The package in the age of radical transparency

Information is everywhere, and access to it is getting easier to find. One of the really key questions facing product marketers, is how to use the retail package in the age of what some are calling “radical transparency”.

The package had acted until recently as one of the two forms of media where a consumer could easily find product information. The other form of media was of course, the manufacturer’s advertising.

GoodGuide_logoNow information is everywhere., is a website that draws on 200 or so databases to rate — and rank — consumer products on their environmental, health, and social impacts. They even have a mobil app for the iPhone so you can get immediate access to the information on your shopping trips. SkinDeep ranks personal care products like mascara and hair dye by matching each ingredient to findings of concern in medical databases. scores the world’s largest companies on their climate impact to spur corporate climate responsibility and conscious consumption.

The question of the role of a product package in the age of radical transparency is really no different than the questions facing the publishers of the New York Times, or Time magazine, or CBS News, or the major music labels. What information do we communicate, how do we communicate it, and what is the impact on our brand’s long-term viability?

My view is that the radical transparency movement will only reenforce the traditional, and frankly very simple, role of the package as merely the most important vehicle for communicating the long term essence of brand identity. Nothing more and nothing less. And that’s a lot.

If brands are fundamentally about building value over time, nothing will do this better or more compellingly than the product package.


Goleman, Daniel. May 7,2009. Winning in the Age of Radical Transparency. Harvard Business Review


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.
This entry was posted in Design Criticism, Design Practice, Environmental Packaging and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The package in the age of radical transparency

  1. Pingback: Our Top 10 List of Packaging Stories for 2009 « The Package Unseen

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