Bachelor Graphic Design Thesis by Sean Valies
2017, Royal Academy of Art, The Hague

The potential future of packaging

Will packaging retain its current form, despite digital evolution and the rapid improvement of technology, and if it does, what might change?



My name is Sean Valies and I study graphic design at the Royal Academy of Arts in The Hague, Netherlands. Packaging that serves as a layer with multiple purposes has always fascinated me. For example: a protective layer that becomes one with its product, like the banana. When designing I believe these layers need just as much attention as the product itself.


When I analyze my work as a graphic designer, I notice that I put a lot of effort into including the use of these layers in the presentation of my projects with the objective of presenting my project/concept in the most fitting way possible. While gaining experience with packaging design during my last internship at VBAT I became interested in a new age of packaging. Hence I chose to write my thesis about its potential future. This thesis is written in the graduation year 2016-2017.


In a world where everything is in a constant state of flux, from the way you brush your teeth to the fastenings on your shoes, product packaging has stayed more or less the same. Sure, the way of presenting food has become a bit more fancy, and food comes packaged in marginally more environmentally friendly materials.


But on the whole, product packaging has been left far behind the crowd in terms of progressing with the current digital evolution. With advances in mobile computing, 3D printing, and other technology explained in chapter 2, we are at the point where digital experiences may spark evolution in product packaging, which could ultimately change the way we purchase, sell, perceive, and consume.


This thesis investigates the potential changes that might happen to packaging in the future. In order to get a better understanding of how packaging works I analyzed main functions and signals, which I categorize as foreign, structural, basic and transactional. To know what might happen in the future, I analyzed the current state of packaging and what innovations took place while writing this thesis. Each chapter investigates a different aspect of packaging in order to reach a conclusion.


Chapter 1 describes the fundamentals of packaging. Defining the word ‘packaging’ and ‘packaging design’ serves as a good general understanding of the word. Describing the anatomy makes for a better understanding of the information system. To get a better understanding of what packaging does to us mentally, I analyze how it influences our perception of a product by linking a simple buying decision in a super market to the classical conditioning theory of Ian Pavlov. Chapter 2 lays the foundation of historic developments in packaging. A short summary of the history of packaging is provided to convey how packaging evolved, followed by a description of how advances in technology in the past few decades have significantly transformed consumer behavior and thus their expectations.


Chapter 3 focuses on how packaging is shaping the behavior of consumers and how consumers, in turn, are influencing the development of packaging. This is followed by a description of cases of historic developments in package development, together with cases that show the importance of brand identity. The chapter concludes with a review of a museum visit which included a packaging history in Japan. In Chapter 4, a series of utopias based on current and future developments as well as current consumer behavior are imagined. The conclusion, based on my findings during the writing of this thesis answers the question: “Will packaging retain its current form, despite digital evolution and the rapid improvement of technology, and if it does, what might change?”


‘The work that I have submitted is entirely my own. Any work from other authors, designers, or creators is duly referenced and acknowledged.’


Chapter 1: Understanding Packaging.


The literal definition of packaging is the technology of enclosing or protecting products for distribution, storage, sale, and use. We can describe this as a coordinated system of preparing goods for transport, warehousing, logistics, sale, and end use. Simply put, packaging design is the discipline of creating the container, graphics and visible outer presence of a product a consumer buys at retail or might receive in the mail.


This container can vary from a simple bottle and label on a comprehensive system box, to boxes and inner packaging. The discipline of the packaging design focuses on the production of a container that will stand out. By skillfully teaming colorful graphics, a unique form or another eye-arresting method, the package designer is a key player in any business marketing effort. No matter how beneficial the product in the container might be, unless a consumer decides to get it, that the product will never be tested. 1


1 Allen Rabinowitz, Package Design


The Anatomy.
Packaging is like a silent salesman for a product. In a supermarket, on the shelf, we as consumers look at the product through its packaging and begin to form perceptions about its quality and its value to us. When successful, packaging emotionally appeals to its target audience and allows them to imagine what they can do with the product. If successful, these emotions often convert into a decision to purchase, which is the main goal. I have come to understand that product packaging is carefully and precisely designed to go beyond its emotional appeal and to serve important functions critical to ensuring that the product delivers a great experience before purchase.


