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Why has there been talk recently about improvements in design from both product and packaging perspectives in consumer goods? There are a variety of reasons for the process changes ranging from customers voice’s gaining acknowledgment by companies as well as brands overarching principals. Both product and packaging design have a synergistic role that needs to be examined in greater detail.

Brand strategy or marketing groups drove consumer product design in the past. These departments typically target a specific type of customer. The services area determine the client’s “likes and attributes”. Subsequently, the product team began to formulate designs based on those items; and manufactured after a few iterations and tweaks.

To gain market share or gather additional customers; consumer good companies would make iterative design changes adding or deleting certain features and characteristics to the existing product. Modifications are good from a designer’s perspective, as it provides additional work.

On the flip side; the addition of new features and models gave a larger product line with additional items to be responsible for. In some cases the features and models created excess parts made of different materials or specifications; leading to additional complexities.

In the last 10 years or more, product design methodology has evolved from a “traditional, corporate design thinking” process to more of a universal or modular perspective. Traditional corporate, thinking tends to be based either on the scientific method or a process scheme. This does not always have positive results. It may resolve short term issues, yet may not address the root cause. Where as other design alternatives look beyond present challenges and into the future.

“Universal, inclusive, or modular” is a concept of creating a singular design that works for everybody. Modular design methodology relates to one product that can be divided or transformed into a multiple products using the same parts. Yes, the iterative design process is prevalent, yet does not apply to a myriad of products.

A good example of the emergence in this design approach is the automobile industry. At one time every vehicle line had a varying degree of unique parts including: individual part components, interiors, fasteners, chassis, etc. Over time this has permeated into most competitors using the same components within the automotive industry. The only remaining noticeable items that may have variance between product lines are combustible engine/transmission drive trains, electrical motors/batteries, and body panels.

Using universal design can go beyond humanistic qualities and have dramatic effects from a business perspective. By reducing the number of materials and tooling used, it provides project cost savings and reduction of materials opportunities. The results of universal design are among key beliefs in the LEAN process.

There has been a vast improvement in product design. Can these changes occur in packaging as well? It’s believed so. Packaging is akin to product design with nuances of interchanging the term of customer with either “packaging type or distribution channel”.

The major difference between product and packaging designers is packaging designers are not as valuable. Packaging is an added cost in a majority of business financials. Moreover; package designers have compressed deadlines due to product availability or contractual agreements.

That being said, it is beneficial for companies to consider packaging from the early phases of the product design process. Unfortunately business makes it a last-minute priority because the focus is on product and profits. Product and package designers/engineers can compliment each other by leveraging their talents to resolve product challenges (e.g. do you improve the product or do you let the packaging compensate for the issue?)

As the channels of distribution progressed from strictly brick and mortar model to either a hybrid or e-commerce model, the customer is morphing. Most customers using the e-commerce model are more concerned with the product arriving unscathed and in a timely manner instead of what the package looks like. In regards to packaging; it has to be protective, functional (simplicity of use and opening) as well as using the right sized packaging.

Is it possible for the same format of packaging (e.g. universal/inclusive/modular design) for every type of business channel or packaging type? Yes, but harmonizing these initiatives is not going to be instant and will take time and work. This conflicts with the general nature of people being open to change which is another separate issue.

Overall product and packaging design should be integrated. This type of design creates flow with positive outcomes throughout the entire product life-cycle. Using universal and integration design concepts allow for everyone to be part of the decision making process. Inclusive design prevents introduction of inferior product to market.