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Article | December 31, 1997
Packages 'understand' people, says Hine
The relationships people have with packages are more complex than they realize. They're both intimate and emotional, says author and noted design critic Thomas Hine in the foreword of his book The Total Package: The Secret History and Hidden Meanings of Boxes, Bottles, Cans, and Other Persuasive Containers (Back Bay Books).
Now available in paperback for $14.95 the book was initially released in a hardcover version in '95. "Packaging" he writes "is part of who we are. It is sometimes wasteful sometimes misleading. But it is also clever inventive colorful and full of life." The nearly 300-page paperback rarely judges packaging; rather it colorfully tells how modern packaging developed and how it works now. At its center the book offers a blend of nostalgic and recent package photos with succinct informative explanatory copy. Throughout the book Hine sprinkles in tidbits of knowledge such as: * In the average half-hour trip to the supermarket 30 products vie for the shopper's attention and those noticed have only a sixth of a second to make their sales pitch. * The most common failure of packaging designs is not that they fail to communicate but that they communicate the wrong thing. * Products most identified with distinctive packaging are those that retailers are most likely to display such as liquors and cosmetics. * Increasingly the packaging structure is becoming less safe from imitation. While perhaps a tad colloquial Hine's insights could benefit manufacturers and packaging designers alike. He notes "Packages understand people much better than people understand packages. [Packaging]...flies beneath nearly everyone's analytic radar. It only comes to the fore when there's a problem. People think about packaging when they have trouble getting it open or when it's empty and it contributes to litter or overflowing landfills. When packaging is working well people rarely think about it apart from the product it contains." That aside his foreword concludes "Packaging is indispensable. It helps make consumption predictable and has thus been essential to the development of many industries. People's relationships with packages are intimate and emotional. Packaging mirrors its expected customers and thus it provides an unfamiliar and provocative perspective about who we are and what we want."
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