Sustainable Packaging Options

So many eco-friendly packages are reminiscent of brown paper sacks—boring, colorless, no personality. The materials, themselves, can be difficult to navigate from a design perspective to make them more palatable, and avoid the use of harmful glues, inks, and bindings. Here, four firms have successfully navigated the eco terrain to come up with tactile and beautiful design solutions that meet the strict recycling, reusable, or biodegradable packaging standards.

Client: Dutch Harvest Hemp Tea

Design: Tenzing

Illustrator: Walther Otto Müller

When the actual product is eco-friendly by nature (“tea with a mission”), it’s natural that the branding and packaging must walk the walk and follow suit. Designer Arjan van Woensel says, “Esther Molenwijk, the owner of Dutch Harvest, is someone who clearly sees the value of the entire hemp plant and took up this project to showcase the multiple uses of this amazing crop. The design needed to reflect the eco-cred of the product, but—and this was a big but—without becoming too weirdy-beardy.” And by “weirdy-beardy” he means the stereotypical earth-friendly (ie tree hugger) references. It also needed to stand out on the tea shelf in retail outlets, which is a challenge in itself with all the offerings available.

Since this company was started through a crowd-funding campaign, Molenwijk wanted to include customers in the design decision, so van Woensel mocked up four designs and asked supporters to vote on their favorite. “Esther loves collaboration and she wanted to include customers right from the start. Fortunately, they chose the design I would have chosen, although I liked them all,” he says. “We get so much positive feedback that we must have made the right decision.”

The design is colorful, yet retains an eco-friendly feel due to its materials, which was a challenge in and of itself. “It was very clear it needed to be 100% compostable, which was a bit hard because we wanted a window in the pouch. And all of the existing (eco) pouches available at the time had a petroleum-based lining,” he explains. So van Woensel and his client worked with two manufacturers (Bio4Pack and Paperwise) to create a unique, 100% biodegradable, lined pouch. “The lining and plastic window in the bag have been specially created for Dutch Harvest from cellulose-based plastic and the paper is made from agricultural waste,” he explains.

Pro Tip: Be prepared to go out of your way to find partners who can deliver exactly what you need when working with sustainable materials.

Client: Level Cannabis

Agency: Folklor

Designer: Claire Typaldos

Level hired designer Claire Typaldos to redesign its brand to convey the essence behind the science of cannabis without detracting casual customers. “What makes Level special is its high quality and the fact that it’s completely pesticide-free, additive-free, and has no solvents. We wanted to the branding to reflect this with a simple, organic design,” she says.

The packaging is made of recycled pulpboard, which is traditionally used for egg cartons. “We wanted to use it in a unique way—as high-end packaging that also doubles as a nice object the customer could keep. We liked the idea that the customer would think twice before throwing away the box,” Typaldos notes, although it was learning experience working with the factories molding the boxes. It took several prototyping phases to get the design just right.

The label cleverly incorporates the scientific elements for each product strain, using colors to distinguish them. She says, “They wanted to share as much information as possible so that the customer knows what’s going into their bodies. We used Akkurat for the modern and clean titles, and Courier for the more scientific, informational sections. There was a nice interplay between the two.” A deep, debossed logo takes center stage on the box, highlighting the natural quality of the pulpboard.

Pro Tip: Be sure to budget in time and money to test different printing and design techniques.

Client: Poopbags

Design: Tondo

Picking up after your pooch is a rite of passage for dog owners—albeit, one of the less enjoyable aspects—so why not use a product you feel good about? Poopbags is dedicated to using eco-friendly materials in their packaging and product and having a sense of humor about it. “With a name like Poopbags, you can’t take yourself too seriously,” says Tondo’s creative director and designer Max Ali. Tondo was hired to redesign the brand to give it consistent presence in the market and stand out in a category that is dull by nature.

“If you want the design to be both eco-friendly and appealing, you have to be smart,” he says. “Each small element should carry a meaning and convey a message, but also keep in mind that the package should be fun and eye catching on shelf.” The flower logo signifies sprouting life and the outdoors, and stamps were designed as an easily recognizable brand element that can be modified to carry different messages. “The box itself is made of recycled materials, and our main concern was to be able to separate the types of products with minimum design elements,” Ali says.

