Current challenges facing packaging designers

Packaging is everywhere and almost everything we use in modern society comes in some form of packaging, whether it be a simple plastic wrapping around your new couch or the elegant and highly crafted box holding the bottle of Christian Dior perfume you buy as a gift for your better half. However, as with every other product, packaging has to keep pace with the times. Packaging designers have to take a growing list of items into consideration when creating a new item of packaging. There are ever more stringent regulatory constraints placed on packaging manufacturers, there are consumer trends which have to be taken into account and then there are the economic constraints which affect the manufacture of packaging items. All of these have to be carefully considered by packaging designers when they are commissioned to design a new package for a client’s product. According to Bill Marshall, managing director of Syndicate Graphics, a well-known Johannesburg-based packaging design company, there is so much more to designing the packaging for a product than simply slapping some logos and pretty pictures on a piece of cardboard. He said, ‘When emabarking on a packaging design project you have to consider all the functions of packaging. It has to inform, it has to communicate, it has to contain and protect, it has to identify, it has to differentiate. These are some of the most important elements. This appears deceptively straight-forward, but there is so much more to it than just that. If it were simple, then the job of designing packaging could be left to anyone with a graphic computer. But it is not. There are so many other things which have to be considered, whci require the skills of specialist packaging designers’ Perhaps one of the elements growing in importance in modern packaging design is the environment. However, this is not only a matter of recyclability. It needs to embrace to concept of sustainability and even this is starting to be questioned. Can any packaging material be considered truly sustainable? The packaging design team needs to consider the 4 Rs – Reduce, Re-use, Recover, Recycle. The challenge is to ensure eco-superiority. Bill added, ‘Packaging design is about having an understanding of what the client wants, about consumer insight, what the design team can achieve and what the printer or converter can deliver. At the same time you have to be ever mindful of the environment, both physical, social and economic. You have to examine the packaging from the point of view of cradle to cradle, the grave should no longer form part of the equation. Add to this the fact that you have to be aware of new regulations, and not just in the market where the designing is being done, but in the markets where the product will eventually be sold as well. It really is quite an involved and complex process.’ The issues of sustainabilty will become increasingly important as the recently promulgated Waste Management Act comes into effect. The Packaging Council of South Africa (PACSA) has recently published a helpful ebook guide called Design for Recycling, which is available on both the PACSA and IPSA websites. Bill went on to mention that when it comes to regulations or legislation there is a lot evolving that packaging designers need to be aware of because transgressing the laws can have costly or even devastating implications for the client. There is another challenge which is starting to make its presence felt in the modern-day process of marketing products. Online shopping sites rely on the appearance and recognisability of the existing packaging to market specific brands. However, the online appearance is not at full size and therefore, cannot give a clear representation of the package. Packaging designers are going to have to be more aware of this growing trend and be prepared to have an alternate design which complements the product for online shopping. Or, they are going to have to design their packaging in such a way that reducing the size of the package for online sites does not detract from the identity of the product. These challenges are something which Syndicate Graphics and other leading designers have to pay great attention to when starting the design process. They are also a focal point of the Institute of Packaging (IPSA) and the Packaging Council of South Africa(PACSA). In fact, the students who enter the IPSA Student Gold Pack Awards are tasked to tackle these problems as part of their courses or their specific entries into the competition. While packaging is a growing market sector, it is also a constantly changing and evolving market. The result is constant innovation and ground-breaking designs and uses of materials, but it also means that the number and types of challenges are continually growing and changing.