Monday, July 28, 2008


As someone who's earned a substantial portion of his living in the print industry, I've been concerned about the long-touted, but scarcely evident, demise of print. As I've been hearing for decades, paper is going to disappear. Everything's going to be digital.

One has only to glance in my office, or that of most of my co-workers, to see that paper is not going to disappear anytime soon. But even if it were, as I've told myself, there's always packaging! They still need to print packaging!

But packaging, or at least printed packaging, is also a by product of brick-and-mortar shopping. There's no need for slick boxes in the on-line shopping world. Snazzy graphics, and even animation, can be used on a Web site to hawk products that could be shipped in plain cardboard cartons.

But it's not happening anytime soon. Packaging design is still as important as, if not more important than, product design. Take the iPod Touch. It comes in a cute little box with John Lennon's picture on it. (This is, in a way, Apple's gloat at having achieved the ultimate triumph of form over content by winning the Apple trademark away from the Beatles' company, Apple Corps)

And then there's the welded plastic clamshell packaging that covers so many consumer items these days. These packages, designed to lacerate your hands when you try to open them, minimize the printed surface area to a small card inserted between the halves of the shell. Luckily, there's hope for their extinction.

When CDs first became popular in the early 1980's, there was actually a campaign of popular opinion to get rid of the long box, a 6" x 12", shrink-wrapped cardboard box that housed the plastic jewel box containing the CD. Theoretically, the purpose of the long box was to allow retailers to display CDs in bins designed for vinyl records. But in a more innocent and idealistic age, people actually had the audacity to resist this blatant waste. Now, we buy DVDs in cases with almost as much wasted space ... and they're plastic!*

But this, too, shall pass. Already, people are saying "CDs?," "DVDs?" Don't you just download everything? Even books, perhaps the most perfect example of packaging and content combined, are being replaced by downloadable digits.

When I can download all the food and clothing and furniture and recreational equipment I've bought recently, I'll be happy to give up packaging.

* In a classic example of ineptitude, the plastic shell cases for DVDs have notches which should enable you to get your fingers on the edges of the DVD. However, most manufacturers of these cases evidently failed to understand the purpose of these notches, and so blocked them with a little ridge that makes grabbing the disc by its edges impossible.

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