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Design Adapts and Grows

By Brian Vitagliano

July 9, 2021

As anyone who has ever worked in a design department can attest, design changes are commonplace. The design sector of the corrugated conversion industry is no different. These days, the design environment itself appears to be going through a major revision of its own, with changes hitting all aspects of this sector of the industry. Though my perspective on this will be influenced greatly by my personal experiences over my first decade in this industry, there are many trends that will be recognizable to anyone in the corrugated industry who is working either in or closely with design. From what is being designed to how those designs are being created and communicated, we have seen rapid developments across the design space. But with a new crop of informed designers coming into the fray, the sector is well positioned to facilitate this quickly evolving landscape. “Nobody intends to get into this industry; you are either born into it or you accidentally fall into it and never leave.” I’ve heard sayings to that effect many times since I myself fell into the corrugated industry. Back in 2011–2012, I had recently graduated from college with a degree in architecture, with no strong desire to be an architect—not unrelated to the fact that job openings in architecture were a rarity following the bursting of the housing bubble. I answered a job posting that I believed at the time to be a graphic design position, only to show up to the interview and find that the job I had actually applied for was that of a structural designer in a corrugated sheet plant. I knew nothing of the corrugated industry; I definitely didn’t know the first thing about corrugated structural design. But thankfully, their desire to pay as little as possible aligned perfectly with my lack of experience—as well as piquing my curiosity based on what I learned in that interview. width=349 Over the next few years, I learned a lot. It was a trial by fire, and the teaching I received came from either someone who was born into the industry or who unintentionally stumbled into the thick of it, just as I had. But that is changing rapidly. I have a structural designer in my department who had every intention of pursuing a career in corrugated structural design, learning software and basic concepts back in college. Similarly, when my department’s graphic designer showed up for her first day all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, she already had a personal copy of the Fibre Box Handbook. More and more I am hearing about new programs in colleges that directly relate to this industry, and I am meeting more and more young people who are not only aware of the industry but are seeking to start careers here. For someone like me—who lucked out by stumbling blindly into the corrugated world that I now call home—this is an exciting change to see! Trigger warning: Although I would have loved to avoid any discussion around COVID-19, the realities of this current pandemic environment have accelerated many of the other changes we are currently seeing in the design sector. From the types of projects that are requested to the way those projects are communicated and, ultimately, to how the design of those projects is approached, this social distancing climate has led to changes in each step of the design process. Case in point: Online shopping was already growing at a rapid pace, but social distancing and temporary store closures led to an explosive boom in e-commerce and direct-ship product deliveries. Although retail packaging and displays are still encountered, shipping boxes and direct mail pieces have grown greatly in importance. Similarly, where most meetings used to happen face to face, it is much more common to work based on information obtained solely through email or phone calls. In some ways, this has upped the amount of direct communication from the customer to the designer, as digital communication can be both initiated and relayed quickly and accurately. As far as the actual act of designing is concerned, digital technology solutions have grown greatly in importance. Though 3D CAD solutions were not uncommon pre-pandemic, the need to design within a digital 3D environment expands greatly when access to a cutting table—or material for that cutting table—is limited. Similarly, when working within a digital 3D environment, a digital show-and-tell creates rapid communication of those ideas with a customer before a physical sample needs to be cut and delivered. Though change is common in any design environment, the rapid change currently being experienced in the corrugated industry is notable. Hastened by the current social distancing environment, most every aspect of design has seen rapid advancement in the past year. The value of digital mediums of communication and design has not only increased but also found ways to better work in conjunction with the basic building blocks of designing in this industry. Samples still need to be cut, and face-to-face meetings still need to happen. But the efficiency surrounding these actions has increased greatly. With an incoming design workforce that is not only more acquainted with current technologies but more familiar with the industry at large, the design sector will continue to grow and adapt quickly alongside a workforce that is able to move in lockstep with this rapidly changing design environment.

width=112Brian Vitagliano is design manager at Tavens Packaging & Display Solutions. He can be reached at