Package Design, a leading or trailing indicator, an introduction

Judging by the number of hits on this blog’s second post, Package Design, a leading or trailing indicator, there is a lot of interest in how a package might be linked to the economic and cultural events of its time. I promised to investigate whether package design could be used to predict the economy, or at the very least be an accurate reflection of the economic mood. This is a wonderful image, from a website by Bill Lindsey on historic glass bottles, is indicative of the kinds of packaging that existed in the late 19th century. Where we will begin our journey.bottleslate19th-century

This will be a series of 11 entries, that I will post periodically over the course of the next few months. The posts will take us from the first decade of the 20th century to the first decade of the 21st century. Each will explore the current events that shaped the time, the cultural and artistic context, the design trends of the decade that may have influenced the creative aesthetic, and lastly of course, the important package designs of that decade. Please note, that for this series, we will be focusing on packaging in North America. I’m thinking that a subsequent series will look at global package design trends and how they relate to North America. 

Be warned, we are going to discover the answers together. I go into this effort with only one suspicion, that package design will be proven to be a clear reflection of its times, good, bad or indifferent. Now whether it is a leader or a follower, we’ll find out.  

As the 19th century ended, the gilded age, with its extravagant displays of wealth and excess, was beginning to ebb. McKinley was President, soon to be assassinated and replaced by Teddy Roosevelt in 1901. 

In the European world of creative arts, Puccini had written La bohéme, Picasso was still a teenager, post-impressionism from Gauguin to Matisse, was in full swing, and Toulouse Lautrec was producing most of his well known poster work. In North America, Edison had filed a patent for moving pictures, Frank Lloyd Wright was just beginning to do some early work for Louis Sullivan in Chicago, and Carleton Watkins was taking photography of a new national park called Yosemite.  

In package design, Coca Cola was first bottled in 1894. The H. J. Heinz company slogan, “57 Varieties and all shape and sizes”, was chosen in 1892, and the A & P Food Store had developed the first line of private label products a decade earlier. In our first post of the series, next week, we will begin by covering the first decade of the 20th century.


The image is, Copyright © 2008 Bill Lindsey


About Richard Shear

designer, husband, teacher, blogger, father, athlete, author, historian Richard has over 25 years of brand identity and package design experience, with a wide range of clients such as Ahold, Coca-Cola, Hasbro, IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Pernod Ricard and Procter & Gamble. He began his career working with the legendary advertising art director, and AIGA Medalist, George Lois and the British design manager Clive Chajet. In his next design management position at Lippincott & Margulies, he worked with Walter Margulies learning the complex skills of global corporate identity. He then became Creative Director and Partner at Peterson & Blyth, one of the premier brand identity and package design firms of the time. He is a founding faculty member of the Masters in Branding Program at New York’s School of Visual Arts. He publishes the blog The Package Unseen, and has been a guest lecturer at colleges including FIT, Trinity College and Tyler School of Art. He is a graduate of the Tyler School of Art at Temple University. Richard is a Board member of the AIGA MetroNorth Chapter, past President of AIGA‘s Brand Design Association, President of the Package Design Council and a member of its Board of Directors. He is a member of USA Cycling and US Rowing, a nationally ranked masters bicycle racer, and a member of The Saugatuck Rowing Club, the 2010 Masters Club National Champion.
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