The Unique Challenges of Packaging Design

Interview with Roland ten Klooster, Chair of Packaging Design and Management at the University of Twente and CEO of a packaging design agency

The Rollercoaster of Design

Every marketer and merchandiser is looking for that next eye-catching packaging design that will turn heads and translate into sales. While attributes like color, type, shape, material or style all play their part, there is also an element of behavioral science behind developing that standout new package.

Roland ten Klooster, Chair of Packaging Design and Management at the University of Twente (Netherlands) and CEO of the packaging design agency Plato product consultants, spoke to IN about current trends, technology and the importance of design education in the ever-changing world of packaging design.

What are the top trends with regards to packaging design?
Trends in packaging are like fashion –they come in and go out. There is never one single style in packaging but many all at once. Consumers first absorb the overall image of the package including the words, the shape, and the movements – then they look at color and contour. These elements are of key importance as they dictate which product the consumer will be drawn to and link to the psychology of buying behavior. Product fit and brand fit are key elements. Reflecting this, packaging design is currently heavily driven by visuals such as color and materials but this is followed closely by packaging convenience – which impacts mostly structural design — and contour.

The Rollercoaster of DesignWhat do you see as the key drivers of these trends in the industry?
As a brand it is important to be fully aware of current industry trends. Consequently, marketing can be seen as one of the biggest influencers in packaging design development. Many marketers today are too focused on numbers which has driven a “hit-and run” strategy when thinking about packaging design. While fast, this approach can sometimes miss the fundamental insights needed. Additionally, technology is and will continue to be a key driver in packaging design. In the end, the package has to run efficiently on the packaging line. Retailers at the end of the value chain are also raising the stakes in terms of putting more home brands on the shelves.

How does education help to train the next generation of young packaging designers?
People today still view packaging design as simply graphic design – but it is so much more. I teach industrial design (structural) at the University of Twente, which has, until recently, been neglecting continuing education on the packaging development process as a tool of packaging design. The curriculum takes into account elements like material, production, engineering, processing, pallet size and transportation and we try to integrate this with the design, the appearance of the package and convenience – essentially everything that has a huge impact on cost and production for a company and also on the environment. There are a lot of key decisions to be made throughout the process and that is why I try to teach my students that integration and full-collaboration is important when working in this industry. An innovation is only feasible if the whole value chain is involved in the decision-making process.

How do you see packaging design evolving in the future?
Today, technology is playing a much larger role in bridging the gap between customers and companies. Brands now turn to social media to gain a fast reaction from consumers. In the future, social media will continue to drive packaging design as we move towards a greater awareness of consumer preferences. The growing trend to personalize products is increasingly linking the package closer to the product, and only with an in-depth understanding of our customers can we achieve this.
Sustainability will, as always, continue to be a key driver in packaging design. Although we aren’t doing badly in this space, with more lightweight packages on our shelves, higher recycling rates and more use of recyclable material, progress is happening, albeit slowly.