Opinion Series: Imagining Future Solutions

by Diane Lindquist on 04/15/2014 | 10 Minute Read

"As we move forward to the era of smart homes where the refrigerator can adjust the temperature for new packages to balance its environment or an oven that alerts you when the roast is done without having a timer set, Intelligent Packaging will become part of the home’s system."

Gerardo Herrera, Director of Packaging for Art Center College of Design, shares the new innovations in intelligent packaging. 

Imagine packaging within the retail environment communicating to customers in ways that builds trust, provides information and aids them with purchases, instructions, safety, home organization or personal goals. What if this intelligent interactive packaging can direct the customer to other similar products or recommended pairings? What if the food packaging in their smart home can inform them of the products freshness? What if packaging can provide safety alerts or reminders to pick up something from the store on their device?

“What if” is the question we pose to the Art Center College of Design students in our packaging studio and with Industry collaborations. Since the founding year in 1930, Art Center’s engagement with industries has been a critical element of the student experience. Industry collaborations take on a variety of forms, but the intention and promise is always the same: high-quality and professional experiences that bring current industry challenges and opportunities into the classroom and provide students the context for imagining future solutions.

Imagining future solutions is no easy task when we ask our students to envision the future 5 to 15 years out and inspire Industry partners to create change. In the area of packaging the understanding of manufacturing, distribution, sustainability, brand engagement, and retail constraints are all commonplace challenges that are defined by today’s known parameters. However, what will tomorrow’s solutions and experiences be and how will they fit in or change today’s models?

Our industry collaborators and manufactures have been working on technology solutions for certain sectors of packaging and retail for quite some time. Technology solutions are being deployed by utilizing different strategies for the brand message, functionality, efficiency and or safety. 

For example: 

  • The use of Wi-Fi, Bluetooth LE, GPS, Sonics etc.… at retail will provide granular proximity based info that could help consumers connect passively or real time to products, services or people for in-store promotions or check out.
  • Printed sensors on food packaging will begin to provide information about the environment and monitor the conditions that may affect these perishable products.
  • Pharmaceuticals packaging could communicate wirelessly about safety or alert information between consumer, pharmacist and manufacturer as well as collect information about patients to aid in better treatment.
  • Thermochromic inks on beverage packaging can tell consumer the optimum coldness for their drink.
  • Digital bottles and caps will invites friends over, and or performs other actions connected to an event.

These are just a few examples that our students are looking at. The right technology with the right brand and a strategy will improve the experience of the product and its package in the retail environment and its post purchase. 

These “What if” questions aim to look at the world where the Internet of Things is becoming top-of-mind awareness for brands. The brand marketers are asking designers to develop systems and platforms that will help revolutionize the way we interact, purchase and communicate with our homes, cars, buildings and wearables. The near future of Intelligent Packaging and Internet of Things is providing exciting scenarios for our students to dream up and bring to life.

Avery Dennison is one of many companies who have been in the forefront of understanding the power of interactive technology in packaging and the advantages for its clients. They have been global leaders in packaging materials and labeling solutions in every major market and industry. At Art Center College of Design we have had the pleasure of working with Avery for several years with a variety of different technology groups that have constantly challenged our young student designers to create provocative and innovative solutions for various industry segments. Recently our packaging classes were incorporating QR codes (Quick Response Codes) but we asked the question “why not use NFC (Near Field Communications)?” Only five percent of Americans scan QR codes while NFC technology has proved more effective at engaging users at levels 12 times higher than QR [ 1 ].  Thus we worked at developing simple uses of what it could mean using Avery labels embedded with NFC in the wine industry. The results were very promising especially when NFC was coupled with other technologies like RFID (Radio-frequency Identification) and or augmented reality. Imagine being in the wine isle and tapping your phone to a label and immediately a curated microsite pops on your screen giving you information about the grape, the region, the production, recommendations for pairing and more. Imaginations becomes possibilities when students explore to answer “What if you use Avery’s technology to create an Intelligent Packaging for a wine consumer who wants information in the now.”

