Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A Paean For Packaging

Sometimes what seem like small things in life are actually of larger significance. Think for a moment about what has happened to packaging over the past 50 years.

The variety alone is stunning. Simple stereo boxes filled with specially shaped foam and bubble wrap keep delicate equipment secure across continents. Soup cans pop open with a light pull on a small metal ring. Frozen orange juice containers open with an easy tug on a plastic strip.

Think of the advances in food safety, weight reduction, and more. A simple plastic mayonnaise jar closes with the twist of a perfectly fitting lid. At the same time, eliminating glass has made them lighter to ship and much less likely to break.

The examples and benefits could be multiplied a hundredfold. All this thanks, in large part, due to the ingenuity of a type of engineer who rarely receives any public notice or praise. Not regarded as glamorous, or even notorious, like structural engineers, they nonetheless make our lives immensely better in a thousand ways.

I've found myself in restaurants wanting to shake the hand of and to pay the bill for a returning soldier. If I could so easily identify a package designer, I'd want to do the same.

There are some devils among them, to be sure. Whoever designed those seals on the tops of some CDs deserves jail time. But that was as much a marketing decision by someone with a lack of imagination about theft reduction as anything. One shouldn't blame bullet manufacturers for the scum who use a weapon on the wrong person.

On the whole, though, they deserve all the paeans they almost never receive, except perhaps from their colleagues. (And, knowing corporations as intimately as I regrettably do, not often from them, I'd bet.) It's altogether fitting that the word "paean" was coined to describe a hymn of praise to Apollo, the god of reason.

Package designers, I lift my goblet to your divinity.

1 comment:

Jason_Pappas said...

I’d also take exception with the designers of medicine bottles. I’m the only one in my family that can get the top off. I’m sure it’s the government, either directly or through the threat of superfluous litigation, that has wrought such life-threatening restrictions on access to the pills in a simple medicine bottle.

Still, I like reflecting on the simple inventions that you mentioned. It’s amazing how the market will amplify the desire for innovation to influence the marginal buyer.