Moments of Being

Neither Virginia Woolf, Maureen Dowd, or Michel Hazanavicius are package designers, and yet they understand something about the nature of creativity, the decibel level in our lives, and even how consumers respond to objects on a retail shelf.

For most of us this is a quiet time . . . a time for reflection between the hectic holidays and the anticipation of a new year to come. A quiet time we cherish because of its relaxed and restful contrast to the hectic pace we know will resume next week.

In the cinema it is a moment of silence, in mathematics it is the zero, in music it is a rest, in sports it is the time out, in design it is white space . . . those quiet seemingly empty things that help us appreciate all the more the voice track, the numbers, the notes, the rest of the game, or simply the other elements on the front panel of a package. A movie, equation, symphony, basketball game, or package design would all be a very different experience without that sense of contrast.

Yet we are losing this sense quiet in our lives, as is pointed out in a Maureen Dowd column earlier this month, with our intense pace and increasing connectedness. As she says, “The sounds of silence are a dim recollection now, like mystery, privacy and paying attention to one thing — or one person — at a time.”

And Virginia Woolf seemed to understand this rift in the modern world when she wrote, in the early years of the 20th century, about a time similar to ours. “On or about December 1910, human character changed.”

Yet for us . . . in the early years of the 21st century . . . things may be changing in ways unexpected. On many shelves of the retail store, the level of simplicity, calmness and yes even white space is on the rise. There is less shouting going on, even in the traditionally high decibel product categories like detergent or pain relievers.

Perhaps, for once, package designers have sensed this change ahead of most. Perhaps we together with our clients are beginning to recognize the value of this time out, and how this moment of quiet is being used in so many other areas of our life to heighten the appreciation for the whole experience.

As Michel Hazanavicius, Director of the new silent film “The Artist”, says about the lack of sound in his movie, “I compare it to the zero in mathematics. People think it’s nothing, but actually it’s not. It can be very powerful.”

Virginia Woolf describes these experiences as “Moments of being”, and my hope for the New Year is that our lives will be filled with more of them.

This portrait of Virginia Woolf, taken in 1902, is by George Charles Beresford


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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2 Responses to Moments of Being

  1. Thanks for sharing such an eloquent reflection. I agree that packaging design is powerful, wielding the influence to share chaos or peace with a prospective consumer. I hope for more silent “moments of being” this year as well.

  2. Leah says:

    That’s interesting one. Having a good concept in packaging reflects a good creative hands of an individual.

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