College collaboration yields impressive packaging

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A. Sue Weisler

In last year’s Packaging Design class, the barbecue sauce team of Sumeet Deshpante, Tuan Tran, Marco Fesyuk, Christin Allesio, Simon Jones and Chen Guo Wei, pictured above from left, was the grand-prize winner at the recent American Packaging-Wegmans Design Competition, redesigning packaging for Wegmans barbecue sauce.

It takes a village to develop a product package.

An RIT village consisting of graphic designers, packaging students and industrial designers has grown out of two distinct neighborhoods—the College of Applied Science and Technology and the College of Imaging Arts and Sciences. 

Multidisciplinary teams from both colleges work together as part of the Packaging Design course to repackage some of the most recognizable consumer products. 

Repackaging products is as much about enhancing a brand as it about distributing products effectively. Before even opening a package, so many decisions have gone into the design. 

The students’ projects are about making those decisions. 

The class is a coordinated effort bringing together right-brain and left-brain talents, a scenario the students will certainly face in business after graduation. Project teams have at least two representatives each from packaging science, industrial design and graphic design. Once a product is selected, teams research the company, the product, its market reach and how the current package is made. 

Each new design must detail the distribution process, including how it incorporated sustainable materials into the package itself, and how multiple packages can be shipped with less of an environmental impact. 

“All we are doing is offering the students a chance to see that there’s a lot more that goes into this than their aspect, and hopefully it reflects more of what is expected as a brand owner,” says Karen Proctor, professor of packaging science and one of the three faculty members leading the collaboration. She and Lorrie Frear, associate professor of graphic design, joined their respective classes in 2008. A year later, Alex Lobos, assistant professor of industrial design, and his students joined them.

“What we’ve noticed is each of these three disciplines is an expert in a certain part of the lifecycle, and we realized if we were not working together there would be a gap in some of those areas. I think students appreciate what the other disciplines have to bring,” Lobos says. 

The corporate clients they have worked with over the past four years, such as American Packaging Corp., Wegmans, Colgate-Palmolive and Kraft, have also come to appreciate the students’ work. This year, Sun Corp., one of the largest distributers of home cleaning products, will participate. Many more have reached out to the faculty to have their products revamped by the student teams.

“They are all leaders in the industry, and we feel fortunate and lucky to be working with them, and apparently they feel the same way,” Lobos says. “After presentations, sponsors have commented on the quality of work created by the teams, much of it on par with high-profile agencies the companies use to do similar work. Students have gotten jobs on these specific projects. They have it in their portfolio, and people know they can hit the ground running.”

Proctor agrees. “Our companies are awed and intrigued by the ideas. Is one group 
going to be hitting a home run? That would be nice, but the reality is, it’s all the ideas behind it.”