To make products stand out on the grocery store shelf, food- and beverage-makers are investing in sustainable packaging that consumers can feel good about purchasing, both for its lower environmental impact and for its attractive, fashion-forward designs. And as packaging becomes almost as important as the product it holds, packaging design has been elevated to an art form. In fact, the visual appeal of a product’s packaging design has been found to influence a consumer’s purchasing decision as much as original preference for a product, according to a study published in the journal Proceedings for the National Academy of Sciences, which used eye-tracking technology to measure visual interaction with four products.
Enter Project Carton, the Fashion Institute of Technology‘s exhibit of gable-top cartons created by students in the school’s packaging design program for a competition sponsored by Evergreen Packaging at FIT in fall 2012. The exhibition, which is on display until Jan. 30, is designed to look like a supermarket, complete with shopping carts, refrigerator cases and pamphlets in the form of sale circulars. The four winning carton designs are on display, as well as videos of students and faculty discussing the project and giant cartons visitors can walk through.
The medium selected for Project Carton was the paper gable-top carton, which offers ample real estate for designers to showcase their work. The grand prize-winning carton, designed by Jennifer Ahern, features a bright blue background with a line drawing of a cow in black and white. Winners were also selected in the categories of juice, milk-substitute and “other” — a design for carton-packed granulated sugar. Each carton features a unique color palate and art style, with designs ranging from graphics based on botanical drawings, such as in the case of winner Samiel Laury’s orange juice carton, to the vintage tin-inspired sugar carton designed by Vanessa Magbanua.
Judges for the competition included a senior packaging engineer for Coca-Cola America, the director of innovation and insight for Mintel and Wal-Mart‘s senior director of packaging. The competition sponsor, Evergreen Packaging, is a global leader in fiber-based packaging solutions and creates cartons using renewable energy.
“Evergreen Packaging sponsored the Project Carton initiative at FIT because we wanted to raise awareness about cartons as a powerful branding tool for premium refrigerated beverages and a great eco-friendly packaging option for consumers,” said Erin Reynolds, marketing director for Evergreen Packaging.
“Gable-top cartons are made from a renewable resource, paper from trees, and they are recyclable for more than 54 million households across the U.S. Paperboard cartons offer designers four billboard panels of vibrant, four-color graphics to tell a story — the FIT students are using that carton real estate to bring their projects and innovative designs to life, much like established consumer brands already do to tell their premium product brand stories.”
Learning to tell the story of a brand is a key component of FIT’s packaging design program, which awarded its first degree in 1981, according to Marianne Klimchuk, FIT’s packaging design chairperson.
In the program, “students are educated on how to develop a research and problem-solving methodology that includes defining and articulating complex, discipline-based marketing assignments that demonstrate the analytical, critical and strategic thinking skills required of a brand and packaging design professional. They are required to demonstrate the ability to create brand and packaging designs that are innovative, attract consumers, establish product differentiation, inform, communicate and facilitate product use and serve as central tools in strategic marketing,” Klimchuk said.
One of the challenges today’s packaging designers face is determining how best to communicate information about the sustainability efforts of the brand and the eco-friendly attributes of the package itself. “In a 2013 EcoFocus Study, consumers indicated that information on the package is the number one way they determine if a brand is eco-friendly,” Reynolds said. “Today’s savvy consumers want to understand the eco-priorities of brands and the benefits of products. Cartons offer the space and high quality graphic reproductions that meet consumer needs.”
Project Carton is on display until Jan. 30 at the streetfront gallery in the Fred P. Pomerantz Art and Design Center at FIT in New York City.