Colors clearly distinguish the different products by how they are produced—Green is recycled; Orange is for orange-scented; Purple is biodegradable; and Blue is plant based. All the packages are also made with recycled materials.

Pro Tip: Just because you’re branding an eco-friendly product, doesn’t mean the design needs to be dull. Maximize the use of colors to stand out on the shelf.

Client: Hippo&Crate

Design: Alphabet

Ordering personal hygiene products such as soaps, lotions, and shaving kits, has become increasingly popular in recent years. Hippo&Crate is the first subscription-based toothcare brand. The name itself is borrowed from Greek physician Hippocrates, who was considered one of the most outstanding figures in the history of healthcare, and as a nod to the crate-like boxes that arrive at customers’ doors.

“In response to an industry that tends to overwhelm consumers with specs and jargon, we crafted a unique visual language to establish Hippo&Crate as a brand that stands for beautiful, honest, and affordable toothcare,” notes Alphabet partner and creative director Abbas Mushtaq. And, of course, the products are sustainable, as well as the packaging. The toothpaste and mouthwash are vegan, gluten-free, sustainably harvested, and toothpaste tube is made of 100 percent recyclable aluminum and printed using environmentally friendly ink.

The designers suggested the packaging be inline with the products since so many of them will be shipped around the world. “We didn’t want it to be harmful to the environment, and personally, we just love cardboard engineering!” He adds, “You have to be wary about the application of ink and how color looks on the packaging—especially stuff in the CMYK range. In the end we opted for simple hits of black and white to make sure it contrasts well. You also need to be careful with smaller type because of ink bleeding on recyclable material. It was a blessing in disguise as we ended up going for a simple, bold approach to help with that.

Pro Tip: Using two colors and simple imagery can actually elevate the design. Simplicity doesn’t have to be simple.

Designers Lead the Charge in the Retail Revolution

Although we’ve seen many huge retailers downsize (like the Gap) and some close altogether (Toys R Us), you’d be surprised to know that there was a 58% increase in store openings in 2017, according to a study by Fung Global Retail and Technology. Amazon even made the leap to brick and mortar through pop-up stores and by purchasing Whole Foods. Surprisingly, a lot of this has to do with Gen Z and millennials who prefer to shop in-store vs. online. Granted, they gather intel and find the items online, but then head to an actual store to make the purchase.

This is good news for brands and designers who are marketing to these segments. Direct mail, gift cards and packaging still play an indelible role in purchasing decisions at the store. According to Liz Burnett, principal at Matchbox Studio in Dallas, “As consumer behavior changes, brands are starting to design packaging and in-store experiences with social media in mind.” She cites a study by Contract Packaging Association that says, “Nearly 40% of consumers say they’ll regularly share product packaging that is ‘gifty’ or ‘interesting’ on social media.” With that in mind, she says, “Thoughtfully designed packaging and collateral pieces entice customers to share products with their followers on Instagram, which can boost brand awareness and word-of-mouth.”

Matchbox Studio was commissioned by Neenah Paper to design the Retail Revolution promotion which features several examples of printed materials that can help boost retail sales in the luxury market. “In the luxury retail environment, details matter. A great deal of care is taken to make luxury brands look and feel great. It’s the little things that mean the most to a customer – right down to the paper choices a brand makes to elevate its message. With personal health and wellness markets growing ever popular, we chose to focus on four brands that illustrate consumer aspirations to look and feel great as well,” Burnett notes.

“Today, shoppers are paralyzed by choice in almost every purchase category. Strong branding and premium paper can cut through the noise and help sell products. The product itself must be able to deliver on its promises, but the packaging and collateral alone can do a lot of the heavy lifting,” she says.

