Brand & Packaging Design

From The Cave To The Cloud

Deb Fairchild
Associate Creative Director

March 10, 2022

Design is an ever-evolving discipline with many facets—interior, industrial, commercial, fashion, and graphic to name a few. They are informed and feed off the technology, trends and culture of their times but are all united by the need to tell a story about an object, whether physical or metaphorical. In terms of graphic design, this discipline is rooted in visual storytelling and communication with a history stretching back to hieroglyphics and the first cave paintings like those in Lascaux, France. Primitive, yes, but through and through the start of iconography.

Throughout time, visual communication grew to take on different aspects. From the medieval era, where only a select few were entrusted with learning typography and beautiful illustration styles for religious or political manuscripts, to the advent of the printing press in Germany by Johannes Gutenberg that enabled mass production, we see how the tools of the trade have changed. Even in my own career, I’ve watched graphic design tools evolve from flexible curves, Rapidographs, air brushes, hand set metal type and traditional film photography to completely digital everything!

As a graphic design student, I was taught foundations: color, typography, photography, aesthetics. My abilities in strategic design and ways to communicate were developed through a variety of media such as brochures, brand and corporate identities, annual reports, and packaging. Traditional skills were also learned: how to character count and mark up typed manuscripts with editorial marks; build traditional key lines with their layers of overlays for different colors; and develop brands with traditional pen and paper. You needed to learn the business of design from the bottom up—from sketching to materials to production. If you didn’t understand how to get your design produced, then your design intent was compromised from the very beginning.

“You needed to learn the business of design from the bottom up—from sketching to materials to production. If you didn’t understand how to get your design produced, then your design intent was compromised from the very beginning.”

These days, the growth of the computer as a tool for designers has streamlined this process while also introducing new mediums such as web and app design. Moreover, desktop publishing with preset templates, fonts with bad kerning (do people even know what that is?), clip art and stock photography have made design tools more readily available. A virtual paint-by-number kit for design. However, these tools do not come with the vision, strategy or training that design requires. Consequently, no matter how sophisticated or accessible our design tools have become, designers will still require a solid understanding of how to generate that creative spark and apply design principles to their discipline. Even if the computer stops working or the power fails, graphic designers can put pen and paper to create and visually communicate.

In some instances, packaging design (or lack thereof) can make or break sales at shelf which is why designers are one of the many partners a brand needs to succeed. Think back to the recession in the early 1980s where food packaging was scaled back to save on costs. Signaling value-based staples, generic designs dominated at shelf with plain white backgrounds, big black typography and very little appetite appeal on pack which resulted in a short-lived trend. Now contrast that with the first time you bought an Apple product: the simple elegance from a visual standpoint; the feel of the package when you held it in your hands; and the excitement of unboxing several layers to get to the product itself. While some would say this is overpackaged, others would argue that opening ceremonies are a crucial component to a brand experience which we see in perfumes, cosmetics and confectionery categories, too. This is not random. Each of these elements is designed and thought through by a designer who understands visuals, finishes and photography to push the buttons of the consumers’ senses.

Millennial online shopping frequency

“As frequent online shoppers, Millennials have high expectations for their eCommerce experiences. Brands will need to make sure they are creating an optimal shopping experience, while leveraging the key elements of eCommerce: convenience, seamless shopping, personalization, and emerging technology. Further, brands will need to also create new content with more regularity to keep Millennials interested and engaged.”

Mintel, Millennials Online Shopping Behaviors—US, 2021

Companies want their products to fly off the shelf, which designers help make happen by pulling consumers in and encouraging their purchases. National brands have led at shelf for years, but private label brands have started knocking on that door. Some may have even pushed ahead because of their elevated designs in certain categories. While the growth of eCommerce may appear to downplay the importance of packaging, online shopping has raised theses stakes even higher. There is much more clutter, choice and distraction when consumers are shopping on their laptops or phones, which makes eye-catching packaging design even more crucial. Moreover, it must still deliver on the opening ceremony and visual appeal once it arrives at the consumer’s door and is held in hand.

Yes, ‘design’ is much more accessible to everyone these days with computers allowing everyone to dabble in design. Moreover, companies like Apple, IKEA, Herman Miller, and Crate and Barrel have brought design to the forefront of the masses. As a result, the consumer is much more aware of a design aesthetic—the beauty of well-designed products. And bottom line, who doesn’t like something beautiful? As we’ve evolved from cave drawings to a hybrid world with both physical and digital mediums, designers of the future will need to keep bringing those “aha” moments to fruition when realizing a brand’s business goals and vision.