Some of the key functions are to protect, contain, preserve, communicate, promote and transact. The product is protected from physical damages caused from shock, vibration or compression during transportation, contained for efficiency, and, depending upon the amount of distribution and consumption, preserved to extend the life of the product by preventing contamination from things such as air and bacteria. Packaging design is further used to communicate the brand or product on display, promote, draw attention and influence purchase decisions. And finally, this transaction allows buying and selling possibilities that can easily integrate with various systems. 2


In a supermarket, on a product, a number of signals come together to provide you with a proposition that affects your perception of the product’s quality and influences your decision. These signals are classified into four categories. To explain these four signals, I use a tea, as an example which is easy to relate to. The brand of tea used as an example in this case is “Pickwick’s Tropical Fruit” tea.


Foreign signals: These signals directly affect your trust and are probably the most influential part of your perception. If you can relate to Pickwick as a brand, you are more likely to relate with its products as well.
This includes:
Pickwick’s Brand Identity (its name, trademark, communication, and visual appearance that allows you to recognize the brand).
Product name (in this case being “Tropical Fruit” to let you associate a meaning to the product). Product Message (photography of fruit, water elements, symbols, illustrations, typography). Place of Origin (in this case the text on the side which contains its cultural associations, and the assumptions of the product quality).


Structural signals: These signals are the physical characteristics of the product that you react to before consciously processing information about the product. The pink color of this packaging instantaneously evokes a response and conveys a meaning or message without words. The geometric box defining the form of its product or container which suggests potential use of the product. Material elements that define the surface can evoke your emotional response of the anticipated product experience.


Basic signals:These signals determine the essential properties of the product to inform you to understand their purposes.
Instructions (how you use the product).
Ingredients (all the components and substances that this tea is made from). Shelf-life (the period for which this tea is good to be consumed).
Volume (quantity, in this case being 20 tea bags within one container).


Transactional signals:These signals provide you with information that helps you make your purchase decision.
This includes:
The price, which enables you to assess the value of the tea (is it worth it?),
Promotion (2 for the price of 1) and the well known Barcode which is a universal product code that allows retailers to access information to complete transactions. 3


3 Boundless, “Developing a Brand, 20 Sep. 2016.


Although the science probably goes far beyond just these four signals I’ve mentioned, you can already understand that packaging design is an amazing system of design that almost instantly delivers an experience and is designed to get your reaction.


The Psychology.

‘Consumer buying behavior can be defined as a series of activities people engage in when searching, evaluating, selecting, purchasing, using and disposing of products and services so as to satisfy their needs and desires.’ 4


4 Consumer Behaviors and Target Audience Decisions, Integrated Marketing Communications, chapter 3


In a store, the packaging acts as a gateway to a product. You look at a product through its packaging and react to how it makes you feel at that moment. If you feel the product can satisfy your needs, it influences your buying behavior. This ‘feeling’ is a result of choices made across numerous stages. By analyzing buying behavior in detail, I can highlight the role of packaging throughout it. The typical buying behavior can be analyzed based on Ian Pavlov’s conditioning theory. 5


5 Stimulus-response theory, Purdue University Psychology Class Notes.


We can see the consumer as a subject who gets exposed to a product on the shelf in its packaging, as the stimuli. The stimuli in this case have been carefully designed to affect our responses and achieve desired consumer behavior. The packaging is a direct influence on our perception of the product. Perceived value may be seen as an “overall assessment of the utility of a product based on perceptions of what they receive (quality) versus what they give (price)”. 6


6 Perceived value, Consumer Perceptions of Price, Quality and Value: A Means-End Model and Synthesis Evidence; by Valarie A Zeithaml, 1988.


