Taking shape

Where’s it all going? Top tipster Richard Watson from EDR looks into his crystal ball and makes a few predictions for the future shape of the UK packaging industry

Design effectiveness: If you can’t measure it, don’t do it could be the rallying call for the industry in the Nineties. Design effectiveness is the issue because the design industry has to demonstrate the value of good design to business. If it fails, it will be sent back to its Arts and Crafts cottage industry past.

Rosters: Last year’s big thing is still going strong. Rosters are becoming increasingly popular with the fmcg brigade for a number of reasons, most notably building relationships, confidentiality, cost management and design management best practice. Around a third of all brand-owners now operate some form of roster. Likely to grow and grow.

In-house versus out of house: Not dead, just sleeping is one way of describing the in-house design department. There are still a few around, most notably at Marks & Spencer, but the lack of big budgets and a far from varied diet means that attracting top design talent is difficult. In other design disciplines the story is very different, especially in product design, where in-house is linked to the need for resource and very specific technical knowledge. Unlikely to change in the near future.

Britain versus the rest of the world: “Britain is best” could easily have been applied to packaging design in the Eighties. As a result, the decade saw a host of British consultancies from Michael Peters Group and Lewis Moberly to Design Bridge and Landor conquering, among others, the French, the Germans, the Dutch and the Spanish.

This seems to have slowed as French, German, Dutch and Spanish designers develop and get their teeth into local projects and the domestic British market picks up. But British groups continue to make a big impact on pan-European projects run out of European head offices.

Regional consultancies: A recent phenomenon appears to be the growing number of good UK design groups outside London. Despite the growth of international markets and communications, many clients seem to prefer local over global when it comes to design. It is probably no surprise, therefore, that consultancies such as Elmwood, FLB, EH6, Blue Marlin and The Chase dominate their local areas, but it may come as a surprise to some of the more parochial London consultancies that they also win projects off major companies across the rest of the country.

Artwork and repro: Once upon a time design groups were paid peanuts for initial concepts but clawed it all back at the artwork stage. Clients have woken up to the fact that artwork more or less has a fixed price and that designers really add value at the front end. Consequently, more and more clients are placing all artwork and repro centrally through specialists. Unfortunately, many clients still insist on paying peanuts for the initial concepts.

Other minor trends include artwork and repro merging and artwork and repro companies attempting – and failing – to break into pack design itself.

Industry polarisation: As clients demand more strategic input, more technology, more multi-disciplinary skills and more international capability, design consultancies will get larger and larger. This will suit some groups and clients, but not all. Some consultancies will prefer to stay very small. So is this goodbye to all the groups in the middle?

Structural packaging: One of last year’s tips for the top which has so far failed to make much of an impact. Clients buy into the theory that structure creates differentiation and is legally protectable, but in practice just won’t sign the cheques.

This has been solved by some packaging suppliers who offer a structural design service free of charge. This wouldn’t be a problem if they were offering sub-standard design, but they’re not. One to keep an eye on.

Innovation: You ain’t seen nothing yet! Packs that change colour when they pass the sell by date, holograms, scratch’n’sniff packs, on-pack animation, packs that talk and virtual packs on the Internet.

Coming to a store near you soon.

The Luddite rebellion of 1997: What happens when everyone has the same graphics package on their computer? Simple, all the packs in the world look the same.

Don’t expect much to change in the short term, but look out for a backlash and a return to traditional craft skills such as typography, spearheaded by the likes of Pentagram, The Partners and Lewis Moberly.

Pan-European packaging: The great non-event of the Nineties so far. A single pack that works across Europe has proved to be rarer than EC agreement on beef.

The theory makes perfect sense. Why spend time and money developing ten different packs for ten different countries when one will do?

Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), Europe isn’t yet a homogenous region. Consumers have different tastes, markets are at different points of development and clients remain jingoistic. Pan-European packaging design will continue to mirror European politics. Sometimes it will happen, at different speeds, in different countries, with individual countries using their power of veto as they see fit.

Integration: A buzz word in advertising that’s slowly creeping into design. The theory of integrated communications is consistency across all communications through single sourcing. The problem is that it doesn’t work in practice because every design user wants his or her own relationship.

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