Interview with Fabrice PELTIER, Designer and Chairman of the INDP (French National Institute of Design Packaging)

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Interview with Fabrice PELTIER, Designer and Chairman of the INDP (French National Institute of Design Packaging)

Photo Fabrice PeltierCan you tell us about your position and about INDP’s activities?

The INDP is the main interlocutor for all the professionals involved in the creation of packaging. It is an association created under French law of 1901 by professionals of the packaging industry, designers and industrials, aiming to “encourage creation and design in packaging manufacturing.” In this context, and for ten years now, the INDP has been informing, encouraging and connecting professionals of the packaging industry by offering various services and tools that are parts of its action program – newsletters, professional meetings, exhibitions, linking, trainings, challenges, studies, etc.

The INDP now relies on a strong network of packaging manufacturers, brands, retailers, design agencies and independent designers, institutions, experts thanks to which we can encourage initiatives and best practices regarding creativity and innovation in the package design area.

In 2013, the INDP became a member of the French Packaging Council’s (CNE) ninth grouping. In hindsight, could you give us an overview of your collaboration?

Packaging designers are full-fledged players of the packaging industry. They work ahead of packaging developing projects and their suggestions often have tremendous consequences afterwards during the production phases. Indeed, packaging design is a creative and technical activity that consists in designing shapes and adornments for packages fitted for all types of products, from everyday consumer products to products for professional use. Packaging designers have several purposes: improving a range of functions all very different from one another throughout the whole product’s life cycle, from the moment it is packed up in the factory to its display on the sale site, to the moment and spot where it is unpacked and consumed, and finally to the moment when it’s thrown to the garbage.

As it turns out, packaging designers had never taken part into the CNE’s working groups until the INDP joined in. We made up for this flaw by starting the CNE’s ninth grouping. After several years of participating in the association’s activity, we cannot but applaud to this collaboration which I am sure was a source of mutual enrichment. Therefore, I strongly encourage all of the INDP members to participate actively and regularly to the CNE’s events and working groups.

Certain members of the INDP have joined the current working group of the CNE “Emballage pour tous les âges” (“Packages for all Ages”). To what extent do you think the design of the package can take into account the consumer’s use of it? Can there even be such a working group without designers? Today, we can consider that improving a standard packaging to make it more functional and appealing to the consumers is indisputably an act of design that falls into the hands of the package designer.

Package designing can be subdivided into two main specialties: – The design of the shape of the packaging. It is a work on the functionality, the aesthetics, the polysensoriality and the eco-design of the product – that is to say, all the dimensions of the configuration of the packaging itself in order to make it more functional, more efficient and user-friendlier. – The design of the message sent by the packaging. This is a work on the brand’s identity. It is about matching the product’s universe so the consumers will identify it, making the product attractive on the Point of Sale, highlighting the offer’s specificities, making the information visible and readable. In a nutshell, it is about all the graphic and visual elements visible on the package so as to make it an identity medium that efficiently conveys the messages from the manufacturer to the consumers.

This description of the contribution of the package designer alone explains the necessary participation of the INDP members to the “Packages for all Ages” working group.

As a member of the CNE board of directors, can you tell us what are the main emerging topics that the CNE could investigate in a context of working groups? Making packaging an enjoyable thing! Why do the media so often condemn packaging as one of the worst plagues on Earth? It is paradoxical how people often forget how useful packaging is and only focus on the last step of its life cycle. Like when Napoleon provided its Great Army with tin cans to avoid the soldiers succumbing of scurvy. Those same life-saving tin cans that were very useful in the prophylaxis of listeria. Packaging’s main goal is to protect the product. Today, packaging also improves the lifetime of its content, which is another way of dealing with the food waste issue. Lastly, it also provides the consumers with information of major importance on the content of the package, which answers to an ever growing demand from the consumers.

If you want people to start liking packaging, you just have to remind them of a few of its primary functions and of one of the crucial requirements of its confection. First of all, packaging must protect, preserve and valorize its content – the product. The package also has to communicate with the consumers and give them the nature of the product, provide them with legal information and convince them of the product qualities in order to encourage them to buy it. Lastly, the package must match the consumer’s expectations, both in terms of rational criteria like its functionality and way of using, and in completely irrational criteria like desire and need. Today, the main requirement when you create any kind of package is that it has the lowest possible impact on the environment and of course on human health. The quality of a package is therefore a matter of respect towards the product, the buyer, the user and the environment.

