Libby White talked to five of the top creative agencies about the key drivers in packaging design at the moment. Designers from Anthem, Biles Hendry, Parker Williams, Marks Group and Equator Design share their observations of how the push for a multi-channel presence and the need for brands to demonstrate a more responsible stance are influencing the approach to packaging.

“Designers need to consider all channels – shelf, laptop, smartphone – in their approach,” observes Anthony Biles, co-founder and creative director of Biles Hendry. “In bricks and mortar outlets, the packaging needs to engage the consumer from five metres away, with shape, colour and logo; at one metre, where more detailing is picked up; and then in-hand, where textures and ergonomics come into play.”

Online factors challenge design further. “The thumbnail provides an early touchpoint which must capture the eye and give quick brand recognition; the customer can then zoom in for more detail, before experiencing the product in-hand once it has been delivered. With online purchases, of course, the packaging also has to reassure the consumer, post-purchase, that they have made the right decision.”

Martin Ward, Nestlé creative lead at Anthem, believes that the single biggest innovation driving packaging design forward is the ability to connect with consumers via their mobile devices to deliver digital experiences.

“Consumers’ reliance on smartphones and the expectation of information being readily at hand all the time has impacted on the design of packaging,” he comments. “But this is contradicted with the need for packaging to be simpler, both for easy navigation in store but also to make it work for e-commerce and social media. Fortunately, connected technology has enabled the physical pack to be clear and single minded while the information and engaging experience that consumers expect can be delivered directly from the pack to the consumer’s own device.”

Disrupting tradition

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Gillian Garside-Wight, packaging technology director at Parker Williams

In this context Gillian Garside-Wight, packaging technology director at Parker Williams (part of Sun Branding Solutions), emphasises the importance of consistency, also highlighting the way the digital channel disrupts the traditional face of packaging:

“The brandmark and the brand equities both graphical and physical need to be communicated consistently and transferable across several mediums,” she says. “In some cases, key identifying factors need to be magnified to allow the customer to select the appropriate product when they are viewing via digital means. Multichannel retailing is certainly not a limiting factor, it allows us to explore, develop and design the entire package, not just the front ‘traditional’ selling face. No longer can the retailer determine which face or angle the consumer will see first when purchasing online. The whole product becomes the selling face.”

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Andy Wyatt, creative director at Marks Group 

“We’re being asked to ensure whenever we design a pack that there are equities that ‘hero’ what the brand is for and stands for,” Andy Wyatt, Marks Group creative director, reveals. “The design has to create impact wherever you are in the customer journey – online, offline, social media. That may be achieved simply with colour, or instantly recognisable equities, ownable by that brand.”

Meanwhile, as consumers we’re bombarded with thousands of brand messages every day and whilst the pack can often be the primary media format for our creative work we realise that it sits in a 360 multi-channel brand world and as such make sure that it stands out and disrupts in all these spaces. As Mark Lloyd, creative director, Anthem, says, “We’re seeing a rise in a more minimal single minded, ‘less is more’ executional graphic look and feel which works well in these scenarios.”


Mark Lloyd, creative director at Anthem 

Achieiving equilibrium

Gary Flynn, managing director at Equator Design, surveys the overall picture:

“The media would have us believe that bricks and mortar grocery retail is facing a serious challenge from internet grocery shopping, with Amazon Pantry now offering two-hour delivery slots on store cupboard essentials. That suits some shoppers, but it’s a channel that’s ideal for purchases of brands that consumers already know and trust, and impulse purchases. It can’t offer the experiential approach to discovering new products and mixing brands and own label products that shoppers enjoy in store.

“In fact, there is massive potential for conventional retailers to drive sales with creative approaches to packaging if they are agile enough to combine a mix of store formats with a credible online presence and an ability to capitalise on trends with rapid product development and range extension.”

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Gary Flynn, managing director at Equator Design

He argues that for the majority, the bricks and mortar store will remain at the heart of the consumer journey. “I think there’s a bit of a myth that retail stores will become mainly showrooms in the future. However, retailers need to think about how best to drive purchase across all of their channels – both physically and digitally. Packaging has a huge part to play in leveraging brand loyalty across channels, particularly in the face of reduced aisle dwell times both in store and online.”

Consumer-led innovation

Environmentally-conscious consumers are also driving innovation in packaging design. “From Instagrammers lying down in boxes that contained a single lipstick to social sharing of plastic waste on the coastline, consumers are beginning to understand that packaging can have a massive impact on the reduction of food and product waste,” Gary Flynn says. “Looking at reducing packaging volumes and utilising recycled content are key considerations in our design process.”

He also points to the idea of creating re-useable packaging as gaining credence: “The possibility of a deposit and return system for plastic bottles has recently been mooted and that concept will create new packaging design challenges as we consider the lifespan of the creative treatment relative to the re-useable item.”

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Anthony Biles, creative director of Biles Hendry

Anthony Biles adds that there is a lot of pressure to reduce over packaging and cut back on the amount of unrecyclable material that’s being used. “These days, consumers have a better understanding of the issues surrounding certain dietary requirements, ethical production values and sustainability, for example. We’re also seeing more and more brands cleaning up their ingredient decks.”

A responsible stance

Gillian Garside-Wight addresses the recent coverage of plastics in mainstream media: “There is a consumer, design and structural trend toward sustainable packaging solutions with more specific ‘anti-plastic’ campaigns reacting to consumer demand following media coverage. This very much feeds into the honest, transparent and truthful trend and consumers are now demanding brands and retailers take a more responsible stance in their packaging selection. There needs to be, and there is a focus on, more innovation to reduce the use of single-use non-recyclable packaging formats but this needs to be accelerated.”

She continues: “The need for sustainable packaging is not going away… much more needs to be done and quickly. A holistic responsible approach is needed and we all have a part to play. Plastic is not the evil substrate it has been portrayed as, it is an innovative material which has allowed us as consumers to preserve our products longer and fit into our busy lifestyle. Consumers are much more aware of the effects of packaging waste and there is a very loud call for brands to be responsible. We need to reduce what we use, recycle as much as possible. Innovation is the key to change and more must be done to ensure we don’t damage the planet in the process.”

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Martin Ward, Nestlé creative lead at Anthem

Anthem’s Martin Ward leaves us with a pressing thought: “A drive towards more sustainable packaging is always going to be present and while this will not always distinguish the brands that deliver a sustainable solution, those that aren't will standout for all the wrong reasons.”