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Whether as transit protection, branding opportunity or merchandising, electronic goods packaging is a sophisticated challenge for designers already worrying about materials reduction. Paul Gander looks at the approaches taken by four brands

If you were to list the essential characteristics for consumer electronics packaging, what would they be? Protection is likely to be a prime contender, as is sustainable materials. Branding is also a factor, and so is versatility – the same basic design should accommodate diverse products and be adaptable for different territories.

Nokia global packaging design team head Ulla Uimonen emphasises the importance of materials reduction. ‘The challenge is to create the experience you are aiming for with the least amount of packaging,’ she says. This was the ethos applied to Nokia’s Smart pack for its premium ranges, including the E-series. But the standard structure also had to fit different markets. Designers Mika Mattila and Oona Casalegno reported to two separate product teams, one for the E-series itself, targeting mostly business professionals, and another with more of a fashion emphasis. The E71 design has already been launched and a fashion variant is soon to follow.

‘The new design gives us better material usage, a better cost profile, more efficient logistics and better packing times,’ says Uimonen. ‘We prefer to do global design but source local materials,’ she adds. ‘So you can end up revisiting the design three times, implemented with three different grades or specifications of board.’

Whichever grade is used, it needs to be printable inside as well as out. For the Nokia E71, a palette of greys and white was used, with Pantone PMS 485 as the accent colour. Text was in the Nokia Sans typeface. The chameleon-like nature of the Smart pack means it must also step into a merchandising role in those parts of the Far East where the carton has a display function.

This role is more pronounced with electronics accessories such as Sony’s Active Series headphones, designed for fitness and outdoor wear. The clear polystyrene blister is backed by 450g coated paper, with a 310g paper used as a pack insert. Independently, Sony arrived at a similar palette to Nokia’s blacks, silvers and greys with a flash, this time of orange/red picking out the same shade on the product itself.

Does this constitute a trend? Sony Design Centre Europe senior designer James Turner is not sure, but he says, ‘It’s similar to the effect of combining a black suit and shirt with a nice, bright tie’.

The style reference is not incidental. Describing the way that only key elements of each headphone set are visible through the plastic, Turner says, ‘It’s a bit of a tease, almost inspired by the fashion magazines. It’s to do with image and with giving the products some personality.’ The primary feature in each pack, such as the earpiece, is spotlit against a black gradation on silver over the backing board. ‘Achieving this effect was quite a challenge,’ he says.

Point-of-sale presence is not always a priority when it comes to outer packaging for larger items such as audio equipment and TVs. But at Hitachi’s Design Centre Europe, senior designer Keishi Muto says, ‘With our ultra-thin series of flatscreen TVs, one of the packaging requirements was to reflect the main feature – the exceptional slimness of the 35mm-deep screens. Each side of the case shows an image of the product from one side, so that customers can see the front, back and ultra-thin side view.’ The message is reinforced by the strapline ‘Fits in beautifully’, and by the minimal depth of the pack. ‘Product information for transport is also kept to a mini-mum, at the top and bottom of the front and back faces,’ he adds.

Hitachi cites the environment in its decision to print single-colour only on to brown twin-wall B-flute board. Inside, expanded polystyrene cushioning protects the product.

One man who knows all about the protective function of EPS is Niels Ove Hansen, designer at SCA Packaging Flamingo in Denmark. In another design for an LCD TV, this time for Bang & Olufsen’s BeoCenter 6-26, his three interlocking EPS inserts complemented the board structure from Knud Fredenslund, formerly a designer with SCA’s corrugated division.

Previously, the TV was loaded diagonally into a square case mounted on a pallet. The SCA design cuts this footprint by 40 per cent and no longer requires a pallet base. Bang & Olufsen also had versatility demands, this time in adapting standardised products and packs for different markets. The Worldstar Packaging Award-winning design includes a side slot through both materials. This allows language-specific instructions to be inserted, while a door at the base provides the same option for cables and components.

But is the use of strapping not a limitation for unpacking and installation? Not at all, claims Hansen, who says, ‘Most Bang & Olufsen systems are delivered and installed by the company’s salesmen.’ But, just in case, a four-stage diagram shows how to unpack the TV.

Presumably, brand-owners which do not have to worry about consumer access do not have to try too hard with branding, either. There are few other graphics on the brown outer packaging apart from the B&O name.

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