Making a decision to buy a product makes us as customers go through various mental stages before we make a choice. Whenever we identify a need, we begin to actively look around and take in information; based on what is presented during these stages, we form an attitude towards a certain product. Finally, after a selection is made, and we decide to buy, we continue to evaluate this decision, while enjoying the product experience.


However, often we get input from our family, friends, colleagues, reviews on online forums, and several other sources. Each of these inputs serve as a signal that affects our attitude and perception towards the product. But filtering information to find the right signals is difficult and it is even harder to retain this information, so when exposed to conflicting signals, consumers can get confused and will tend to show impulsive buying behavior. Under such circumstances, they rely on the product packaging to provide multiple signals, as discussed in chapter one, which enables them to skip through several decision making stages. 7


7 Supermarket purchase trends, 2014


Is the price of this tea worth it? Any consumer directly links price with quality. Most of us consumers expect products with a high price to offer a higher quality experience over others that are cheaper. During the decision-making process we unconsciously search for signals to validate our own expectations, and when validation and available signals indicate a better quality, we often create emotional ties based on a specific design choice.


Our involvement is influenced by our personal, psychological, and social contexts, hence the extent of our pursuit can’t be determined, but our willingness to engage is certain. When the price of a tea brand is low, we tend to take impulsive decisions. This explains why over 70% of purchases in supermarkets are unplanned. Although we appear to skip most stages during impulsive buying, psychologically we are responding to the instinctive signals from product packaging and in many cases, are making instant judgments about product quality. The importance of these signals in shaping purchase decisions can be assumed from the fact that every 9 out of 10 consumers prefer in-store product purchase when 5 of the 10 of them have already researched a product online. 8


8 Statistics on ROPO effect, White Paper, December 2011.


The reason for exploring the psychology behind packaging design is to better understand how we as graphic designers can use interactive digital tools to create more value for consumers.
This analysis leads us to two very important conclusions:

1. Packaging is the gateway to product perceptions.

2. Digital tools and improved technology can make it exciting by adding additional layers of information that create more signals in a product.


Chapter 2: Historic developments.


A short history
We won’t ever know for sure, but it seems logical that ages ago food was made and consumed at the spot. So there was no need for packaging at that time. As we grew and evolved, the need to protect, transport and hold food was probably important. The earliest forms of packaging would have been containers made of natural materials such as tree leaves, bamboo and animal skin. Materials like these are often still in use in both developed and underdeveloped countries, a good example being the Japanese tea baskets made out of straw and clay. The use of new materials must have started with the the discovery of minerals and chemicals.


The beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the mid-19th Century started with the use of engines and both created and facilitated demands for more production. A remarkable number of packaging innovations such as molten glass, cardboard boxes, metal cans and cellophane where all created during WWI.9


9 Erik Sass, Technological Advancements of World War I, August 2016


The rise of the supermarket culture dramatically changed distribution and consumption worldwide. This behavior of “self-service” called for packaging to take on the role of a silent salesman, as explained in the first chapter. Fast forward to the 20th and the 21st century, with the rise of digital technology. Companies have become global, and grow rapidly each day. With absolutely no competition, packaging is the way to sell and present products on the shelf. But as much as it has become essential for companies, it is also recognized as a threat to the environment, through plastic pollution.


Digital Rise
Digital printing technologies, coupled with innovative transactional capabilities have provided an unprecedented speed in producing packaging. While the growing fascination with plastics lead to innovation in packaging shapes and materials, it meant other materials like paper and glass found themselves limited in their use of packaging.


This widespread adoption of plastics paved way for use-and-throw behavior, and non-decomposable packaging waste became the primary part of land filled with garbage as a result. Finding sustainable materials and optimizing waste became a main priority, heavily influencing package design. Now, it is almost necessary to reduce the amount of packaging for products not just for its financial benefits, but for the emotional connection it offers to consumers in  making them feel good about their choice.


