Human archeology and prehistoric packaging

NewOldArcheology fascinates me and there is a new piece today in Science the AAAS journal, on the discovery of the earliest known human, a 3.2 million year old skeleton named Ardi. It caught my eye not simply because of the compelling image shown at left by Tim White. But also because it has become apparent to me that uncovering the bones of old packages, and tracing their visual lineage, is in some ways no different than the work of archeologists.

For those of you who are paying attention, and yes your numbers are growing, you know that this blog contains a decade by decade series on the history of package design in the 20th century. I will shortly post the decade of the 1950s. This has been a fascinating exercise of uncovering sources, unearthing visual records, and dusting off old references. Again a bit like archeology.

Design is all about visual evolution, one generation of designers influencing the next. The coke package, like the look of all brands, builds one step at a time, with each new package iteration influencing the direction of the next. And very few brands understand their DNA better than Coke.

Anthropologists research the links between our human past and present. Those of us observing the history of package design are doing the same.


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 Package Design, a leading or trailing indicator, Packages Today, Packages Tomorrow, Packages Yesterday and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Human archeology and prehistoric packaging

  1. Thanks for sharing this post. I was educated in Archaeology and also get a bit exited at the evolution of artifacts and design! There are a number of exercises that archaeologists do to determine the age, provenance, and developmental stage of artifacts that many designers could have fun with too. Designers and archaeologist? What a fun exchange that could be!

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