Lust Properties

Rowland Heming questions the increasing use of sensuality and the human form in packaging design.Rowland Heming is principal of Pineapple Design in Brussels

Walking around a supermarket the other day, I noticed a pack of ladies’ tights. On the front of the pack was a picture of a young woman in a red dress. It was the sort of dress that made her look as if she had been poured into it and somebody had forgotten to say “when”.

The words of the Cole Porter song, Anything Goes, came to mind: “In olden days a glimpse of stocking was looked upon as something shocking, but now, heaven knows, anything goes”. You see, in olden days packaging was simply used to sell the product, perhaps giving just a hint of how and where it might be used. Today, however, heaven knows, anything goes.

It seems packaging, particularly for hosiery, has advanced to new heights. Looking at today’s packs, we are clearly trying to sell much more than the product. And it’s certainly more than just a promise of warm legs on a cold winter’s day.

When we as designers choose to use sensuality in our packages, I wonder where it’s all taking us. Are we not entering an area of risks similar to those taken by Christopher Columbus when he left to discover the New World? He didn’t know where he was going when he started. When he got there he didn’t know where he was, and when he got back he didn’t know where he’d been.

I know all this is not new. Advertisers have long used desire and sensuality in advertising to enhance the pack designer’s work. Sometimes this amounts to echoing the pack design structure in the visual, as in the Magic Noir ad, but sometimes it can be taken even further – as is evident in the Jaipur perfume visual.

Maybe there’s some truth in Dr Samuel Johnson’s words: “Some desire is necessary to keep life in motion,” and perhaps Mae West understood the power of sensuality in advertising when she said: “It’s better to be looked at than overlooked.”

We have long come to accept that sensuality and desire are two of many weapons available to the advertiser. In fact, advertisers use these emotions to underline the basic principal of all advertising – to make us think we have longed for something all our lives, even if it’s something we’ve never even heard of before. It is therefore inevitable that sensuality and desire should become as equally prolific in packaging today as they have been in advertising in the past.

Packaging graphics nowadays are often used to hint at sensuality. Subtle, and not-so-subtle, innuendoes are incorporated in the design. We even find them being used for selling non-related products such as food and drink. Packaging form is an area of particular danger; form can be used sensitively to reflect and suggest the human form, but it can also be used in a pretty obvious way. Here, perhaps, designers should beware of forms that get so specific that they end up being erotic. When asked what the difference was between art and eroticism, Picasso answered: “There is no difference.” Oscar Wilde said: “The public takes no interest in a work of art until they are told the work of art is immoral,” but perhaps Mae West summed it up best when she said “too much of a good thing can be wonderful”.

However, before you get your plaster of Paris out in a frenzy of three-dimensional creativity, let me bring your attention to the dangers of going too far with sensuality in packaging forms. There are many examples of forms which have gone over the top. Be warned, if this trend continues, there may be no further need for package designers, as packages may end up being attracted to each other and might even start to reproduce on their own.

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