Package design is really 3-dimensional graphic design.

It’s a fantastic tool for communication, a quality often underutilized.  One of our favorite clients told us that (in the specific case we were working on) the package was more important in some retail environments than the product - it was the product for all intents and purposes.

Since it’s 3-dimensional, the layouts can be confusing; it’s like those tests you take where they show something folded open and you have to decide what the shape is when it’s assembled, except package design is the reverse of that.  Sometimes it becomes an exercise in spatial orientation and geometry. 

When we did our first package designs for Wilton and Pfaltzgraff, there were no digital cameras, Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop (our Apple 2e had a 28k hard drive, and we have had Macs ever since they existed, but they were limited). A giant photo taken from a scaffold with an 8x10 camera with a flat field lens, had to wrap around the box so there were elements on all sides with spaces for copy.  We knew where all the copy was supposed to go on each panel and made a film for the photographer to paste on the lens back. You can’t see every side of a package at once, and the photographer we we were working with kept arguing with Hope about the layout, which he didn’t like because some things were upside down, and she kept explaining about the 3-dimensional quality of the wrap.  Now, with computers, we can make the panels individually and knit it all together.

Another kind of package we developed was the “suitcase” package for Pfaltzgraff.

This created a billboard effect in stores, and was extremely effective in communicating the message that Pfaltzgraff was the leader in that business.

Unlike the space-conscious bowl package above, the suitcase package was actually larger than it needed to be because it was a communication device. The back of the box became a kind of continuing story.

We’ve always tried to make graphics that tell a story (the most important thing) and have a dynamic flow from panel to panel like the package. Our product matrices, packages and graphics all have the same kind of flow, if we can do it.

Sometimes we make a drawing and then a cardboard maquette, from which a “die line” is made. The graphics, then are positioned within the die line.

The actual layout can be complicated with some elements upside down.  Below are images of a sketch and maquette, and the actual package, a bowl set, which was produced for Williams-Sonoma by iSi.
The challenge here was that: (1) You had to be able to feel and flex the silicone product, (2) Someone couldn’t rip the product out of the package in a store, (3) you had to have enough graphic area to tell the story of the product’s attributes.



One of the key elements in our packaging design success was being able to do the photography ourselves; we had to invest in a lot of equipment, but it was worth it. 

There’s a story behind every package, and we are storytellers.

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