But not Brigitte and Jean Jacques Evrard, the high-profile, multi-award-winning founders of the internationally renowned packaging awards program – the Pentawards. Extremely passionate about packaging design, these French designers – partners both in business and life – have worked in the industry for more than thirty-five years, founding and operating the design packaging agency Carré Noir.

They have now decided to devote themselves to the worldwide promotion of a communication tool to which they have given their lives, packaging. Considering it to be one of the foremost communication tools in global business, they intend to celebrate it and make its significance known to the world.

Brigitte Evrard spoke to Curve about the importance of packaging design as a communication tool for global business.

What inspired you to found the Pentawards?

When we started the awards program, our main objective was to promote the packaging designer’s profession, to improve creativity and to enhance excellence. We thought there was still room for an international competition exclusively devoted to packaging design.

Many other international award programs cover all design disciplines, from advertising to web design – packaging is always at the end of the list. Yet packaging is the main advertising tool of a product. We wanted to give credit to this area of design – from fast-moving goods to luxury items.

In addition to this, it’s an honour for a designer to be recognised and awarded by their peers. Receiving an award contributes to internal team building and helps to strengthen relationships with clients.

The Pentawards’ mission is: ‘The promotion of packaging design with companies, the press, the economic and political authorities and the public in general, throughout the world.’
Is this mission working?

We have always very actively been involved in this field, as we ran a packaging design consultancy for thirty-five years (Carré Noir). Our mission today is already working, as we have found that there is a lot of interest from all types of media related to design. The subject is covered highly in new media as well as in traditional, professional and larger audience press.

We receive many demands from the international press, such as from political authorities, for example. We were invited by the Belgian authorities to hold our next awards ceremony in the Belgo-European Pavilion at the Shanghai 2010 Expo.

We have featured in the economic press as well – not only in regard to issues of sustainability, but also in relation to good design and the increasing role of design. The more you talk about a subject, the more it comes alive, and the more it becomes essential.

Remarkably, every year we see more and more brand owners participating in the Pentawards. Companies such as Coca-Cola, Henkel, P&G and Danone are looking for recognition of their design work.

And thanks to the international publisher Taschen – who will publish the first Pentawards book this year – the word will be spread to a larger audience through bookstores around the world.

This is very important, as until now, books about packaging were only to be found in specialised bookstores or the back shelves of general bookstores.

Do you feel that there is a misunderstanding of packaging design today or lack of recognition?

Most people do not realise that when they buy packaged goods that there is a huge amount of work behind it, from designers to packaging producers. Consumers are used to buying packaged products and are, in fact, very sensitive to good design – so it’s not that they are not noticing, rather, it’s just a lack of recognition.

Perhaps the main reason for this is that it seems obvious to wrap or pack a product, as the days of buying fruit from a market and having it wrapped in newspapers to take home are over in our industrialised civilisation, so people don’t necessarily pay attention to the detail of the packaging. The advent of supermarkets has played a major role in this transformation of the way we purchase items.

Packaging design is still relatively unknown – we would like to help it to become as recognised as car design, fashion design and architectural design.

What are the best ways to help people understand packaging design?

Packaging is mostly seen as a practical accoutrement, produced for protection, hygiene, transportation, etc. And in addition to this – and this is the weakest point – it gets discarded directly into the bin and creates waste.

Packaging is much more than that – it’s part of one of the largest industries in the world today, creates a lot of work opportunities and helps to better sell products. It also offers fun and joy to the consumer. Economically speaking, it plays a huge role.

Creativity and innovation in packaging can help businesses, and people in general, to better understand the importance of packaging design.

How long have the Pentawards been running for now? What are your future plans for the awards program? For example, an expansion of categories, travelling exhibitions, etc.

The Pentawards are in their fourth edition this year, increasing the number of entries every year. We plan to continue the program, adding new categories based on the type of entries we receive.

For example, last year we saw more and more luxury boxes entering (wine and champagne chill boxes or canisters), so we created a special category for them, as it was unequally competing with wine bottles and labels. Our objective is to present the opportunity, as well as more visibility, to any category of packaging in every market segment.

We will continue to travel around the world, holding the award ceremony in a different country every year. The Pentawards exhibition will also travel, as it has been very successful up to now in Paris, Monaco and Shanghai.

What are the highlights of running the program for you so far?

The highlight is in seeing the best packaging worldwide competing for a Pentaward. It is very exciting to watch all the entries coming in every year, to compare the different cultures, to watch new trends and to see new designs for different consumption needs.

