State Sponsored Package Design and Skyscrapers

buildingbigPackage designers, like architects, get great pleasure in solving the needs of their clients. And as part of that process we also understand how to accommodate the requirements of Uncle Sam. In our case this includes things like legal descriptors, ingredient listings and nutrition facts. In the case of an architect this might include building codes and zoning regulations.

What sets architecture apart from package design is a third step; regulation by local planning departments or review boards. Can you imagine going through the entire design development process, and then having to also deal with this capricious and seemingly arbitrary last step.

Nicolai Ouroussoff, an architecture critic for the NY Times wrote a great piece yesterday called, “Off With Its Top! City Cuts Tower to Size”, describing one such episode in New York. He tells of a tower being planned next to the MOMA that will be about as tall as the Empire State Building. The City Planning Department apparently said this about the design, “The development team had to show us that they were creating something as great or even greater than the Empire State Building and the design they showed us was unresolved.”

Unresolved! I love it. Can you imagine having to submit your work to a government agency and have them reject it because they felt it was  .  .  .  unresolved.

Recognize that I write this piece on 9/11 and can’t help but acknowledge, as we all must do in our own way, that the world has changed much in the last 8 years. And none of us who live in the NYC area look at tall buildings, or the New York skyline, in the same way.

Ouroussoff’s main concern with the decision of the Planning Department also has an interesting analogy to the world of brand design. He says, “the notion of treating the Midtown skyline as a museum piece is more disturbing. The desire of each new generation of architects and builders to leave its mark on the city, to contribute its own forms, is essential to making New York what it is.”

We feel the same way in the branding community, where the long-term support of a brand’s heritage and history is always balanced with the need for brand vitality and renewal. And as we all know New York is certainly a global brand.

Imagine you were helping to develop a new product. You had it nailed. The client had approved a design that everyone felt was in the best interests of the brand, consumers were nuts for the idea, and you had made all the legal accommodations that you must for the marketplace. You were ready to launch and only needed to submit your work to the whims of a commission for the final decision on its market viability. Only to have them say, sorry, this is no Coke, or Nike, or Starbucks! (or name any major brand in any category). Or worse, sorry, its simply unresolved.

I knew there was a reason I chose package design.


Image by Jean Nouvel for the New York Times


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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