Our Top 10 List of Package Design Stories for 2009

This blog was begun in early 2009 as a place to discuss, “The package as a unique object in our contemporary culture  .  . focusing on past influences, current events, and future inspirations that shape the world of package design.”

The world was coming to an end, and economic collapse seemed at least possible. And the themes that we focus on here were naturally caught up in the economic whirlwind that engulfed us all. It has been a fascinating exercise.

And as I look back at the year certain issues have bubbled to the surface. Some of these trends, like the application of Augmented Reality technology to the retail environment, are new, at least to me, and will be worth watching in 2010. Others, like the Tropicana fiasco, are new variations on classic and reccurring issues in our industry.

Below is the first annual Unseen’s Top 10 List of Packaging Stories that seemed most compelling in 2009, with links to where they have been discussed on this blog throughout the year.

10. Gatorade
As the year began, so it ended. On December 15th we reported that Pepsi announced it was redesigning its Gatorade line of products. I wish the best for the other Pepsi brands, hope I’m wrong, and that his influence has run its course, but something tells me the Arnell debacle will “spill” over into 2010.

9. The new SVA Masters in Branding Program
This year has continued to see the recognition that branding is an integrated art/science, encompassing many disciplines. There is a natural bias here, of course, but we think package design is certainly one of the most fundamental of these disciplines in the building of a strong consumer brand. On Nov 12th we reported on the new SVA Masters in Professional Studies in Branding Program. We are looking forward to being one of the program’s faculty next Fall.

8. Rise of the online package design resources
It has been a tough year for print, and we have all noticed the thinning in both the size and number of print publications this year. The design publishers have not been immune. As the year ended it was reported that I.D. Magazine will cease its print publication in early 2010. Yet at the same time there has been an explosion in online design resources. In package design we have new sites like thedieline.com and lovelypackage.com. It will be interesting to see how these resources begin to be integrated into the fabric of our industry in the coming year.

7. Crowd Sourcing and Work on Spec
Lets start with repeating my position on this issue, it stinks, and for everybody! And no, it’s most definitely not like legalzoom.com. Try telling them you will pay for their service only after you have decided whether you like their legal advice, I don’t think so!!

Not sure what it was, the lousy economy, the increased visibility of some of these sites, or the heightened sense of concern, but these and other factors made design crowd sourcing and work on spec hot issues for many of us. We reported on this story several times throughout the year, including April 10th, the nospec.com site on June 9th, June 17th, and Crispin Porter + Bogusky’s involvement on Sept 1st.

6. Mass merchants redesign
Both Walmart and Target developed new design systems for their popularly priced product lines this year. And both seemed to take a similar approach to the overall look. Simple, clean, lots of white, and with a look that is just a touch more visually engaging than the generics of the 1980s. Seems to be related to the overall simplicity trend discussed below, and we’ll see where this goes.

5. Simplicity
I am a huge fan of simple, but the pendulum may have swung too far this year. One of our first and most popular posts, on February 26th, discussed the reintroduction of classic Trix packaging at a time when, as the economy self-destructed, most consumers were looking back to a simpler time. We continued to report on this trend, with new design work on Sept 17th, and Dec 3rd. It will be interesting to see how the trend, begun several years ago with brands including method and Vitamin Water plays itself out in the next decade.

4. Augmented Reality and the package as social media
On June 26th, as we celebrated the 35th anniversary of the UPC, a very basic but now ubiquitous technology, I had never heard the term Augmented Reality. But as the year progressed, magazines including Esquire put AR issues out on the newsstand, applications like sixthsense, wikitude, yelp with monocle, and scanlife were launched, and retailers began to experiment with its functionality in their stores. We were blown away by the implications for package design, and reported on this technology on Nov 7th, and Nov 11th.

3. Marketers begin to play rocks, paper, scissors, shoot
This was the year that brand marketers began to take responsibility for their package material choices, and began to implement more sustainable materials into the production stream. We reported on a number of innovative approaches including Penta Water’s bottle made from rock on March 26th,  Frito Lay’s compostable chip bag on April 17th, and Coke’s plant bottle made from organic material on May 19th. Like the hybrid car, it will be interesting to see if we look back at some of these package material choices as important bridge technologies to more permanent solutions.

2. Packaging Green Movement is measured
As brand marketers began to introduce a few examples of responsible package design, a whole industry blossomed to measure their efforts.  We reported on the launch of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition’s Compass Software, on Walmart’s development of a score card on July 16th, the goodguide.com website on July 21st, the Good Housekeeping Green Seal on October 2nd, and the creation of FIT’s new Sustainable Packaging program on Nov 17th.

1. Tropicana
We broke the story very early on February 23rd, and wrote about it again hours before the mainstream media. No list of important package design stories of 2009 could end without putting Tropicana at the top.

The word has become a verb. As the year went on, clients began to use some variation of the phrase “don’t Tropicana me” when discussing their package design programs. It is clearly this decade’s “new Coke” debacle. The ramifications will be felt, and the story will be retold, for years.

It will be interesting to see how this year’s stories mature next year, and what new issues may arise.

All the best for 2010!


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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5 Responses to Our Top 10 List of Package Design Stories for 2009

  1. Holly McKie says:

    Amid the countless “Top 10” recaps, this journey through 2009 is well worth the time. Great content- thanks.

  2. carolparish says:

    A very thought-provoking post. I am a brand generalist, so am mostly on the sidelines when it comes to package design. But my Tropicana post still gets readers almost every day. This is not due to my blinding insight, I’m sure, just the ubiquity of the issue.


  3. Pingback: Richard Shear’s Top 10 List of Package Design Stories for 2009 :Mobilizy

  4. This is a great list! From our point of view you are inside one of the big trends leading into 2010. That is the emergence of design as the creative solution not just to packaging problems, but also as a key contributor to strategy. On other blogs, designers are talking about how to design “care” into their work, for products as well as social systems.

  5. Pingback: Cellphones at Retail « The Package Unseen

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