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Nowhere is design’s presence more visible than in the packaging arena. Here design is center stage, presented before consumers, vying for their attention—and dollars.

Where packaging was first brought about because of necessity— protecting contents for distribution—today it carries ever-increasing responsibility. It is more about meeting the needs and desires of consumers—essentially it’s about the brand.

According to a recent CBS News Sunday Morning report, America’s favorite pastime is shopping. More time is spent interacting with packaging than any other form of communication design. And during this crucial time, whether in stores or online, consumers make decisions to buy. Packaging, an extension of the brand, has a huge affect on these decisions; in turn, a direct effect on product sales—which can make or break companies. A significant impact, considering that in the 2005 Rexam Consumer Packaging Report the worldwide market was estimated to be worth approximately $370 billion—and it continues to grow annually.

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The two largest segments of the market are food and beverage packaging, which accounts for two-thirds of the total. Beauty and healthcare can each take credit for five percent of the market. The response to our call for package design submissions echoed these figures: 16 of the 21 projects in this article fall into the food and beverage sectors.

“The pressure to make every product work harder than the last, in very quantifiable ways, is a part of the business now,” says Eric Thoelke, principal and creative director of St. Louis, Missouri-based TOKY Branding Design. “Designers, who want to be taken seriously by clients, have to accept that their work—good or bad—has real consequences beyond design peer review, and be ready to take responsibility for those consequences.

“Clients are becoming much more savvy about branding the entire consumer experience, so the packaging needs to feel like the Web site or the catalog or the brochure or the tradeshow booth.”

While most of the work of San Francisco, California-based Philippe Becker Design, Inc., falls under packaging, Philippe Becker says it is the umbrella under which all the facets of brand development occur—strategy, positioning, naming, structure, branding, point of sale, collateral, etc. “Consumers are inundated with new products and brands, so we as designers need to make it easier for them to choose. Time and energy spent up front on building strong positioning strategy is essential in creating products that sell to their fullest potential.

“We can design a package that looks great on a shelf, but in order to build a sustainable and profitable brand, we have to stand out against the competition and communicate a compelling why-to-buy for customers,” continues Becker. “Everything about the brands’ positioning has to be credible and the product needs to live up to the consumers’ expectations. We are always seeking what is unique about our clients’ product or story. What can we say that no one else can? What is the heart and soul of the product or experience?”

Consumers are inundated with new products and brands, so we as designers need to make it easier for them to choose." —Philippe Becker

With 30 percent of her business being packaging, Maureen Erbe, of Erbe Design in South Pasadena, California, emphasizes the value of research, “Focus groups and marketing studies can be beneficial in determining and confirming what a specific audience will respond to, what motivates them, and which product benefits and attributes are most important to them. This information is invaluable in determining the proper visual approach to the project.”

Consumers now have easy access to micro-brands, thanks to the Web. According to Thoelke, “Small regional brands are now accessible to a national or international market, and are breaking out of local distribution models…Today’s packaging designers can find themselves working with national brands parsing the market with ever finer sieves, or with regional players busting into national prominence, riding expanding sales like a cork exploding from a champagne bottle.”

With large numbers of new consumer products released each year, packaging needs to pop off shelves—amidst the competition—and connect with consumers. This discipline is ripe with opportunity for innovative, effective design. ca

Rebecca Bedrossian is global content director of POSSIBLE in Portland, Oregon. The former managing editor of Communication Arts, Bedrossian has been immersed in the world of design and advertising for over 15 years. She has served on the board of AIGA San Francisco, and her articles on visual culture and creatives have appeared in publications throughout the industry.


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