When it comes to food packaging it is crucial to get the design right first time, every time. However, according to Roland ten Klooster, a Phd student at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, the frequency of poor design and easily avoidable mistakes is all too common.
Such mistakes lead to costly errors that can prove highly damaging to the reputation of any food and drink company. It goes without saying that if the security or safety of a product is compromised by faulty or badly designed packaging then the repercussions can be far-reaching, a large-scale recall being every food and drink manufacturers' nightmare. But all too often it is faulty packaging that compromises the freshness and safety of a food or drink product.
"Such flaws can be avoided if the packaging companies take a more thorough and planned approach to the design of new packaging," said ten Klooster. "To tackle this problem I have developed a systematic plan for the development and design of packaging through my research work. This means setting out a specific design model, or else a clear programme of steps in order to make the process more efficient and effective. You would be surprised, but a lot of the time packaging design lacks such an approach, which is why so many mistakes are still being made today.
"Where many packaging companies go wrong is by focusing on different specific aspects of the task and not on the project as a whole. This means that they might miss out on a crucial aspect of the packaging design. For example, a deep understanding of a packaging material's chemical content is essential for food items.
"One issue that is currently causing problems for packaging companies is the fact that so many are trying to introduce recyclable and so-called 'environmentally friendly' packaging. The problem is that the new materials that these companies are specifying might not always be completely appropriate for the product.
"In my thesis I outline one particular example with satay sauce. In the past this product has caused many problems because its chemical content can interfere with certain types of plastics, causing an undesirable chemical reaction. Having a full knowledge of both the chemical content of the product and the packaging is essential if such mistakes are to be avoided.
"A lot of the time the approach to the design of the packaging just is not scientific enough. More emphasis is given to the aesthetics and size of the packaging than to other equally essential details such as the chemical make-up."
Ten Klooster developed his thesis by looking at 100 design reports as well as drawing on numerous projects that he has worked on during his 11 years of studying packaging design.
"During the course of my research I have come to realise that recalls are often down to faulty packaging. One of my conclusions is that professionalism within the packaging industry isn't as widespread as you might wish to think. Basically this is down to a lack of specific education on the subject. Not enough packaging professionals undergo a full education in the ways of packaging design.
"My model has been to develop crucial steps which should be considered during the packaging design process. These points include areas such as material content, the required manufacturing process and the overall functionality. I asked professionals in the industry to consider 23 such points and to arrange them in their own order of preference. The individuals I questioned worked within a cross-section of materials, ranging from plastic and glass to paper, and were from both food and non-food disciplines.
"The results were interesting because the two disciplines proved to have quite different priorities. One of the biggest priorities for the food sector was to get the dimensions right - obviously a crucial factor when considering all-important transportation logistics. However the results clearly indicated that the scientific element to packaging was not so important."
Ten Klooster has drawn a number of other conclusions from his research work, which is entitled 'Packaging design: methodical development and simulation of the design process.'
"The first and most obvious point is that packaging design is not as good as it could be. I believe that insufficient professionalism explains the reasons for a great deal of superfluous and faulty packaging. I also believe that to tackle this problem the design process should be tailored around the functionality of the packaging, which will make the process far more efficient and effective. Most importantly you cannot design the packaging without seriously considering every aspect of the product itself.
"The design of food packaging is perhaps more difficult because there are many different aspects that have to be considered. These vary from the production and transportation of the product to the life-cycle and shelf-life. Because foods are perishable and safety is of the utmost importance, the packaging has to be designed around all of these considerations.
"By designing the product and packaging both simultaneously and interdependently, greater innovations can be achieved than using the more traditional approach of designing them both completely separately. What's more, by integrating the two, design costs and environmental impact can both be managed much more easily."
Roland ten Klooster has published his findings, entitled 'Packaging design: methodical development and simulation of the design process.' The study is available from the Delft University of Technology. For further information, contact either Maarten van der Sanden, Delft University of Technology, by email Z.P.N.inaqreFnaqra@ghqrysg.ay or telephone +31 15 2785454