For the Neenah promo, the designers at Matchbox conceived four luxury brands that are influenced by major brands in the same category: The athleisure brand, Knetics, was inspired by Uniqlo, Lululemon, and Nike; the men’s apothecary brand, Pack, was inspired by Kiehl’s and C.O. Bigelow; Desert Mothers spa, was inspired by Four Seasons and The Springs Resort; Odyssey was inspired by Blue Apron and HelloFresh.

Below, she explains the significance of each piece they designed for the promo.

The first section of the promo is called “How to Get Customers in the Door,” which has become an increasingly harder task as consumers are relying more on online shopping, so we highlighted three pieces get them there and keep them coming back: a direct-mail postcard, a gift card, and a colorful hangtag. ColorCom has reported, “Colors can increase brand recognition by 80 percent.” Once customers are in the door, a branded color alone can drive them to purchase a product.”

The next section, “How to Engage and Excite Customers In-Store,” demonstrates how proper branding paired with premium papers can excite and encourage purchases. The featured pieces include an attention-grabbing business card that used foil and Neenah’s memorable CLASSIC COLUMNS finish; a product display card; and an interactive package piece to help illustrate that shoppers often select products based on the packaging.

Sending the right message at the right time is crucial. In “How to Spread the Word,” we wanted to show how premium papers can make memorable first impressions. We designed a large event invite and envelope and a prism-shaped brochure filled with fictional spa treatments like “Vision Quest Meditation” and “Sweet Nectar Body Wrap” that could draw in customers who are interested in unique or VIP experiences.

In “How to Build A Following,” we created a meal-kit subscription service brand, Odyssey, to illustrate how online subscription services are building brand loyalty by using curated, personalized print materials.

Let’s move the Retail Revolution forward, by designing jaw-dropping print materials that draw customers in and keep them coming back for more!

Illustrating an Ale Narrative

With so many microbrews infiltrating the marketplace—and taking up valuable shelf space in retail outlets—having a memorable package design that stands out from the crowd is more important than ever. So when Ommegang Brewery, based in Cooperstown, New York, decided to update its brand, they hired French illustrator, Yann Legendre, to bring their packaging to life.

Each ale has a fun, quirky back story, so the art needed to portray those qualities and bring them to life. Legendre notes, “They were looking for an artist who would bring a sense of movement, openness, storytelling, and wit in the art, to both honor their history and reflect a stylish, dynamic, and modern approach.”

He credits Ommegang’s art director Larry Bennett, with devising the clever stories. “Typically, we look for a story idea that may lead to a brewing idea, that will create an even better story idea,” Bennett says. “We have a great history with Belgium and American brewing, so we don’t often have to pull rabbits out of hats. Unless it’s a story that involves magic.”

Legendre created compelling characters to bring the narrative to life. For instance, for “The Three Philosophers” ale, he drew a headless man, juggling three heads. “The story evolved from three philosophers in a William Blake play, Island in the Moon, who talk about why/how/if they would do something remarkable,” he says, so he each head has a questionable expression.

“For each project, Larry gave me the story and a series of visual references or ideas,” Legendre recalls. “He never asked me to draw a particular thing. He was more interested in how I interpreted the story and brought a new layer to it. The stories are like fairy tales, with different characters and scenes, so it was really fun to work on.”

Legendre drew everything in black-and-white, and then Bennett’s team reversed and dropped the illustrations in front of a colored argyle background in many cases. “We developed a color palette that works with the beers and seasons. For example, wheat beers tend to be warm and summery, while winter ales tend to be cool,” Bennett says. Getting everything right for production was crucial, especially when working with more than one printer, as they do. “The labels are printed at one place, the four and six packs at another, and the cartons another. Each printer specializes in what they do, but they talk to each other and to me on color matching. We send draw downs, color chips, and samples back and forth to get everything in sync.”

Fortunately, their system works. The artist’s crisp renderings pop off the packaging, bringing the characters to life as he intended. Legendre is known for his large-scale posters that hang in shop windows in Paris, so for this project, he treated the labels as if they were mini-posters, paying special attention to how they will be produced and presented. “I spend a lot of time making sure each illustration is perfectly set up for a certain printing technique, whether it’s silkscreened, foiled stamped, or offset.”

