Shaping luxury

How do you achieve that hand-crafted, bespoke feel of premium packs?
Using prototypes that are close to the finished product can ease the process of making the mass-produced look unique, says Maeve Hosea

As he finishes off a productive evening of networking at his club, a business host offers his guests a glass of cognac and a cigar, cues of indulgence that promise high-end relaxation. They subconsciously admire the weight and smooth feel of the box and the ease with which it slides open to reveal a cache of quality tobacco.

Dunhill claims to be the perfectionist in tobacco, and its Signed range of cigars uses the heritage and quality of the brand as a powerful consumer purchasing lever. Dunhill launched new packaging at the end of 2008, emphasising the products’ reputation for luxury indulgence, presenting it in highly finished, lacquered wooden gift boxes.

The process of testing the quality of the cigar’s containers was driven by the brand’s requirement for a highly crafted piece of packaging. Prototyping for the project did not involve prototyping specialists or modelling agencies, but followed a process of selecting four suppliers of the packaging components based on the samples they created. These included an aluminium plate from the US, a Central American cedar-wood box, carton board from the Netherlands and the lacquer from the Far East.

‘Approximately eight or nine versions of the packaging design went back and forth,’ says Dominic Burke, design manager at Webb Scarlett deVlam. ‘This was an unusual process, because it was so important to understand the levels of quality the suppliers were producing.’

High-end confectionery brand La Maison du Chocolat uses its crafted chocolate boxes to reflect its brand values of luxury, elegance, refinement, delicacy and creativity. The chocolatier also argues that using prototypes close to reality is important.

‘Most of the time we have to work with prototypes which are the exact replica of the future products as the presentation of the chocolates in the box is key and we need exact measurement in term of space and size,’ says Geoffroy d’Anglejan, La Maison du Chocolat managing director. ‘Our chocolates have different form and shape and we need to be extremely precise to make sure that the packaging is adapted to the contents and the aesthetic we want.’

While fmcg packaging design tends to be driven by performance requirements, with differentiation often achieved through clever bits of engineering, luxury packaging is more likely focused on a bespoke look and feel. The packaging is the product and the added value tends to be the uniqueness and reference to the traditional or cutting-edge in design.

Mass-producing effects that are traditionally associated with craft, including glass, wood, metal and leather, are key. Much of the prototyping for luxury goods packaging uses skills from fields such as glassblowing, carpentry or silversmithing, or mimicking them with manufactured materials such as injectionmoulded plastic.

Experimentation in the luxury packaging sector might include decorative effects to blown glass through formers, metallic additives and special pigments, or increasing surface patina on metal and wood through heat treatment.

‘Designers are continually challenging materials and processes to come up with new and unexpected combinations, such as tattooed wood, knitted metal and glass blown with carbon fibre,’ comments Rob Thompson, designer and author of Manufacturing Processes for Design Professionals.

‘The visual and tactile qualities of these new developments are both unique and familiar, which is a powerful combination for luxury products at a time when we are making more considered purchases.’

In a recent packaging design project, packaging specialist Design Bridge leveraged the premium design of the Rémy Martin Extra brand’s decanter, making it the hero by using its outer box to act as a frame to focus on the bottle. A protective card slipcase adds to the sense of luxury and preciousness; sliding the bottle from the slipcase should be like opening a gift. As designers in such projects are often breaking new ground and the process had an artisan complexity, it needed to have realistic prototyping at an early stage.

‘Packaging at the luxury end for sectors such as perfumes and spirits needs to be elaborate in terms of components and can include things like a crystal decanter, a metal collar, or a cork stopper,’ comments Nick Verebelyi, head of 3D branding and packaging at Design Bridge. ‘The more parts you have, the more likelihood of things not fitting together. Cost and time have always been barriers to bringing Prototyping forward in the design process, but if you do it liberates creativity.’

PROTOTYPING TECHNIQUES USED IN LUXURY

At the high end, points of difference and a feeling of quality are typically maximised by using highly crafted work, abstract forms and fine finishing:

  • 3D high-definition printing – used to produce prototype parts with an accuracy of 0.025 to 0.05mm
  • SLA (stereolithography) production – used for both small and large high-quality parts similar to that of 3D printing
  • Polyjet – a rapid prototyping technology similar to an SLA process, but rather than setting the resin by aiming a UV laser into a bath of resin it works more like a printer. Small droplets of resin are deposited and then set by a UV bulb that follows the printing head. This means that the only resin used is the material printed and therefore the process is a lot cleaner
  • Hollow resin models to produce bottle and decanter prototypes that look real and can be filled with actual liquids for full realistic effect. Clarity is comparative with crystal and has high accuracy with controllable internal bottle shapes
  • 3D CNC machining – used to produce quick high-quality foam models to assist with the development of a product’s form and ergonomics

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