August 1, 2014

When Stupid Practical Things Get in the Way of Your Perfect Design

When Stupid Practical Things Get in the Way of Your Perfect Design

Ah, practicality: the most dreaded word a creative-type can hear. It always rears its ugly head and interrupts the most ingenious and aesthetically brilliant packaging designs demanding that in the end, the thing still has to work. The good news is that for creatives that work at let’s say, a packaging design company, an appreciation for practicality is a prerequisite for employment.

Especially in the drink design market, practicality is crucial. A beautifully designed drink package that doesn’t successfully deliver liquid to mouth is worthless. The best hope is that it might one day end up in the Louvre of Artistic Futility. In drink design, a packaging design company has to walk the fine, fine line of form and function – and that’s where the magic happens.

The idea that form follows function is one of the most essential design mantras of modern industrial design. While the saying is true for architecture, it’s equally applicable to drink design and really any packaging design that requires the package itself to be an essential part of using or consuming the product. Here’s the basic premise: the shape of an object (its form) should be essentially (not always entirely) based on its intended function.

Consider the Juice Box

Consider the juice box, the most familiar and beloved of all modern drink design concepts. Yes, the lowly staple of playgrounds of yore is still one of the most widely-used and enduring packaging design concepts in the food and beverage sector. The packaging design company that originally created this ingenious little high-fructose corn syrup delivery system should be lauded for creating a design that teeters proudly at the apex of form + function.

The container is lightweight and compact, yet it holds a perfect (child-sized) portion of sugary water with negligible nutritional value. It’s relatively spill-proof, resistant to sploshage except in the most ham-fisted of chubby juvenile hands. The packaging design company created an attached delivery system — the custom-sized shrunken bendy straw — that is sealed against contamination in a clear plastic wrapper and firmly glued to the side of the carton, easily released with a gentle tug.

Marvel at the small straw hole, lovingly sealed with an easy-release foil cover that punctures neatly with the slanted bottom of the attached straw. It’s enough to make any packaging design company bow down in respect and worship at the altar of that drink design deity, the juice box: an all-in-one hydration delivery system that covers every single possible base. Damn, they’re good.

Form Following Function

Ultimately, in drink design and in any other sector, excellent packaging design isn’t just about curb appeal. It’s got to engender customer satisfaction by service its purpose elegantly and without spilling a drop. At the end of the day, a packaging design company must create a drink design that delivers on the promises of diverting the drink to its final destination. Does it need to be hot? Is this beverage, like revenge, best served cold? All of these functional considerations must be brought into play in order to create the perfect final product.

What say you to these dumbbell-shaped sports drink bottles? They’re walking a fine, fine line between tongue-in-cheek and just plain cheeky. In fact, we think they cross the line and end up on the wrong side of silly. It feels too deliberate; the drink design is hitting us over the head with its intended purpose. Also, it looks unwieldy and unbalanced and is even strangely phallic. It rubs us the wrong way. Oh, and have you ever heard of this product? Our case: we rest it.

Now consider the gold standard in creative, practical drink design. The vintage apple-shaped glass bottle of Martinelli’s Apple Juice. The message is clear: the product is as pure and natural as an apple. It’s even the same size, perfect for a small refresher for an adult or a satisfying child-size treat. It even has that crisp (like an apple!) popping metal top that releases a little gasp when it’s twisted. We can almost taste the fall-themed refreshment.

Drink Design Do’s and Don’ts

So it’s clear, a little creativity is delightful when creating practical and aesthetically pleasing drink design. Allow form to follow function and don’t forget that in the end, customer satisfaction is as important as your creative leanings. Consider the juice box and aim to find a packaging design company that will aspire to such lofty heights when collaborating with you on drink design to delight the creative mind and the taste buds in equal shares.


by Kevin Smith
Managing partner at SmashBrand. We're a group of experienced brand owners, thinkers and world-class designers united by an obsession for creating category disrupting brand experiences.

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