Let’s work together on these messages and diffuse them! And then maybe packaging won’t seem so nasty anymore.

The world is changing fast. The INDP aims to encourage meetings and discussions, notably in order to anticipate trends and support innovation. What do you think is tomorrow’s innovating packaging?

Package design is nothing but a reflection of our society of industries and of consumerism. The question is: will we still have to comply insatiably with the futile needs of the spoiled children of a handful of privileged countries? Or will we resign to count our global resources to answer the real needs of our ever growing population? The Earth will inexorably call upon us for reason by imposing us another way of living. And so packaging will have new features and purposes too.

  • Towards a more reasonable packaging

Security crisis, climate crisis, health, environmental and economic crisis happen always more often and are always more violent. For many observers, these are warning signs of the end of a system and of an inevitable change in our world model. Our globalizing society logically raises a general question about how we are going to deal with the resources depletion caused by the excessive exploitation of about everything on Earth that might be a source of profits. We cannot but notice that 20% of the global population consumed 80% of the available natural resources in the end of the 20th century. That means we will have to share and spare. This applies for today but even more for tomorrow as other countries are developing rapidly. We have to produce in a more reasonable way – and we have to do it quickly, especially with the help of package designers. They have been encouraged to take these new constraints into account in their reflection and even to integrate them durably in their professional ethics.

  • Towards a packaging easier to recycle

Since the implementing of the “Point Vert” (“Green Point”) in 1993, French people started sorting their waste for recycling, which is called in France “tri sélectif” (“selective sorting”). The results have shown a constant improving in recycling which has now however reached a threshold that seems difficult to exceed, in order to meet the ambitious recycling rate objective of 75%. Today our main lever is no longer to ask the citizens to sort their waste better and more, but to ask the industrial professionals to improve the recyclability of the packaging they market. How could we obtain the greatest quantity of recycled material out of one metric ton of packaging?

The greatest lever for higher recycling rates lies in an improved recyclability of what people sort. We have to keep in mind from the conception stage on that the designed packages should produce as much recyclable material as possible. This is called “recycling design”. The concept behind recycling design is to integrate from the packaging design stage on, the facility and the efficiency of its posterior recycling. And this is for me tomorrow’s true challenge for package designers. As a matter of fact, there is no interest in throwing to selective sorting containers used packages that are only half-recyclable – the whole of the packaging must be recyclable. This “full recyclability” of packages is essential for the future. In the recycling field, all possible measures must be taken as to avoid packaging waste to be burnt, or what’s worse to become final waste. To increase the recycling rate of used packages, asking people to sort their waste is not enough; industrialists have to ensure that what is sorted is also easy to recycle. This is food for thought for package designers because of course this is all a question of design.

  • Towards a more economical packaging

The price has always been a major factor determining the choice of both industrialists and consumers. This is true today and will be all the more true tomorrow, for several reasons. Whereas low prices have long been a prerogative for customers with modest incomes, they are now a synonym for good deal. A few years ago, branding itself was a valid argument for putting a higher price on a product. But consumers have gradually come to realize that the quality of certain branded products was not matching their price at all. We have to admit that the drastic value analysis studies started by all the big companies back in the 1990s have resulted leveling down of the quality of the products they offered and consequently of their packaging. In the end, the difference between an entry-level product and a normal price product or even a high-end product was not always perceptible. Progressively, people have stopped systematically seeing low prices as a symbol of a poor quality.

Since 2008 and the beginning of the economic crisis, consumers have been even more sensitive to prices. Their purchasing power, first stagnating and then perceptibly declining, imposed a more sober and economical design. The cost of things has become more than ever prohibitive. Accordingly, it has become more and more difficult to justify that a thoroughly designed package for a product should be more expensive than another. On the contrary, a well-thought package design should be available and affordable for everyone. Package designers must imagine packages that match the right price at the fairest price.

Do you have any suggestions to develop the CNE’s activities and visibility?

Popularize and communicate to the general public about what the CNE does. Will someone soon enough write “Packaging for dummies”?!