 

In fact, he loves the whole production process. “Printing to me is like bringing the work to life. I have a deep relationship with this art. My grandfather was a book binder, so I was exposed to this at a very young age. The quality of the papers, the smell of the inks, leathers, glue, etc.—it’s ingrained in me and it influences how I work.”

All of these considerations have paid off for the brewery, which has noticed a bump in sales since the packaging was updated with Legendre’s illustrations. “I’ve admired Yann’s work for several years, so he was my first pick for this project. His illustrations have a strong, conceptual framework, and they convey the ideas perfectly,” Bennett n

Hippeas Branding

Organic snacks have become a hugely popular category in the food sector in recent years, so creating an ownable brand that stands out is essential for survival. So, when Livio Bisterzo, founder of Green Park Holdings, a food innovation company in the health and nutrition sector, developed a new product, he commissioned Jones Knowles Ritchie (JKR) to devise the brand personality.

Tosh Hall, JKR’s Global Executive Creative Director, notes, “He approached us with a new product technology for creating organic chickpea puffs and the idea of making snacking not only good for you and but also good for the earth. He had a concept, a name, and a desire to not just be another small food brand, but rather to have big impact and touch people across the globe.”

In other words, be a category disruptor, not a follower. The JKR team is quite adept at creating campaigns that resonate for clients like Budweiser, Kashi, Stella Artois, among others, so when evaluating this brand’s attributes, Hall and his team didn’t rely on existing competitive data for visual guidance. “When we start any project, we familiarize ourselves with the category, but don’t really look left or right to see what others are doing. We concentrated on what is unique and ownable to our brand,” he explains. Read the rest here.

 

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Jeff Kleinsmith on the New Wave of Music Design

In the last three decades we’ve witnessed the demise of cassette tapes, the rise and fall of CDs, and the near end and now re-emergence of LPs. And through it all, Jeff Kleinsmith, creative director at Sub Pop Records, has pivoted at each turn, adapting and changing with the times.

He started at the Seattle-based record label when bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam ruled the airwaves. Not only was the music transitioning from hair bands to grunge, but the way music was played and packaged was changing dramatically, and it still is. Here, we talk to Kleinsmith about how his job has shifted and transitioned over the years, and what it’s like to work with musicians on their albums.

You’ve said that working in rock n’roll is a dream job some days and some days it’s the same as any other in-house gig. Tell me a little about that.

Well it’s funny. I do talks and I teach students, and I always get asked if this is my dream job. It is a dream job. I still feel that way after 23 years, frankly! But, I have to laugh at the notion that all we do is design album covers and go to rock shows. We’re doing a ton of behind the scenes stuff like creating very specific digital marketing tools or designing shrink wrap stickers, or editing catalog pages for a distributor. I think that’s not what these students are thinking of when they ask about the music industry. They’re thinking of Nirvana or Father John Misty covers or something. But that’s actually a pretty small part of our day-to-day job—creating the cover that is. Look, we deal with meetings, and last-minute crap, and clients not liking our mockups, just like anyone else. It’s the same stuff you would complain about if you were in a corporate job. Read the rest of the interview here.

 

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Developing Successful Identities for a Mr. & Mrs.

If you’re an identity designer, the most critical function in the beginning of the project is research—getting to know your client’s brand inside and out, as well as the competition, and some of that involves what Sharon Werner, principal of Werner Design Werks in Minneapolis, Minn., calls “feet on the ground.” This is especially true when working on a start-up brand, like Mr. Mak’s Ginbao, a new wellness drink that is based on a traditional Chinese recipe made from natural ingredients.

Werner and her team spent the day in New York’s Chinatown with the Mak family, even enjoying a traditional Chinese lunch prepared by Mrs. Mak. “We walked the streets of New York and looked at brands they liked and disliked in the same category,” Werner explains. “When it’s a startup we want the identity and the brand to feel true to who they are, and the only way to do that is through an intensive immersion and getting to know them. We want to understand who they are compared to their competitors; what they’ll offer that others don’t; what their personal beliefs are and how those will translate to their business and product.”

