A great year to be a package designer

Thanks to loyal clients, supportive associates, and a bit of hard work, this has been a pretty good year. And I was reminded again and again, in spite of the economic and social headwinds facing our industry, how lucky we are to be package designers. Here’s why.

1) Need – The package is not an option
Economy and cultural trends be damned, people still need shampoo, breakfast cereal, and beer. And package design plays a fundamental role in getting food on the table and toothpaste in the medicine cabinet. The package is essential in every phase of a product’s life. Protecting the item in shipment, displaying the brand at retail, enhancing its use at home, and increasingly playing a role in its reuse and/or disposal.

In the next decade, as the cultural impact of energy, transportation, resource, and materials decisions gets increasingly complicated, I would suggest that our expertise will be invaluable.

2) Experience – Package design has a large moat
An iMac, a copy of Adobe CS, and an eye for typography do not make you a package designer. It’s not that easy. What we do is not about aesthetics, alone. From the first strategic insight to the very last technical or production detail, the collective knowledge of a group of experienced thinkers, of all kinds, at a package design firm is huge.

I’m betting that most informed clients will continue to value that collective knowledge over the chaos of crowdsourcing.

3) Intelligence – A package is a lot like a building
Package designers and architects have much in common. The design of a building is impacted by a whole host of local issues. Zoning laws, building codes, construction material choices, site decisions, and even aesthetic elements are all very specific to a time, place, and culture. To put a building in Manhattan or create a package for France requires experienced local knowledge that can’t be outsourced.

As the world continues to get smaller, and markets get bigger, this local knowledge, down to the level of individual consumers in some cases, will become even more valuable.

A Final Thought
My friend Grant McCracken has a post on his blog with some year-end thoughts on the future of creativity in the next decade. In an era that is increasingly blurring the distinction between the cultural producer and the cultural consumer of things, he raises some basic supply and demand questions about the future prominence and position of the designer.

If his recommendation to designers is correct, to seek out clients who do not know what they need, then package designers are in a uniquely strong position. He suggests, “Designers should be cultivating the skills that enable them to deliver ideas and intelligence, not just design.”

I think that’s what we do best.

The fundamental need for our services is much less impacted by cultural shifts than some other areas of design expertise. We have a collective intelligence that is not easily replicated, and in spite of the inexorable trend towards globalization, local knowledge will still be required.


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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