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The Future Perspective in Packaging Design

By Brian Romankow

May 18, 2023

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many things have changed in the way we do business, and many things continue to change even “post-pandemic.” Communication on Teams, Zoom, etc. has become the norm. Shopping online and picking up your groceries at the local store parking lot, without having to get out of your car, are now common. Even home food delivery shopping opportunities are more prevalent in small towns today, just as they are in big cities. The pandemic accelerated the way we live, how we do our daily chores, and what is to come. At the inception, no one knew what the best approach was, so everyone tried something a little different and then developed data to adjust and drive a more positive consumer experience.

The same can be said about how a lot of people are now processing customer requests for manufacturing—and not just in packaging. Ideally, things are now expected to happen a little faster and with more accuracy, based on data supplied by the customer.

Corrugated designers face greater challenges to deliver designs and prototypes of all kinds in less time than what was typically given four years ago. Ten years before that, the expectations of the time it would take for design to process through development and prototype to the customer for approvals were slightly longer.

Of course, not all design requests apply, but most do today. New product development, for instance, requires the time for validation and consumer feedback studies or International Safe Transit Association testing for supply chain validation. Extra steps will always be communicated, and timing expectations are set, but whoever can get to the validated and best solution first will win!

Because of these increased expectations, companies are looking for ways to further automate steps in the development process. What’s scary about this is that automation is reliant on data—yes, zeroes and ones. So, a lot of software companies are creating new artificial intelligence and digital-twin solutions and bringing them to market as the next best thing to improve speed.

Data gets a mixed reaction depending on who is in the room at any given time. Older generations who like to touch and feel the product may tend to not trust data, whereas newer engineers and designers in the workforce rely on data because it is what they are used to from training at technical schools and universities. Imagine creating a design and sending it to your customer digitally so they can “see” in dimension and “feel” the weight and texture using virtual reality goggles and haptic gloves. Physical prototypes may soon be a thing of the past!

For a designer, this is scary and exciting. Job security, for one thing, comes to mind; if the computer is making the design, why am I still needed as a designer? Adversely and in a positive light, I see opportunity—opportunity to get out of the sizing of boxes day to day and making like-for-like specifications and to get more involved in the creative projects and new product developments that separate one supplier from the next. Ideally, this can allow companies to capitalize on creative and innovative design by utilizing the talented engineers and designers to bring ideas to life.

Additionally, our businesses work with many business systems, most of which are not integrated. Moving ideas more quickly to manufacture and market will call for systems to talk and work with each other automatically (no human interaction), so expected turnaround times also decrease. You will need to rely on good data in the system to output the same.

Bringing the next innovation to market is what most companies are striving for today. It is not an easy task, and choosing where to focus your talent will become a key in winning the race to the top of the podium. Understanding the tools of de-sign’s future will be important for success.

Brian Romankow is NA design and innovation manager at DS Smith.