The package, a movie on the shelf

breakfast-at-tiffanysA package is a series of sequential events, set in motion by the designer. 

The trick is that unlike the movie director who may have hours, we have to tell the story in only one, almost instantaneous, frame. A package is really one cell in the animated brand image, and is supported by other forms of media and memory that the brand has established.

It struck me while listening, last Thursday, to James Sanders talk about the making of movies in New York like Breakfast At Tiffany’s (see my previous post), that the job of a package designer is very much like that of a movie director. We both deal with a plot (product positioning), cast of characters (product functionality and/or benefits), the audience (the consumer), and of course the theater (the retail outlet).  

Perhaps the biggest difference is the respective heritage, or past life, of the movie and the brand, most movies (except sequels) have none, and most brands have plenty. The director’s job is to invent that heritage and build on it for 90 minutes. The package designer’s job is to build on 90 years of heritage and present it in a single instantaneous frame.

The director is also lucky because although their storyboard renderings are static, the actual movie presents many images over time. Our image is naturally static, and we rely on the emotional content of color, illustration, typography, structure, color, surface texture, etc. to elicit the response a director may build for the length of the movie. 

We deal with time over a much more extended period. Normally reinforcing the past, present and future of the brand we are designing. A movie has no past, although they do rely increasingly on the rich history of moviemaking. They construct the time, place and context of their environment from scratch.


The image is the famous movie poster from Breakfast At Tiffany’s at It was designed by Robert McGinnis. Randy Ludacer, of and Beach Packaging Design was nice enough to set me straight. Honestly the kind of thing I should have known.


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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2 Responses to The package, a movie on the shelf

  1. Thanks Randy, I should have known that!!

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