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Why now is the time for packaging design innovation

Packaging Design Jury President Susanna Nygren Barrett on why designers should rise to the challenge of sustainable packaging

Illustration by Lauren Morsley

Susanna Nygren Barrett is an award-winning creative director and co-founder of Stockholm design firm The Studio. She was recently featured in the book Design(h)ers, published by Victionary, featuring female talents in design today. Barrett completed a Masters at Yale Switzerland under Paul Rand and Armin Hoffman and now lectures and holds workshops herself. Here, as told to D&AD, the Jury President talks about the need to roll out circular solutions in packaging while pushing the customer experience forward.

We all recognise the impact of packaging on our environment and know we need to change —  but as a society we are addicted to plastic and have grown to take it for granted. For designers, this is a complex problem that can leave us confused and overwhelmed. But it is also an opportunity for designers to create packaging that delivers sustainable solutions. A new aesthetic is on the horizon and there’s space right now for designers to shape it.

There are plenty of reasons for designers to rise to this challenge: government legislation targeting single use plastics is on the way across the world, and will demand immediate change, and brands that embrace this switch early will be ahead. Customer expectations are also a lot higher now: consumers demand accountability and are critical of brands that exaggerate claims and employ greenwashing tactics. Brands who take responsibility now will be leading the way. Change is always uncomfortable, but creativity, innovation and devotion to our craft can make it a delightful process.

“A new aesthetic is on the horizon and there’s space right now for designers to shape it”

In Scandinavia, our love for nature is an integral part of our culture, it influences our lifestyles and inspires our design. We seek out brands committed to making this change —  IKEA for example has announced they will remove all plastic from consumer packaging from 2028, with an ambition to be net-zero as a company by 2050. On a smaller scale, we have start-ups like Stockholm based soap brand Forgo, which promotes permanence over throwaway culture by selling its product in a powder form to be mixed with water at home in stylish glass bottles. The Bee Loop Honey Pot, which is a zero-waste honey package made from beeswax, honey and string is another good example, with its organic, recyclable, renewable, edible and biodegradable packaging. It was awarded a Yellow Pencil in last year’s D&AD Awards.

Circular design thinking leads to innovations like these. Even if it isn’t a perfect solution, we need to take steps in this direction. As designers, we are in a position to make a difference. We can explore new materials and new ways of thinking, and look beyond our category for inspiration. We can also help influence our clients, challenge conventions, and shape the future of packaging.

“In the digital age, with the decrease of print, this is also one of the last remaining physical channels for graphic designers”

Packaging design is having a moment of reckoning, and the way a product is packaged says a lot about a brand. If a product is over packaged we are disappointed and feel guilty for purchasing it, and if it surprises and delights us, it reaffirms our choice to buy. The unboxing experience has become a phenomenon; packaging is no longer just protection for products or to sell a brand but can also be reused as an interior element for the home, and become a part of our life. As designers, we need to think about these things and rise to the opportunity to create packaging that people will love and care about as much as any other object they bring into their homes.

In the digital age, with the decrease of print, this is also one of the last remaining physical channels for graphic designers. Packaging design has never been more clever, beautiful or well thought out. I am looking forward to leading the jury this year and having some open, honest and tough discussions to find 2022’s best work that nudges this exciting and dynamic category forward.

D&AD Awards 2022 is now open for entries. Submit your work and be part of more.

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