A challenge with developing brand identities for start ups is determining what will work past the first year, which is sometimes hard for clients to envision. “We’re building for a future, which means we’re asking the ‘what if’ questions—What if you add more flavors? What if you add 100 employees? What if you sell the company?” she says. “We want to build an identity that can grow with them and is fluid enough to adapt if the ‘what if’ becomes ‘What do we do now?’”

Combining traditional aesthetics with modern design elements, helped differentiate Mr. Mak’s Ginbao. The packaging utilized colors associated with the flavors, while the corporate identity was limited to neon red and porcelain blue. The letterpress printed business cards come in a glassine envelope which also houses a nice surprise for recipients—a recipe card and fortune. These small touches, tie the identity back to the brand story.

Taking a critical look at the competition and how your brand measures up, is key in the identity design. Werner and her team go to the store see the competition live on the shelf, in the environment. They look at how the retail lighting might affect packaging and how the height of the product will look sitting next to others. “We are avid and intuitive consumers— we trust our intuition. We look outside the categories to see where to go next, keeping in mind that it still has to communicate what the product is,” she notes. “With Mrs. Meyer’s, we asked how we could we make it look like a hard-working, effective cleaning product, but different than its competitors. We borrowed from the utilitarian, hard-working, hardware vernacular and then softened it with color and line drawings.”

Werner developed the Mrs. Meyer’s brand story 18 years ago, and it has stood the test of time. The brand story revolves around the founder’s mother, Thelma Meyer, a homemaker from Granger, Iowa. The no-nonsense design reflects her personality and informs consumers of the natural ingredients in the cleaner. “With Mrs. Meyer’s we were involved for many years, hands on,” Werner says. “We helped them hire their first internal designer, then we later briefed their new ad agency on the brand. When they were purchased by SC Johnson, we conducted a full retrospective briefing of the Mrs. Meyer’s brand language and elements. We outlined what was brand right and not brand right and the reasoning behind that. Always bouncing decisions against ‘What would Thelma do?’”

The ultimate goal when creating an identity design for a company, is to make sure all the brand assets will be managed by the client after the project is complete. This usually entails creating a style guide to ensure the identity is properly applied in every application including packaging, advertising, website, social media, and beyond. “Our goal is to create a brand and brand assets that basically eliminates the need for Werner Design Werks. We develop a brand language that can evolve and grow and still be ‘brand right,’” Werner explains.

This post originally ran on the PixArt blog here.

 

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Tosh Hall: Stop Redesigning Brands Every Few Years!

Tosh Hall has a problem with companies that try to redefine themselves every three years, and the agencies that convince them to do it. In a world of constant change and upheaval, isn’t it comforting to be able to pick out your favorite brand of cereal on the shelf because of its easily identifiable colors and markings? When brands do big overhauls there’s always the risk they will alienate customers, so why take this chance? Hall will tell you, stick to what works.

As global executive creative director at Jones Knowles Ritchie in New York, he knows a thing or two about this. He is responsible for the creative and strategic output of the agency for clients like Budweiser, Wheaties, Kashi, and Stella Artois. Previously, he was the creative director at Landor Associates. Although his resume is envy-inspiring to any young designer, he took the circuitous route to his career destination.

Hall studied economics and journalism in college, but ended up as a publication designer right out of college. Through the journalism school at the University of North Carolina, he learned how to lay out publications, and landed his first job at the UNC Press. He recalls working with the “craggy pressman” with the cigarette hanging out of his mouth and ink smeared on his hands and shirt saying to him: “You can’t have twelve colors, dummy. Let me show you the four-color process.” Hall loved that entire experience and how it helped to shape him as a designer, though he admits that he had the worst portfolio when he moved to New York. “I found the transition to the real design world very difficult. It was a harsh wake-up call.”

Last month, Hall gave a presentation at the HOW Live Design Conference called “Dear Designers: Please Stop!” where he addressed the mistake of rebranding too often. Here he elaborates on that, and points to the most publicized brand overhaul failure in modern times and how that rocked the industry.

