For many designers, paper is simply a medium that carries the message they wish to communicate. Yet some paper companies are taking different approaches to revive a somewhat undervalued and commonplace product, which means that keeping up with developments in sectors like publishing or graphics involves looking beyond trend prediction.
Marika Koskenkanto, research executive at Finnish paper company M-Real, feels there is a polarisation of the use of paper types within the publishing sector at present, and this is affecting product development. She points out that while specialist papers are being used for differentiation at one end of the spectrum, at the other end, newsprint and cheap quality paper have become popular for weekly titles.
‘Brand managers and publishers are having to consider packages that can compete with electronic media. To do this they are creating “emotional” packages that appeal to all five senses – visual and tactile, even smell. Paper that differentiates is a big part of this,’ says Koskenkanto. ‘It’s the “middle end” papers – the lightweight coated papers lacking distinction – that are losing ground.’
But how does this affect magazine design? Koskenkanto, who works with publishers such as John Brown, has found that art directors are moving towards using more elements to create differentiation, and paper is an integral part of this.
To provide hard data on the various paper and print combinations, M-Real employs two research executives, trained in psychology at the University of Helsinki, who study the effects of different combinations of paper quality, texture, surface, layout and colour on the reader.
‘It’s about finding a formula that works,’ says M-Real vice-president of marketing communications Marjo Halonen. ‘It’s about perceived value and how far you can change design and production without disturbing the reader experience.’
While M-Real adopts an end-user approach, Anglo-French paper company Arjowiggins’ response has been to pursue product innovation. For Arjowiggins, paper innovation is an integral part of the graphic design process and for this reason, the company appointed its first creative director, Emeric Thibierge, in March 2006.
But does a medium like paper really need a creative director? Arjowiggins brand manager for creative papers Lisa Martin explains that Thibierge’s role is to create something completely original. She adds that the idea at Arjowiggins is to get graphic designers to think about the paper before designing, so that it becomes an integral part of the creative process. ‘We would love designers to think about the paper more. More often than not the paper is chosen after the design. It would be great if they thought of it first, ‘ she says.
Product development is a less formal practice for Italian paper manufacturer Fedrigoni. Unlike M-Real or Arjowiggins, its product development strategy is not strictly defined.
Product manager Paolo Zigiotto says the company looks not only to the fashion and automotive sectors for trends, but also to industries such as glass and furniture. But while his product team is as likely to attend the Salone del Mobile in Milan as the Paris textile show Premier Vision, he admits that it is difficult to invent something new in paper. ‘It’s more about updating in terms of surfaces, texture and colour. It’s a matter of being sensitive to change in materials, colour and texture,’ he says.
Despite filtering the latest trends through to the paper product, environmental ethics remain an important concern for Fedrigoni. Three of its mills are now certified to ISO 4001 production standards, which take into account energy consumption and emissions, as well as recycled properties.
Zigiotto is keen to point out the apparent conflict between various applications of paper. He notes that while publishers and printers expect environmental ethics as standard, those in packaging are more likely to demand what is on-trend irrespective of the environmental consequences. ‘The packaging industry is still focused on trends rather than environmental concerns,’ he says.
So, although on the surface paper appears to be an understated part of design, the factors influencing its product development, and the choice of paper for designers, is a surprisingly complex area.