Year after year, the quality of the works presented is increasing. It is also very exciting to receive the votes and quotes of our highly professional and international jury.

What are some of the latest new technologies that are becoming popular with designers, their clients and consumers?

The Pentawards jury judge on creativity, not on materials, but in terms of technology, more and more popular are the sleeved bottles or containers. The technology and printing techniques have now reached perfection. Designers love to work with this material as it allows them to make great creative design work, applicable to any type of product in any category.

With closure systems, the one and only country taking this seriously is Japan, where every pack is really easy to open and easy to close after use, and is light and effective at all times. No other country is capable of such excellence in convenient and customer-friendly packaging.

What categories of packaging do you see flourishing and which ones are diminishing?

From what we’ve seen, I would say that traditional packaging materials are still very much the favourite, yet with lighter densities. For example, plastic bottles or glass containers with reduced weight. And less mixed materials are used, with a preference for mono-material packaging being apparent.

The beverage sector is still the one where most innovation is to be discovered, where we find new ideas in terms of shapes and materials, but also in product innovations. Especially in the wine and spirits industry. Waters are also still inventing new ways of selling.

In addition to this, we are observing an increasing growth of limited editions throughout all categories, snacks and savouries, wines, champagne and perfumes, etc. This enables brands to search for new routes, which are sometimes very creative and out of the box, because limited series are short-term items. Almost everything is permitted.

On the other side, we do not see real creativity in the fast-moving goods such as general food or home amenities, unless they in niche markets.

What pressures and challenges are influencing packaging design the most at the moment?

First of all, probably price pressure. Costs have to be cut down in order to increase the benefits to the companies and that’s damaging for the industry (and for the customer, as quality is suffering; what we are discovering on the shelves is quite disappointing) all products look the same and imagination is totally absent because companies don’t want to risk a different look. Therefore, creativity is constantly requested in order to do more with less.

Second, the sustainability era is influencing the way packaging is perceived from a consumer’s point of view. Luckily, a large majority of packaging manufacturers have already positively reacted, proposing effective and visible sustainable packaging solutions.

What new trends are you seeing in product graphics and branding?

The ‘Less is more’ motto of Mies Van der Rohe in the 1930s is influencing trends today. Good design expresses good ideas with a few words, with exceptional shapes or innovative concepts. For example, the Kleenex ‘Slice of summer’ boxes, Udon Noodle packaging and the summer can design from Coke.

Emotional packaging is also very trendy: labels with a sense of humour, telling a story. Even for basic products such as bread or milk, packaging tends to create new complicity with consumers. Good examples are ear buds, using direct street language to communicate to their target group, or the Greek Petrocoll concrete bags using beautiful (non-provocative) ladies to catch the eye of construction workers.

Packaging design is the reflection of the socio-economic level of a country. It is very interesting to see how some countries are rapidly evolving in this area, and how some very evolved countries are getting more and more sophisticated.

Are there small design firms and manufacturers doing innovative work in the FMCG category?

Small design firms are often more creative, as they often dare to search much further than the bigger ones. The risks taken are less important. Manufacturers will be creative from a technical point of view, inventing new materials, such as lighter, more recyclable, etc.

The most creative brands are often distributor’s brands. They do not copy major brands, as they did years ago, but tend to differentiate as much as possible, and so are more creative. Waitrose or Marks & Spencer in the UK are both very good examples of creativity and modernity.

What are the biggest environmental and sustainability issues facing packaging designers, clients and manufacturers at the moment?

The big issue about recycling packaging comes first from the authorities who set up effective organisations to collect, recycle and transform packaging materials. As long as this is not effective or does not work properly, any effort to make sustainable packaging will be lost. Consumers, on the other hand, are conscious about recycling and most of them recycle.

But, still, in many countries around the world this is not happening – it’s a question of education and of political goodwill.

Designers and manufacturers are aware of the problem, and they made a lot of changes in the past years and are still doing so today, but they cannot change all habits. Packaging cannot be seen as the only cause of pollution of our planet, and some solutions are already working well.

Can you give some inspiring examples of sustainable packaging design?

Today, most packaging components made from cardboard, aluminium, steel, polypropylene and polyethylene terephthalate are recycled, reused or transformed into new raw materials for the packaging industry or even for the construction industry. The packaging industry has done a lot to contribute to a better environment and is today the best in its class.  

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