When Anna Johnson talks about packaging design, her passion is bound to infect the people around her. She speaks of her ever-growing knick-knack collection of old Oxo tins and luxury perfume bottles, being seduced by a box telling ‘a little story about what it’s going to do for me’, and her love affair with foil-blocking. ‘I cannot bring myself to throw away anything with foil-blocking on it. It’s becoming quite sad,’ she says. She has even infected her mother. She says, ‘I’m a bit of a packaging geek and turned my mother into the same. I love that my friends and family are enthusiastic about what I do.’
It’s not just seeing one of her own projects on the shelf, but the diversity of design and the connection with the consumers that Johnson gets a kick out of. ‘I don’t think you quite get that in any other area of graphic design,’ she says. ‘People grow to love these brands.’
As a designer at Holmes & Marchant, Johnson appreciates some of the smaller jobs, where she oversees the project from start to finish. But working on well-known brands such as Sanatogen, Nutella and Heinz ‘feels like a real accomplishment and much more of a challenge’, she adds. ‘The brief is so concise and you have to respect the history of the brand.’
More and more brands seem to be fighting for a place in the home and not just the shop shelves, believes Johnson. ‘[Packaging is developing into] packs that consumers would want to keep out on their worktops or on display in the bathroom, they are no longer just performing a function and getting hidden away,’ she says.
Instilling some of her passion in up-and-coming talent is clearly important to Johnson, who talks fondly about the participants of the rolling Holmes & Marchant student programme. ‘They have such fresh, undiluted ideas and really keep us on our toes,’ she says. ‘It’s so important, especially in the current climate, to carry on investing in young, enthusiastic and talented designers and give them the opportunities and support that I was given.’
When it comes to her ambitions, Johnson doesn’t beat about the bush. ‘I’d love to be a creative director one day,’ she says. But true to form, that ambition comes with a qualifier, ‘If I was able to influence people and know that someone had produced their best piece of work with a little guidance from me, that would be fantastic. Failing that, I’d open a cake shop.’
2004 BA Branding & Packaging Surrey Institute of Art and Design
2004 to present Designer Holmes & Marchant
‘Anna Johnson is a team player: at university she supported other students and didn’t think just about her own career. She was very generous with her time. She was always supportive of the students in the years below, and she does the same now.
Where some students can be terribly serious, it’s her sense of humour that makes Anna stand out. She’s also an excellent typographer and understands about the emotional side of branding. She can get under the skin of consumers and audiences. That gives her real empathy, which allows her to speak to people through branding and graphics.’
Catharine Slade- Brooking Senior lecturer and pathway leader branding and packaging BA Graphic CommunicationUniversity for the Creative Arts Farnham