As we move forward to the era of smart homes where the refrigerator can adjust the temperature for new packages to balance its environment or an oven that alerts you when the roast is done without having a timer set, Intelligent Packaging will become part of the home’s system. Here are a few possibilities of the integration of packaging within the home: 

  • Pantries or medicine cabinets providing alerts when an item needs to be added or categorizing new additions.
  • Medicine cabinets providing reminders, schedules, and information and alerts to a variety of devices to elderly care takers or parents of young children.
  • Medicine bottles providing visual warning and detect possible adverse reactions with others in the medicine cabinet.
  • Parents can be alerted if a smart cap on a medicine bottle is opened and pinpoint the location in the house where it is. 

The rise of Intelligent Packaging is starting to take shape and it is fast becoming an area for leadership in the Internet of Things. To stay on the forefront of emerging Intelligent systems and to leverage them, packaging designers and engineers will need to know when to use technology to integrate with new and upcoming intelligent systems.

Today there are a number of apps and smart products that are leveraging today’s technology by providing sales notifications or rewards on your mobile when you are near an area of interest, help you discover items, enable automatic payments and purchases and track your daily purchases and buying decisions. All these systems are the foundation for the smaller physical object getting connected, and the packaging industry and the brands they work with are taking notice and beginning to ask the questions:

  • What does the future of smart packaging look like? 
  • What developing technologies & materials will be applicable in the near future?  
  • How will my brand utilize these emerging technologies in our packaging, retail, and advertising experiences? 
  • And finally,¬¬ what is our vision and strategy for smart packaging technologies that enhance the customer experience with our brand. 

At Art Center College of Design we welcome these questions from our sponsors who are looking for innovative solutions. We encourage our students to push the boundaries of what is known or not yet discovered and to look for weak signals in trends, emerging technologies, and consumer behaviors. We foster collaboration with sponsors and multidiscipline students to apply a vision that goes beyond a gimmick and develop complete holistic systems that are meaningful. We ask them to tell us the “What ifs?” and show us how they imagine the future. 

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Art Center College of Design & Avery Dennison Wine Label Project

Class: Packaging Design 1, Instructor: Dan Hoy

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"X Marks the Spot"  by Kevin LIangcy (NFC treasure map experience on screen to find incentive)

Class: Packaging Design 1, Instructor: Dan Hoy


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"Alchemy Wine" by Benjamin Lee (Curated suggestions to help you enjoy your wine)

Class: Packaging Design 1, Instructor: Dan Hoy


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"Mestizo Wine" by Danny Park (Use of Augmented reality coupled with NFC – With the aid of augmented reality a dancing skeleton appears on the wine bottle, marking Mestizo as fun and festive. If your lucky you may be awarded a surprise incentive.)

Class: Packaging Design 1, Instructor: Dan Hoy


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Avery Dennison Labeling Material Selector and Examples 

Students presenting work samples, forms and material

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Students development and critique of concepts

 Ela Banki | Use of ESKO labeling software for packaging visualizations 

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Dan Hoy, Packaging Design ProfessorGerardo Herrera, Director of Packaging DesignAnia Borysiewicz, Packaging Design Professor



[ 1 ] 2013 Forrester Research and Avery Dennison

About Gerardo Herrera

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Gerardo Herrera is the Director of Packaging for Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. He leads his departments faculty in the continued development of the curriculum, while teaching and working with Art Center’s Educational Partnerships for Corporate Sponsored Projects & DesignStorms®. These all are vehicles to explore industry challenges and envision the future through a team of multi-disciplinary design students and, faculty. Gerardo honed his distinctive insight, passion, and global experience over two decades while leading the Global Brand Experience team at Nokia and other brands. He is also an associate at Design Studio Nuovo, with founder Frank Nuovo, former chief of design for Nokia and founder/creator of Vertu. Design Studio Nuovo is an incubator for developing compelling ideas, design solutions and innovative technology systems for commercially viable products and services with global brands and new ventures.



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