As far as I can remember, barcodes existed before I was born, and are the universal way of purchasing a product. The oldest commercial U.P.C. scanner I came across during my research was said to be installed in 1974 at a supermarket in America, in the state of Ohio. The first product to have a bar code included on its packaging was a pack of gum made by a company named Wrigley’s. Fast forward to today, and barcodes have become the standard checkout processing and have revolutionized retailing. While barcodes made big chain supermarkets more convenient, they also hastened the demise of public markets and independent supermarkets. 10


10 History of the Supermarket Barcode, Peter Smith, July 2011


In the early 1980s, Adobe, Aldus, Apple, and Hewlett-Packard each produced key technologies that allowed professional desktop publishing to overtake package printing. Owing to the benefits of identical and easy duplication, digital printing presses started to take over traditional printing methods by late 1980s. With the introduction of the iPhone in 2007, smartphones rapidly grew to become a major force and became part of consumer’s shopping behavior. Now consumers use their devices to get product information, compare options and deals, and also to place orders and track post-purchase behaviors.


Now consumers use their devices to get product information, compare options and deals, and also to place orders and track post-purchase behaviors. The explosion of ‘experience’ happened after Steve Jobs released the iPhone in 2007. It became an instant hit and in a few years consumers started expecting more and more from all kinds of products. The interaction of your mobile phone with packaging in the supermarket is already exciting. A package of tea could have a QR code on its package which allows you to connect it interactively with your mobile phone.


During BNO’s Super Fast #3 12 There was a presentation given by Leonie van Tienen. The presentation included her research in offline and online packaging. Van Tienen started with the research question: “Which packaging design elements have an effect on the purchase intention of shoppers in an online retail environment?”. By researching different aspects of this subject (color attractiveness, packaging shape, size of the brand name and quantity size) she was able to come to a conclusion. She did her measurable research working with an online survey. Van Tienen came to the conclusion that color coding online was of main importance, and product form has a lesser impact online. However, interesting the research might have been, Van Tienen only did this research using images of produced packaging. If an offline product where to be translated online, one could argue that a digital design would improve the results of interaction, hence influencing a purchase intention.


12 BNO NEXTpack: Superfast 2016, Natlab (The Netherlands, Eindhoven), October 2016


Everything is rapidly changing, from the way you brush your teeth to the fastenings of your shoes, food packaging has stayed more or less the same. Tea boxes might have gotten a bit fancier and pricey organic tea comes in marginally more environmentally friendly materials now (less packaging), but on the whole food has been left far behind the crowd in terms of progression within this digital rise. And so our buying behavior more or less stays the same. In the next chapter I aim to discuss the potential change digital packaging might bring. What are our utopias and what is it that we actually want? And what might be the consequences of these changes?


Research continues not just to find new materials, but also to find the best sustainable solutions. In just the last few decades, advances in personal computing and mobile devices have significantly transformed consumer behavior, and thus their expectations. With access to unlimited information at every time and everywhere, we value engaging experiences. Since the creation and use of barcodes, many digital technologies have continually been tested to improve experiences.


With the rise of the infinite “Internet of Things” 13 , together with advances in mobile computing, RFID 14 , AR 15 and Biosensors 16, we are at the point where digital experiences may position product packaging as an Emotional Selling Point. 17


13 Internet of things, a proposed development of the Internet in which everyday objects have network connectivity, allowing them to send and receive data.


14 RFID, Radio-frequency identification, the use of electromagnetic fields to automatically identify and track tags attached to objects


15 AR, Augmented reality, a live direct or indirect view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data.


This chapter of historical developments within packaging show a lot of patterns across the decades. To better understand these patterns, in the next chapter, I dive deeper into specific innovations that helped shaped packaging as it is now. It is interesting to see how the innovations, while trying to please the consumer needs, have often helped shape consumer behavior too.


Chapter 3: Historic developments.


"Caveat emptor"18 became a popular phrase once products were being faked and sold to uninformed customers. Original manufacturers began to mark their product with their identification to alert potential buyers. However, this was not sufficient, so manufacturers turned to using packaging in innovative ways to establish their brand identity.


