Added value - packaging design

Materials World magazine
4 Dec 2011

Company branding and advances in technology are among the main influences on packaging design. Chris Hart, Creative Director at Blue Marlin in Bath, UK, has been part of the redesign team for Sensodyne toothpaste, as well as major Bulgarian alcoholic beverage Yambolska. He talks to Martin Parley about the considerations involved.

Q: What is your background in packaging?

I have been in design for 16 years and have worked on small entrepreneurial products, global companies and everything in between.

Q: What are the biggest issues when redesigning a well-known name?

In Bulgaria, Yambolska is the national drink, so care must be taken not to alienate consumers. At the end of a hard day’s work the average person wants a glass of the brandy while they wait for dinner. It is a traditional drink for a distinctive behavioural pattern. However, while consumers want the reassurance that it is the same drink as always, their exposure to and experience of, international brands and international design is growing all the time. So the brand has to keep up with global brands despite essentially being a local name.

Q: What were the main design considerations for packaging, and what role does R&D have?

Retaining the brand characteristics on pack while moving the design into a more sophisticated space was a difficult balancing act. We are all consumers, and we can learn a lot from simply looking at our own habits and the behaviours of people, but art plays a role and so does technology. R&D is incredibly important. We are all working towards more environmentally efficient design, so staying on top of new developments is vital. The work we did with API Laminates and Chesapeake for GSK’s new Sensodyne toothpaste pack uses cutting edge technology to create the effect on the pack.

Q: What technology is used to create the effect?

The toothpaste packaging uses a centuries-old technique to create its impact. The effect provided by Fresnel lenses is used and differs from holographic materials in that they are optically correct and image the world around them. Holographic films are diffractive and simply scatter light. As a result, the Fresnel creates an optical illusion and false sense of depth, inviting the viewer to pick up and feel the smoothness of the pack surface.

In addition, because the lens is imaging, the viewer does not need to be in motion to detect movement. If anything within the range of the lens moves, the eye can detect it, often peripherally, drawing attention to the product and encouraging further investigation by the consumer.

Lenses are an excellent device, but when combined with accurate lamination, including the control and compensation of movement in the film, consistency in the distance to the printers’ lead and lay edges and accurate sheet presentation, the printer can create interesting interaction between ink and lens. The Sensodyne package demonstrates excellent use of high opacity white ink to ‘mask down’ the silver background, creating an enhanced focal point where the lens is revealed.

Q: What new manufacturing techniques do you expect to emerge over coming years?

Shorter and shorter production runs will be possible at lower cost, enabling a greater ability for bespoke packaging than has been possible before. This is because the world is fast-moving and digitally enabled. Packaging will gain in importance as the only medium that marketers can really own. Greater emphasis on packaging, coupled with shorter consumer attention spans will force marketers to provide additional product information at point of purchase by changing packaging more frequently than is currently accepted. It is possible that branded packaging could become a form of social media in its own right if the production lead times become short enough and brands can be responsive.

Q: What new features will we see in packaging over the coming years?

Look out for smart materials – nanotechnology has yet to break into the mainstream and it has enormous potential. Responsive packaging will be important, electronics are a given and ergonomics designed for aging populations will be the new norm.

The possibilities opened up by print technology are already impressive and I think more designers will seek to stretch what is possible. It is a designer’s job to want to do more and continue developing.

Q: Will we see more electronics incorporated into packaging and where?

It is already happening in a number of markets. A basic example is creative use of quick response codes, so that the code itself becomes a piece of design, which underscores brand marketing as well as being a means of engaging consumers at the point of sale.

RFID tags have been used for a while in different markets. Augmented reality can be brilliant when done properly and gives consumers a really immersive experience. According to the latest research, global demand for electronic smart packaging devices will reach US$1.7bn by 2022. Animation is becoming more sophisticated and more widespread.

Q: Is sustainable packaging an achievable goal?

I would love to say yes, but I suspect that completely sustainable packaging is a long way off. Materials are improving all the time, brand manufacturers and retailers are increasingly trying to reduce their carbon footprint and consumers are demanding greater sustainability. The recession played a positive part because businesses realised there were sustainability-based cost savings to be made. The key is in all those elements coming together so that the moral issue, the economic issue and the populist issue coalesce into one overriding driver. We’re just at the beginning.

Further information

Blue Marlin, Bath, Page Barn, Newbury, Nr. Bath, Somerset, BA11 3RG, UK. Tel: +44 (0)1373 800010. Email: