury design accessible to all. ‘We have to do what we feel is relevant for society at that time, he says. This depends on the manufacturer, the distribution and the company as much as the designer, according to the 47-year-old. ‘The real answer to the use of plastic is that we should use less, but use it better,’ Rashid says, then blasts off into the stratosphere. ‘One day we will create a replicant of ourselves as the ultimate plastic object – smart, reactive, biogenetic, polymorphous, nanomechanical, tech-organic and perfectly recyclable.’

Until then, CNC, rapid prototyping, solid modelling and other technological practices continue to ‘speed up the process, create better precision, better quality and more variance’, according to Rashid. The profession has become more hands-off. This suits the designer just fine. He is constantly courting new technologies.

At the turn of the millennium, his single-dose system for Prada skincare turned heads with its astronaut-friendly packaging. Still, he is itching for the next giant step forward. ‘Technology and production methods are somewhat perfected and almost at a standstill,’ he says impatiently. But he’s not just in it for the whizz-bang factor. ‹ ‘Use is something that has been neglected in packaging design – it was only about image, brand and promotion, not about touching, feeling and enjoying.’ The key points here are ‘use’ and ‘enjoyment’. His packaging for the cosmetics industry strives for both. Rashid designed Kenzo’s Ryoko pocket atomiser to function as a ‘blobular worry stone’. It resembles Elsa Perretti’s bean shapes, but with a colourful, rubberised finish. Ryoko, which means ‘travel’ in Japanese, won Businessweek’s 2006 Industrial Design Excellence Award.

A new product, Kenzo Amour perfume, uses robotic techniques to give the bottles a hand-finished appearance. The bottles rotate while being sprayed with paint, yielding gradations and combinations of colour that resemble kiln-fired ceramics, says the designer. These bottles also represent a departure in beauty industry packaging – there are three different forms and three colours for one scent (a single shape is usually reduced or enlarged). Based on the client’s inspirational image of a bird in flight, an homage to Constantin Brancusi, the pink, orange and white trio of bottles nest together like graceful, technicolour swans.

The future continues to look bright – and busy – for Rashid. He is currently finessing biodegradable packaging for fast food out of a faux ‘plastic’ made from injection-molded starch and potatoes. His complete project list would fill this entire page. Packaging projects alone include chocolates bars, skincare, dog perfume, a vacuum cleaner, a dustpan and broom, CD cover designs, beer cans and scotch bottles. ‘I love designing packaging… but I stay broad,’ he says. ‘I do not believe in specialisation. I think the world is borderless.’ Godspeed, Mr Rashid.


Crossing borders


If you’re selling in more than one country, there’s no simple, golden rule for successful pack design. It all depends on the type of product and the attitude of the brand owner, says David Benady


Designers are attempting to strike a delicate balance between flexibility and uniformity as they create packaging for international brands. An elite group of superbrands has succeeded in producing pack designs that are consistent in markets across the globe. But other brand owners struggle to attain the consistency of the likes of Coca-Cola, Mars and Nike.

As Brandhouse creative director Dave Beard says, ‘An enormous number of companies try to have global brands and assume they need to be identical in every market. However, it doesn’t always work that way.

‘Ideas cross borders very well, but executions don’t necessarily work across markets. The fundamentals of the brand may be the same, but the executions need to address different nuances in different markets.’

He points to work Brandhouse has done for the Diamond Trading Company creating packaging for a boxed jewellery brand. In South Africa it uses the name Kya, but in China the brand is known as Eternal Girl – the company is clearly responding to differing attitudes in each market.

On the other hand, GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare’s migraine relief medication Imigran Recovery has consistent packagin

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