Packing a punch

Many brands are looking for innovative ways of making their packaging stand out, drawing on emerging technologies and sustainable methods to engage with their audience. Maeve Hosea considers a range of fun and eye-catching new solutions

For packaging designers, innovations in technology and materials have become central to the quest for a brand to connect meaningfully with consumers. ’In the past, materials and technology have been under the radar in product communication, their value and benefit not truly understood by the majority of consumers,’ says David Helps, director of 3D branding and innovation at Design Bridge. ’However, in recent years the tide has shifted, so embracing and proclaiming the materials and technology is now a positive advantage.’

Augmented reality in smart phones is an example of how brands are using everyday technology to connect with consumers and generate new experiences. By using the camera on their phones, users can connect with a hidden world, and are able to see information, guidance notes and directions in the digital world.

Unilever-owned ice-cream maker Ben & Jerry’s has embraced emerging augmented reality technology with the recent launch of its ’magic lids’ packaging. In this case, rich visualisations are activated by the consumer when they point an iPhone with a Moo Vision app at the packaging.

’The user is interacting with packaging and generating an experience which increases engagement and brand awareness in-store,’ says Noora Guldemond, head of sales and marketing at AG technology provider Metaio. ’A designer is free to be as creative because they don’t have to change or simplify any elements of design for the software to work,’ she says.

Brands are now pushing existing technology into new areas to achieve a one-on-one relationship with their consumers. US company Americhip’s Video in Print technology, for example, allows brands to put small video screens into printed products such as magazines and has obvious potential for packaging design. ’This brings together the digital medium and the print medium to create a wholly new way for brands to reach and communicate with their consumers,’ says Americhip president Kevin Clegg. Cleaning brand Windex’s recent point-of-sale promotions, which put screens into large renderings of the Windex packaging, demonstrate how this technology can deliver a competitive edge in-store.

’Spotting a technology that could potentially break through into packaging is the skill,’ says Dominic Burke, design director at packaging specialist Webb de Vlam. Building on innovative work with Fresnel lens technology last year, Webb de Vlam has recently given Bombay Sapphire an edge on-shelf using new foil technologies that imbue the packaging with an alluring, eye-catching effect. ’In line with the Bombay Sapphire brand equities, we created faceted shapes on the print surface using achromatic refractive foil. As you walk past the pack in the retail environment the faceted panels catch the light at different angles and appear to switch on and off, resulting in a powerful sparkle effect,’ explains Burke.

Other technologies waiting in the wings for costs to come down include printed paper that can have an electric current put through it to generate illumination. John Cave of Middlesex University Teaching Resources points to the potential of smart technologies. Chameleon film and thermochromatic pigments are examples of a trend for materials which are reactive to environmental changes, he says. ’Printed electronics is the future for a lot of applications, he predicts. ’A number of laboratories are creating LEDs which will be able to be “printed” on to flexible materials.’

Sustainability remains one of the largest driving forces behind material advancements, whether it is light-weighting, reusing or reappraising how packaging works. Designs such as the Puma shoe packaging by Yves Béhar of Fuseproject, which combines a simple cardboard frame with a reusable bag made from sustainably sourced cotton and recycled polyester, are part of a trend in shifting the consumer perception of what packaging does.

Striving for more and more efficacy in Green design, manufacturers and designers are using existing materials cleverly while developing them to the new levels of potential. ’The work done on paper and board, applying heat and pressure in a mould to use it in a compressed state, could mean we will be creating jars out of paper in the near future,’ according to Keith Barnes, chairman of the Packaging Society. ’Within the metal sector, you are now able to change the configuration of aluminium and this has made innovative bottle shapes available in a material which is entirely recyclable.’

Pulp packaging, with egg boxes as the most obvious example, refers to recycled paper that can be formed under pressure into virtually any shape desired. ’It is untapped as part of the brand communications on-shelf,’ says Andy Capper, director at branding and product design consultancy Echo. ’Its key benefit is its environmentally friendly status and our work with ethical supplements brand Viridian has delivered a packaging system that protects the brand’s position as sustainable.’

In our material world, savvy use of technological advances play a key part in creating enjoyment for consumers and connecting them with the brand.

Packaging design trends What you say…

Simplicity
Drawing on themes of common-sense values and simplicity, packaging design is asserting a quiet definition for the brand and connecting with a knowing consumer in the age of austerity
David Helps, Director of 3D branding and innovation, Design Bridge

Ritual
Packaging effectively becomes advertising for the brand story and we will see more story-led approaches

James Bebbington, Design director, Landor

Environmental concern
Packaging is working harder to bear its legacy in mind or have a second-life use

Jane Steel, Senior designer, Dragon Rouge

Meaningful experience
Packaging incorporates real function into something that still looks desirable

Sophie Maxwell, Head of insight, Pearlfisher

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