Sharp edges and corners, protuberances and impossible shapes designed only, it seems, to frustrate the packer. My mother would solve the problem of difficult shapes with self adhesive tape, masses of it, such, that opening the present required sharp implements and infinite patience, lest one punctured the present not forgetting oneself.
All of which brings me to the topic of the design of gift packaging and the area of luxury items which allow, thank goodness, our designers of packaging to extend their talents to the full. In a year in which there has been a great deal of focus on the National Packaging Covenant and the demand for pack minimisation, recycling etc, I could not help reflecting on the Second World War and the years of austerity which followed.
In those years coloured packs gave way to the bland khaki colour of cardboard, whilst brown wrapping paper along with the string would be carefully recovered from parcels for use the following year. Dried goods were packed in a stiff blue paper with a simple statement of contents printed in black.
Coupled with scarcities and rationing the drab utilitarian packaging reflected the mood of the times. The removal of rationing and the arrival of the ‘swinging sixties’ saw a splurge of colour in every aspect of daily life. It was as though we had been set free. Everywhere there was colour, garish, outrageous and confronting, and exactly what we needed after years of drabness. It was lesson which I have not forgotten.
Whilst I acknowledge and care about our environment, it is not, as some would have us believe, the sole province of the more rabid environmental neo-Luddites. I, and many of my associates and colleagues within packaging, also care about the environment and the society in which colour and form play an important part in our everyday lives. Nowhere is colour and form more important than in packaging, whether it be in respect to commodity items or to luxury goods.
It would be very unfortunate if, in the pursuit of satisfying the goals of the Covenant, this was done without recognising the important social role which packaging performs in society. If, for example, that luxury and other top of the market items were to become the targets for criticism solely on environmental grounds and that, for example, the present for one’s wife was packed in some inferior (in aesthetic terms) or poorer quality material merely to appease some extreme faction.
We are all aware that in Japan presentation conveys a person’s respect and appreciation to the recipient, a feature of many other societies as well. Such expressions of respect are important in a civilised society and not too be discarded lightly. One of the problems is the lack of understanding as to some of the functions of packaging with respect to the formulation of environmental guidelines. Not the least of these is the role of the pack in conveying information and attracting consumers to purchase.
As a packaging judge I have been fortunate to hear and learn from my fellow judges who are far more knowledgeable about the aesthetics of design. Whilst I may challenge them on technical grounds I am also conscious of the importance of their contribution to packs through design. It has caused me to wonder sometimes when choosing a gift, how much we might be impressed by the pack in comparison with the product, and how this influences the purchaser.
The whole area of luxury and up market product packaging is vastly different from FMCG’s but it does offer considerable satisfaction to designers. An important ’shop front’ for professional designers are the Australian Packaging Awards, whilst the Southern Cross Awards are open to design students. The latter is inspirational in that unfettered by marketing constraints placed on commercial designs it allows for, and indeed encourages, innovation. A feature, which regrettably, is less for the industry awards which are constrained by more pragmatic considerations. It would be interesting to see what would emerge if there was a section which allowed professional designers to give full rein for a fictitious product simply to stimulate innovation, or what might be loosely classified as speculative development.
This whole area of how a pack is perceived and the role which design plays is extremely important. AdamsMorioka, a design house in Los Angeles, in an article in Design Secrets: Packaging, discusses the approach to a minimal packaging system for a luxury range of personal care products. They observed that “the cheaper the brand was, the more flashy it became”, and went on to argue that “a quality image could be conveyed through good typography, decent, but simple materials, and a basic design”. Few would argue with that approach with its emphasis on good quality materials, simplicity and elegance.
On the issue of materials, a whole range factors emerge. The tactile sensation of glass conveys reliability and strength, whilst in terms of boxes, the use of clay coated boards provides an excellent surface for high quality print as well as a quality “feel”.
Add to these factors graphics and typography, and you have the visual component to accompany the sense of feel. The latest approach is to add aroma/scent to the pack but this seems to be an area fraught with danger and, in the case of luxury personal care products, to be approached very carefully.
Throughout history design has provided a record of our development and one would hope that this might be kept uppermost in the minds of those who would simply see packaging as simply filling a utilitarian role. We need to continue to encourage and support designers per se and the industry which provides the vehicle for their talents.
So as the festive season approaches and we search for that magic something to give our nearest and dearest, let us hope that the luxury element will live on and not fall to the philistines.