The State of Packaging in Today’s Market (Interview 7)

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Welcome to Interview #7 in our series on packaging. Today we talk with Dan Olson, founder of Studio MPLS. When going to the Studio MPLS site, here is the message one encounters: "Every brand aims to be purposeful, proprietary and passionate. But how do you convey the essence of a brand in a way no other has expressed it? We believe the answer is design. To break through the noise, design must be surprising, fearless, honest and beautiful. By meticulously exploring, imagining, questioning and editing, we are able to create an artful palette of meaningful tools that invite curiosity and action. A seasoned collection of artists, creative thinkers and perfectionists, Studio MPLS has designed solutions in for a diverse clientele including American Eagle, Aveda, BMW, The Bahamas, The Coca-Cola Company, Gander Mountain, Jet Blue Airlines, Purina, Susan G. Komen, Thymes, Toyota, among many others." 1.   In today’s packaging, how much emphasis is placed on form and how much on graphics? Is one more dominant than the other?  I’ve found that it depends on the category. If I’m designing for a juice drink that has global suppliers and manufacturers the container needs to conform to the parameters of existing equipment and fulfillment requirements. However, if designing for the bath and beauty category form is often an important purchasing differentiator. That said, in all instances the graphic presentation is of ultimate importance as it has the power to trump the imperfections of an inferior container design. 2.   Has the focus on sustainability in packaging leveled off or will it continue to rise? Sustainability is here to stay and the companies that understand that are ahead of the curve. Consumers are increasingly aware of which companies have “green” built into their DNA and which do not and are factoring that into their purchase decisions. But as important as consumer preference is the trend for what is called “extended producer responsibility” - where municipalities and state legislatures are passing laws that hold manufacturers responsible for the environmental costs of products throughout their lifecycles, including take-back, recycling and final disposal.  This will put more on more pressure on manufacturers to produce packaging (and products) that are more sustainable, efficiently designed and use materials that more environmentally sensitive. 3.   With the growing number of products entering the market, what are the expectations of companies in regards to sales performance based on package design and do you feel they are realistic? In many ways, the importance of package design on sales performance has never been greater.  The design bar is raised because consumers are more and more sophisticated and appreciative about aesthetics of what they purchase. I think another issue is the fragmentation of the media world.  With so many channels and devices competing for our attention and the ability to opt out of marketing entirely, it is increasing hard for companies to get their message to the audience.  So the pressure point comes down to the critical moment, when the consumer is standing in front of the shelf and making a purchase decision in a fraction of a second.  I think more marketers are appreciating that and redirecting resources that would have been devoted to more traditional marketing tactics into making sure they have a powerful package design that makes a statement about the brand and stands out from the crowd. 4. Do you find budgets for package design growing or shrinking? I think more for less is essentially the truism of the 21st Century in every aspect of business, including package design.  Technology has made the design process so much more efficient and the competition is much more prolific.  Those forces certainly combine to put pressure on design companies to do more for less. But as I said earlier, we believe package design is judged to be as critical in importance as it ever has been – so that raises demand for high quality design. 5.   When designing a package, how connected are you to the manufacturing and fulfillment segments? Typically I’m not very connected to the manufacturing side of things unless it has specific implications for the design. 6.   How often have you bought a product based on the package?  I occasionally buy things that visually intrigue me. Sometimes my purchase is based on form alone, sometimes it’s the graphics that wins me over. When the two seem to merge into one stunning visual presentation I am probably making multiple purchases.  7. Have you ever purposely designed a package to have a life (or use) past the product it contains? No, but I would definitely enjoy the challenge.  8.  Many consumers complain about clamshell packaging due to the difficulty in opening one. Since that feature is in place to deal with theft, how would you counter or improve that part of the clamshell design? This is a question I’ll leave to the experts. My guess is that there are hosts of engineer’s daily working on solutions to this challenge as it represents considerable profit to those companies that can solve it. I’ve recently noticed the use of sealed blister cards that seem to encourage a hands-on experience. Perhaps built-in audible alarms might be the answer in some applications. 9.  What package would you like to design? The cereal box. 10.  What is your favorite package? Changes daily.

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