16 Biosensor, an analytical device, used for the detection of a substance, that combines a biological component with a physicochemical detector.


An example of this is the biscuit package by a brand called ‘Uneeda’. I found that this is often referred to as the birth of consumer packages for its widespread distribution and the effects that their folding cartons have had on businesses ever since. Apparently in 1896, 1 million US dollars was invested in creating a brand identity for 'Uneeda Biscuits' to take over its rival ‘Cracker Jacks’. The biscuits were wrapped in waxed paper within a paper carton, and a brand printed wrap characterized by a boy in a raincoat, to emphasize the moisture barrier provided by the waxed paper. The carton packaging also represented the power of brand advertising that relied on packaging as a sales tool tied to an easily recognizable identity advertised in magazines, and on billboards.


A shape can be an Identity. We all know Coca Cola, its icon logo and the bottle shape. It is one of the most recognizable images in the world today. Their brand developed through time and through multiple variations of shapes. The very first unique bottle design by Coca Cola was said to been introduced in 1916. In early 1900s the company found that the regular straight bottle being used at the time wasn't distinctive enough and that it was easily becoming confused with ‘copycat’ brands. Thus they approached glass manufacturers to come up with a unique bottle design, which was approved in 1915. The new bottle shape was the beginning of a unique branded bottle shape we came to know and still trust today. 19


19 Coca Cola shape history, Coca-Cola company,


An interesting term I stumbled upon while researching historical developments in packaging was ‘dual use’. Dual use was the first sign of intentional designed multi-functioning packaging. The example that is given of ‘dual use’ is of a tobacco tin by the name ‘Dixie Queens’ made in the late 1800s. Tobacco back then came in big metal tins and this was the first one that was designed to be re-usable. It has two handles and a nice lithographed design pattern to resemble a picnic basket so the consumer could use it as a basket after use. One could argue that this was the beginning of multi-functioning within packaging design.


You can now print on anything. Most packaging used typographic treatments to create a visual identity. Due to limitations of letterpress printing, product packaging could only be embraced with illustrative painted imagery to define the contents, which was not truly an interpretation or an honest impression of the product’s content. It was after the invention of aniline printing technology that packaging materials afforded visual information with a higher degree of precision, reproducing impressions of actual reality. The aniline printing used dye on rubber blocks and the technique allowed printing on any kind of substrate including boards, milk cartons, paper bags, folding cartons and metallic films. This technique is now known as Flexography 20, and is the default for package printing. An example of this method in use is the plastic bottles or metal cans of most ice tea products.


20 Flexography, a form of printing process which utilizes a flexible plate


Everything has become convenient. ‘Swanson’21introduced TV Dinners that offered busy people the conveniences of pre-made food requiring minimal preparation. The original tray was made of aluminum, cut into three neat compartments for frozen products. The frozen dinners can be heated in an oven and are easily digestible. Even now pre-made food is still a trend and is being sold in our beloved Albert Heijn. The boiling of water for your tea is also becoming more convenient as we speak. In modern-day society, a water boil is not even needed anymore. The invention of having instant boiled clean tap water is something that is currently trending in the Netherlands.


21 Swanson, a brand of TV dinners, broths, and canned poultry made for the North American market.


Japanese packaging is one of the front-runners of innovative packaging design. To know more about their way of working I visited “Too pretty to throw away”, an exhibition at Sieboldhuis. 22


22 Te mooi om weg te gooien, Japan museum SieboldHuis (Netherlands, Leiden), June 10, August 20, 2016


As a self proclaimed “Japanese graphic design fan” the exhibition in Leiden was a must-visit. “Too pretty to throw away” had an interesting premise: The show questions the general assumption that modern day Japanese packaging is rooted in pre-modern Japanese artistic traditions. The Japanese packaging industry cleverly taps into the artistic traditions of the past and creatively merges them with the diversity of the present. This is achieved through retro designs, which add an exclusive and nostalgic appeal to the products they decorate. Japan is a country of inspiring opposites: old traditions versus high tech modern culture, pure minimalism versus intricate decorative styles, all could be found at this exhibition.


