Nuggets from a stimulating design workshop

I had the pleasure of attending my first Shelf Impact! Package Design Workshop (PDW) last month, and it was really an eye opener.

I think it’s partly because design has never been my particular beat in all the years I’ve been a packaging journalist. Automation, controls, IT, material development breakthroughs—these are the aspects of packaging I’ve been more likely to cover over the years. And once Shelf Impact!editor Jim George joined us here at Summit Publishing, his well-established experience and reputation in the field of package design made it even less necessary for me to steep myself in the design pieces of the packaging puzzle.

But as I mentioned, I found the freewheeling and interactive nature of the PDW stimulating, to say the least. Here are a few of the nuggets I was able to come away with:

• Focus groups are an important part of the package design process. But focus group participants are more likely to gravitate toward what’s common than what’s inspired. What focus group participants do know is package functionality. So pay close attention to the functionality cues you get from focus groups, but look elsewhere for inspiration. This is a reliable formula for arriving at package designs that are functional and innovative.
• While there are some signs that packaging professionals are finally being given a seat at the table, it’s still too likely for packaging to be viewed as nothing more than a cost to be minimized. This is a recipe for disaster where new product launches are concerned. The packaging team needs to be involved in the strategy behind the launch. Don’t have the new-product developers come up with a concept and then go to the packaging team with a strategy to be executed. Let packaging professionals be part of the strategy formation.
• When it comes to sustainable packaging, don’t forget that a fresh look at the product itself may be required. Just ask the folks at General Mills. By changing the shape of their Hamburger Helper noodles, they were able to reduce package size by 20%.
• Opportunities for innovative package design are more plentiful in some categories than others, and OTC Pharma is one category that offers a lot of opportunities. One PDW participant commenting on the dearth of inspired package design in OTC Pharma put it this way: “They’re the last frontier.”

While we’re on the subject of package design, what were they thinking at MillerCoors when they came up with their Miller Lite Vortex bottle? It’s about as gimmicky as it gets. Interior grooves in the bottle neck that create a vortex as the beer is poured? I’m sorry, I just don’t see it as another reason to choose Miller. Could it possibly have been worth the cost of the new molds?

On the other hand, the redesigned Miller High Life carton is brilliant. The two front panels feature a single bottle silhouetted against a clean gold background. This look is consistent with how the brand is positioned in its popular and funny ad campaign: unpretentious and grounded in common sense. The design also makes good use of High Life’s iconic “girl in the moon” logo, which gets featured treatment on the two side panels. The predominantly black side panels contrast nicely, too, with the gold front panel.

But I digress. It’s the Shelf Impact! Package Design Workshop I wanted to focus on in this column, so let me conclude with a perfectly shameless plug for the remaining Workshops that are scheduled for the balance of the year. One will be held August 25 in Los Angeles and the other September 22 in Philadelphia. If package design is something you have an interest in and you need a refreshing jolt of inspiration, the PDW is for you. Get all the details you need at

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