Why is it so wrong to redesign a brand every few years?

Well, I think it’s a bigger macro problem with marketing and companies in general. A lot of the companies that we work with, we’ve had long-term relationships with, and they often look to us as being the brand guardian. In some ways, your agency partners know more about your brand than the branders, the marketers, and the clients do. And I think because of a lot of the things that have happened in recent years—looking to drive performance quarterly, instead of looking at things over decades and over quarter-centuries—people want to make an impact very quickly. Especially on the client side.

Often people in marketing come in and they’re given a role in branding or packaging or advertising, and they have to make an impact, and they have to do it quickly, and then they move on to the next part of their career. And rarely do we see clients that stay on brands for long periods of time. I think the reason is because it reflects the marketing side of the clients we work with.

We have to constantly educate them, that it’s best for the brand to go in a long-term direction of health and growth instead of zigging, zagging back and forth between whatever the marketing plan du jour is, and a hope for short-term success.

Read the reset of the interview here.

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Wink. Thyme. Scentsational.

Thyme, which has been in business for 30 years, creates botanically-infused fragrances, soaps, lotions, and cosmetics. The brand’s artisan qualities and craftsmanship are beautifully represented at every touchpoint—from the website to the catalogs, to the packaging of the individual products. The website and print materials have an organic aesthetic, featuring art quality photographs of the products, oftentimes alongside their natural ingredients. The credit for orchestrating this fluid brand story goes to the design firm of record, Wink, in Minneapolis.

This year marks a milestone for one of Thyme’s signature fragrances. It’s the 25th anniversary of the Classic Goldleaf collection—a fragrance of smooth jasmine, fragrant roses, hyacinth, and lily of the valley blossom infused with oakmoss and musk. The Goldleaf fragrance has been Thymes’ longest selling and most popular scent. Scott Thares, principal of Wink, notes, “Because of its historical track record and dedicated fan base, Thymes wanted to release new packaging and products to celebrate this anniversary occasion. Our goal was to design offerings that represent the luxurious and high-end feel that Goldleaf has always had.”

Thares updated the previous leaf design motif to a slightly more modern and fresh look that is also celebratory in nature. “We wanted to design offerings that represent the luxurious and high-end feel that Goldleaf has always had,” he says. In keeping with the upscale aesthetic, he chose a high-quality paper stock for the packaging that is tactile and durable. Neenah Stardream in Antique Gold serves as the main vessel for the product, while the box cover is Classic Crest, Natural White, with a gold stippled pattern that perfectly complements the box.

The elegant leaf pattern is carried throughout the design, creating a classy and modern feel to this classic product.

The resulting package is classy, classic, and exquisitely executed.

Loyalty & the Rebranding Process: Celestial Seasonings

Celestial Seasonings has led the herbal tea brand category since its inception, 45 years ago. It boasts a legion of loyal brand fans who love everything about the brand from its many tea flavors to its iconic and lovable illustrations on the packaging. But, as with any beloved brand, change is inevitable, and Celestial Seasonings was no exception.

Tether was hired to reposition the brand without losing its core consumer base. Stanley Hainsworth, Tether’s Chief Creative Officer, acknowledges, “Our challenge was a tough one: Introducing and attracting a younger audience that didn’t have a previous experience to grow from, while still staying true to the existing brand, and its loyal fans. We believed at heart, the great tea flavors and the authentic story of Celestial could resonate with both given the chance.” Read the rest of the story here.

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Command X: Design’s Ultimate Reality Show

Each year Command X, AIGA’s reality show-style, live design competition pits seven young designers against one another in daily elimination challenges, and is one of the most anticipated events at the AIGA Design Conference. Last week we introduced you to the contestants, and just a few days ago we sat rapt as the host, the ever-charming and enigmatic Sean Adams (former president of AIGA’s national board) and a star-studded panel of judges—Aaron Draplin, Robynne Raye, Gail Anderson, plus a special guest judge each day—took over the stage. Read the rest here.

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Command X contestants awaiting their fate.