The show was divided into three parts: the first revolves around the older artistic traditions, the second part “The Alchemy of Everyday”, and the last one explains how to interpret the layers of embellishment. When I entered the exhibition on the top floor, the dimly lit room welcomed you with a mix of 19th Century pieces on loan from Museum Volkenkunde (National Museum of Ethnology, Leiden). There were lots of sake bottles, some ceramics, stationery sets, woodblock prints and even a portable picnic set. The second part showed the influence of foreign technology. Reusable items such as ceramics are replaced by disposable glass and plastics. For example, the Ozeki One Cup sake is a modern design classic that can be found in vending machines and “konbini” (convenient stores) around Japan. Its introduction in 1964 changed the way people consumed rice wine, as it was now available smaller bottle sizes, making it more convenient for parties, picnics or on trains.


The selection “The alchemy of everyday” carried a great amount of award winning packaging design courtesy of JPDA (Japan Package Design Association), including beautiful Onigiri (rice ball) packs for Lawson, well considered shampoo bottle designs for Shiseido and very Japanese, minimalistic Warew cosmetics range. The final space was reserved for the craft and consideration that goes into giving presents. Stores cater to this tradition, which make up a fair share of the nations economy. Presentation is key when it comes to gifts. When you buy a gift in shop in Japan they wrap it in such a beautiful way and at least double-bag it. All these layers of paper, ribbons, cords, even the paper bag make it become quite ceremonial. The added embellishments emphasize the intention of the gift giver towards its receiver.


It was quite remarkable to see that Mitsukoshi’s wrapping paper looks brand new, but turns out to be from 1950. The same thing can be said about the magazine cover illustrations by Hisui Sugiura from 1913–1914, that wouldn’t look out of place today. Hisui Sugiura, seen as the pioneer of modern Japanese graphic design, was responsible for the Mitsukoshi identity between 1910 and 1934. This visit made me realize that it is important to know the history of products in order to know what the future might bring.


Chapter 4: Packaging design utopias


During BNO’s Super Fast 2016 there was a presentation given by Graham Sturt (Creative Director at VBAT 23 ). Graham talked about the potential future of packaging. According to Graham, the next generation (generation Y&Z), more specifically the millennials , will determine the future of product packaging design; the mindset of a newer generation being a direct response to what is happening at this moment. This theory is interesting as it allows me to create several utopias based on the wishes and mindset of millenials 24 together with innovations that are popular as of writing this thesis.


23 VBAT, an internationally focused Branding and Design agency, based in Amsterdam.


24 Millennials, also known as Generation Y are the demographic following Generation X There are no precise dates for when this cohort starts or ends, ranging from the mid-1990s to early-2000s


The upcoming generation of millennials is talking openly on social media (whether on Facebook, YouTube, or with friends, parents, and colleagues) about the struggles of being an adult. The result is a wave of cultural discussion around “adulting” and a surge of behavior that rebels against that very notion: “kidulting.”25 Unafraid to cut loose and stepping away from adult responsibilities, millennial consumers are looking for fun-focused experiences from childhood, and brands are taking notice. There is already enough proof of this notion; Camp Grounded (a summer camp for adults) brings the joys of summer camp back to adults 26 ; Nintendo has reintroduced its classic NES console with all the old nostalgic games of the 90s 27 ; Netflix has revived cult TV shows like Full House and Gilmore Girls. 28


25 Word I made up, stepping away from adult responsibilities.


26 Camp Grounded, Ellen Huet, People Pay $570 To Have Their Smartphones Taken Away From Them, June 2014


27 Nintendo NES Mini sells out immediately, Tim Villasor, November 2016


28 'Gilmore Girls' Revival Appears to Be a Huge Ratings Hit for Netflix, Michael O'Connell, December 2016


In terms of graphic design, we could see more and more tea packaging design using this notion: for example reusing the ancient Chinese way of presenting tea in wooden cups. Turning back to earthly materials within packaging might become the next utopia. Tomorrow Machine (Swedish product design studio) is already working towards this idea. Their ideas are so innovative that it’s almost difficult to believe they’re real. Tomorrow Machine created packaging which dissolves just as the food it contains, plant pots that eliminate the need for watering, self-cleaning plates that actually work, and food packaging that opens in the oven when the food inside it is ready to eat.


