Industrial Design: Thinking Outside of the Packaging

Sept. 11, 2008
In a shaky economy, some companies resort to subtleties they hope consumers won’t notice, such as reducing the size of their packaged goods while keeping prices the same.

For example, a manufacturer might reduce a 16-oz box of cereal to 13 oz and camouflage this change with a package redesign.

When it comes to consumer goods, style and innovation in packaging are important, but shelf presence is everything. Hence, in changing a package design, it is important to keep the original feel of the product, especially for legacy brands. Consumers know what products they like. Should packages change too much, shoppers might no longer recognize their favorite brands. They are then all too likely to look around and grab something else.

When making packages smaller, it is important to create as large a print area or decoration as possible. A large area provides enough room to list the required consumer information, while a decoration grabs consumers’ attention. These constraints can make package design difficult. A box must retain a shelf image with diminished dimensions while not becoming unstable. Design a package that is too narrow, and it might easily tip. A problem like this is solved by finding the center of gravity of the filled package and then calculating the box tip angle, which should be about 10° or greater.

Another manufacturer might reduce materials to cut costs. Again, this makes design difficult. For example, design an economy-size laundry detergent bottle that is too lightweight, and consumers might feel as though they are picking up a water balloon. Many consumers base purchasing decisions on the faith a container will hold up, as well as on price. Again, shoppers might never again buy a certain brand of beer if they easily punctured a can of it on the edge of the refrigerator.

Downsizing packages forces the addition of new design elements to ensure packaging integrity. Reducing bottle weight, for instance, might require adding strengthening ribs in panels or side areas. Or a bottle’s shoulder angle might need enlarging so the bottle will withstand shipping top loads. Analysis or test data can provide the best information for a needed shoulder strength. But top load is a typical issue, so most designers do not create bottles with flat shoulders. That’s because the more the shoulder angle, the stronger the bottle.

The good news is that with the demand for package changes, packaging manufacturers might not suffer the effects of our economy in the same way as other companies. And designers who can “think outside the box” will probably feel a little bit more secure in their jobs.

Side ribs add strength to the package as well as add design elements (left). One tactic to reduce weight in a bottle design is to add ribs in the panel area, which helps eliminate panel shrink. The label can be placed over this area (right).

The bottle with more-angled shoulders is better able to withstand top loads than the bottle with flat shoulders.

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