Whatever the future holds for the retail sector, plastic packaging will continue to play an important role, says BRIAN LODGE, RPC Group Design Manager…
We all know how consumers tend to take packaging for granted – they never think about a pack unless it has failed to perform as expected. But it is somewhat sobering to find out that the next generation of designers coming through their current college and university courses are also often unaware of packaging’s many positive attributes.
Yet maybe this is not that surprising. When I was a design student, most of my class wanted to work for companies
like Braun, Olivetti and Pininfarina. For today’s students the targets are the likes of Apple, Samsung and Jaguar.
However, what is more encouraging is that when design students are exposed to plastic packaging through the work RPC undertakes with design undergraduates, it arouses a huge amount of interest and enthusiasm, as they begin to appreciate what a difference and impact it can make.
Compared to many of the more traditional types of packaging, plastics are still a relatively modern material and for our modern lifestyles this difference is immense. Solutions for the growth of convenience foods – everything from ready meals to soups to eating on-the-go; lightweight and practical packs for paints, garden, DIY, household and automotive products; and high quality and beautifully decorated containers and dispensers for the cosmetics and personal care sector; these are just some examples of where plastic packaging has had an influence on our daily lives.
The huge growth of the single-serve beverage system that enables us to enjoy coffee-shop quality drinks in the home owes much of its success to plastic design ingenuity. Plastics’ versatility has opened up many other markets including squeezy bottles and large foodservice jars for sauces, and transformed sectors such as lubricating oils with the introduction of stylish and practical designs that have enabled individual products within the sector to establish their own brand identity.
A small selection of the recent work undertaken by RPC Design underlines the breadth of solutions that plastic packaging continues to deliver. A soup container with a built-in pouring spout for easy serving and which maintains its rigidity when removed from the microwave; the incorporation of an insert within a five-litre jerry can to hold a long pouring spout for the AdBlue diesel additive; a re-usable container incorporating an advanced dispenser for lawn care; a unique closure for herbs and spices that enables product to be either spooned or sprinkled. So many different markets depend on plastic packaging to provide effective solutions in a constantly-changing retail environment.
And the common denominator in these and many other similar projects – and something in particular that excites students and makes them appreciate the challenges and diversity of a career in plastic packaging design – is the fact that, unlike many of today’s ‘super brands’ the majority of solutions have to meet strict budget criteria. Creativity also has to be combined with technical knowledge, an appreciation of the competitive market where the pack will be positioned and, very often, the need for it to be filled and handled on existing packing lines and established supply chains.
THOUGHT FOR FOOD
That plastic packaging can still have an influence on how we live is also aptly demonstrated by the tasks that students entering the category sponsored by RPC in the IOP Student and Schools Starpack Awards are being asked to undertake.
For schools, the challenge is to promote the importance of personal hygiene among the young, with the creation of a soap dispenser specifically aimed at children. Students are being asked to develop a convenience pack that reconciles the demand for ‘on-the-go’ eating with the need to promote sustainability – a particularly appropriate topic given the current furore surrounding takeaway coffee cups.
The retail scene has changed immeasurably in recent years. In food markets, we have seen the continuing rise of the discounters; and ‘traditional’ retailing is now readjusting itself to take into account the huge growth in internet shopping.
It is impossible to predict the future, but there is one thing of which we can be pretty certain. Packaging will continue to have a major influence as it both anticipates and responds to changing market requirements and consumer demands. The next generation of designers will therefore have the opportunity to help shape the future of retailing, and plastic packaging will remain at the forefront of this.
My design career may not have taken me to Pininfarina but in plastics packaging it has delivered a rewarding and fulfilling working life. Plastic remains the material of the future and its infinite possibilities will continue to excite designers in the creation of innovative and functional packaging solutions.
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