By using a meticulous understanding of science, a desire for sustainability and an equally impressive aesthetic, this might be the next way of designing. As people seek personal enrichment beyond the worlds of work, social media, and city life, an overwhelming number are escaping to the great outdoors with apps like AllTrails29 that make the world more accessible. We can expect to see more companies connect their strategic bottom line to doing good for the environment. Companies such as Tentree and Tinlid have already taken note, planting trees for every product they sell.


29Alltrails, an outdoor traveling guide application


Phygital.30 AR and VR are crossing the digital boundary and becoming a physical experience. With the success of Pokémon Go, we can assume that more brands will merge offline with online, creating packaging that puts virtual experiences into the real world by, for example, looking through your mobile phone. Home improvement, furniture, and fashion brands will all capitalize on this technology to give shoppers a preview of how their purchases will look in real life. Imagine a brand of tea that tells the story of how it was made with moving visuals through an augmented reality.


30 Word I made up. The merge of physical and digital.


Virtual reality will then even go beyond the consumer. Areas like healthcare, manufacturing, education, and even law will use VR to make more informed choices and increase efficiency. Manufacturing companies will use VR to understand their supply stream, remotely walking through a factory to visualize costs and pain points.


Chatbots will rule. Companies will use the convergence of messaging platforms, chatbots, and increasingly powerful AI across industries to create friendly interactions between man and machine. Instead of a logo and a website, the tone and personality of the bot will create the designed brand experience. MasterCard recently launched Kai, a bot for banks. I could easily see corporations using this method to sell their product by giving information through the use of chatbots. I can easily see the possibility of a chatbot with whom you can interact asking, “What is the best way to preserve my used tea bag?”


Mood-based design. The world’s leading brands and small businesses will connect with consumers in new ways by creating customized in-store experiences using elements like music, scent, digital signage, and even pathways through the store. Abercrombie & Fitch recently changed its music, upped its lighting, reduced its scent, and de-cluttered its stores to meet customer preferences. Brands will look to make mood marketing an art form, triggering positive responses and creating unique buying experiences for their target audiences.


Minimal design will stay. Young urban creatives are influencing packaging design more and more. But for this 20-something city dweller, less might actually be more again with brands adapting to fit their style. Whether it’s packaging, colors, graphics, or logos, simple might just get even simpler. The brand ‘Kashi’ recently redesigned its packaging using a very minimal color palette and design to counter-act the already busy visuals in the store. In a chaotic, technologically advanced world, easy-to-find packaging with clear messaging will help customers make decisions and find relief from busy shelves.


Food will be all about balance. Consumers won’t be afraid of the occasional indulgence while still focusing on maintaining healthy baselines. McDonald’s tapped into this with the Mac Jr., and Mars Foods has labeled some of its items as fit only for ‘occasional’ consumption.


One of the biggest challenges for coming years is the shortage of food and water due to the growing global population and rising prosperity. The extreme weather conditions caused by climate change make harvests changeable and unpredictable. Packaging plays a crucial role in preventing food waste. Food is transported over long distances and must stay fresh longer than previously. A new generation of RFID makes it possible to monitor the quality of primary products in real time. Packaging also contributes to the efficient use of food. The online economy has changed the role of packaging. Seducing consumers and providing product information happens online. The aesthetics of the packaging only plays a role once the customer unpacks the delivered product.


