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Balancing beauty and environment: judges discuss how packaging design is embracing responsibility

D&AD Awards judges debate difficult questions around packaging design’s relationship with the planet — and what this means for creative work

Dezeen Editor at Large Amy Frearson led this insights session with panellists from the Packaging Design Jury. She was joined by The Studio Creative Director Susanna Nygren Barrett; Design Bridge Chief Creative Officer Emma Follett; Interbrand Executive Creative Director Borja Borrero Torres; and Yard Studio Creative Director Yeonju Yang

They discussed how packaging design needs to adapt to its new responsibilities, what this means for the unboxing phenomenon, and how some of this year’s winners seamlessly blended product and package.

It’s a 360 experience

This year’s winners showed how packaging can create a complete experience. The Studio Creative Director Susanna Nygren chose ShanTianTu’s Music Moon gift box — which plays music or a message from the gifter via Bluetooth — as a standout example of this.

“It was beautifully designed all in white, with sugar cane fibre and beautiful tactility,” she explained. “It was all designed right down to the absolute detail with the typography and the form, so it was really one of those essential form following function pieces.

“It had this multi-level reuse, and at the end of the day everything is biodegradable so in terms of packaging design it really doesn’t get better than this.”

Back to basics can be beautiful

Pensando en Blanco’s packaging design for The Real Organic Pistachio is a reminder that it’s not just about clean lines and geometric sans serifs. Interbrand Executive Creative Director Borja Borrero Torres praised this packaging for adopting a more “primitive” aesthetic that breaks the mould and jumps off the shelf.

“This felt truly different and real —  almost like the texture of the pack could resemble the texture of the actual product,” he said. “It felt like a really organic, stripped down, simplified way of putting it all in a pack that had this sustainable quality to it. It was very direct and true to what the packaging proposition was all about.”

Luxury is evolving

Luxury has traditionally been associated with lavish, over-the-top packaging. However, Yard Studio Creative Director Yeonju Yang believes that the sector is starting to explore a more responsible version of this. 

She chose the COLOURFORM Ruinart Second Skin packaging — champagne bottles wrapped in an eco-friendly form-fitting paper envelope —  as a forerunner, showing how packaging can be minimal in shape, weight, and graphics, but still deliver a premium experience. 

“We’re in a place where we need to completely rethink how we package things, in particular the luxury sector,” said Yang. “We’ve been over-packaging for decades, adding more and more layers with all materials - leather, moulded plastic, fabric —  without being conscious of our choices, and this needs to change now more than ever.”

Great packaging design sparks joy

Although packaging design has to work harder than ever, that doesn’t mean there’s not room for fun —  as shown by the I (Eye) am MIKAN packaging, designed by Maru to promote less-than-perfect oranges. 

“The reason I chose this one was because when I looked at this, it just sparked joy,” said Design Bridge Chief Creative Officer Emma Follett. “It was something I saw from across the room and immediately wanted to pick up.

“There’s such simplicity to it — but at the same time, so much of an engagement and emotional connection with something that is essentially just a cardboard box.”

Packaging designers can’t forget the planet

Questions of responsible, recyclable packaging —  and its carbon impact during transport —  are ever more pressing, and brands and designers will have to reassess things in this light. 

“We’re in the middle of this shift right now, which makes it really exciting,” said Nygren. “Maybe in the past we’ve been looking at design, material, execution, craftsmanship, layers and foils … and I think the pieces we saw this year, if we could say they were immaculately designed and they checked all the criteria, but they didn’t consider sustainability, it was really difficult for the judges to promote that forward, because it’s so essential to everything we do.”

“When we see a design that is a good design from the functional and visual point of view, then we have to consider that if this is damaging the world, is it really a good design?,” agreed Yang. “The definition of good design needs to change.“

This is from our series of Insight Sessions. Watch the first video with the Direction Jury here. More insights from across the creative disciplines will be published throughout the coming weeks.

Production: 90Seconds