Only local products. In the local economy, the emphasis is on recycling. Waste is processed locally as much as possible, for example by composting. Packaging is either reusable or biodegradable. Because packaging has the reputation of being wasteful, many producers avoid using it. Supermarkets have switched to ‘self-dispensing’ and electronics are delivered in special cases that are then taken away again by the manufacturer. Innovation in materials is mainly focused on adapting various raw materials for use as packaging that is afterwards biodegradable. Use of materials is highly dependent on local availability, with big variations between regions.


The European circular economy is a reality. Packaging has much the same function as before. However, in design much more account is taken of reuse and recyclability. Such designs do not always match neatly with consumer perceptions. The use of ‘single material' packaging is standard. The lease economy has significantly reduced the use of packaging. Thanks to modular-based products, components can be easily reused. The availability of almost-free electricity means food can be frozen immediately after production and kept frozen until the moment of consumption, making the use of protective packaging largely superfluous. 31


31 Kennisinstituut Duurzaam Verpakken, Packaging in 2040


The breakthrough of the 3D printer has fundamentally changed supply chains. Consumers have become ‘prosumers’, and production takes place on a very small scale in, or close, to people's homes. Transportation is limited to the transport of raw materials for the 3D printer. Food is partly printed and partly grown by people themselves in climate-controlled mini-greenhouses. Thanks to technology, households are almost totally self-sufficient. Packaging is hardly necessary. In this scenario, the 3D printer becomes a metaphor for 'disruptive technology', which also includes the ‘smart computer’ and 'self-steering car’.




The starting point of this thesis was a personal fascination of mine, and my curiosity towards the potential future of packaging. Through this research I came to know about de numerous innovations thru the years that played an important role in how we use packaging today. I also learned about how product packaging influences our way of perceiving, as well as innovation excising out of consumer need. From the inventions of now fundamental materials such as glass, paper and metal to more recent inventions such as 3D printing, it is definite that every big revolution in packaging changes the way we consume and reflects on our society.


I also learned about how product packaging influences our way of perceiving, as well as innovation rising out of consumer needs. From the inventions of now fundamental materials such as glass, paper and metal to more recent inventions, it is definite that every big revolution in packaging changes the way we consume and reflect on our society.


The utopias described in my research show multiple possibilities of which direction packaging might head towards. AR, VR, Chatbots, RFID, 3D printing and Bio sensors are all inventions that can be applied to packaging in order to improve consumer needs. And while implemented, each one of these techniques can change the way we use packaging for generations to come. These technological innovations all have in common that they are created to serve as extra value for the consumer by for example having a new layer of interaction, transformation or transportation. Each scenario is a direct influence of our wishes, needs and/or our reaction towards new innovation.


In the beginning of my thesis I was sure that the implementing of futuristic digital displays, like the cereal box in the Sci-Fi film ‘Minority Report’ was going to take place sooner or later. I saw no reason other than expense for not having cool displays on product packaging in the shelves of supermarkets. But after researching current innovations and the way we think about consuming now, I came to understand that packaging will not have fancy digital displays to capture your attention and influence consumer interest, but will more and more lean towards environmentally friendly innovation and multifunctional consumer friendly use. Packaging will, in a way, retain its current form by serving the main fundamentals, instead of evolving into a digital piece of technology.


Standing at a crossroad of how rapidly fast the technology grows as we were able to experience the last decade, packaging might eventually evolve into having more multifunctional new properties. It is however likely possible that new technology might not be easily excepted by consumers for numerous reasons, which will lead to new techniques applied on packaging instead of changing its traditional form.





  • Landa, R. (1996). Understanding packaging design: Graphic Design Solutions, Delmar Thomson.
  • Statistics on supermarket purchase trends, 2012, Shopper Engagement Study, Popai.
  • Ruben Pater. (2016). The Politics of Design, The Netherlands: BIS Publishers.
  • 101


  • Japan museum SieboldHuis, Te mooi om weg te gooien, (Netherlands, Leiden), June 10 - August 20, 2016
  • Lectures

  • BNO NEXTpack, Superfast 2016, (The Netherlands, Eindhoven), 28 October 2016