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Q&A with Mary Zalla from Landor on The Future of Package Design

by Jessica Deseo on 09/24/2014 | 7 Minute Read

Mary Zalla is Landor Associates’ global president of consumer brands. In this role, she focuses on developing Landor’s consumer branding offer, interacts with key consumer branding clients, and works to expand and enhance Landor’s capabilities in this space. Mary has held a number of important positions at Landor, serving most recently as chief executive officer and president.

Before serving as president and CEO, as managing director, Mary led the Cincinnati office as it grew to become Landor’s single largest office, the hub of two of Landor’s most important client relationships, and an office where emerging practiceareas such as brand environments and new media have been developed.

Mary Zalla will be speaking at The Dieline Summit, our conference this Fall in Paris (Nov 16-17). We asked Mary a series of questions based around the theme the Dieline Summit, specifically:

What is the Future of Package Design?


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JS: We are very familiar with your work and your contributions to the design world. Can you give us a short background on your journey to this very point?

MZ: I started as a copywriter at a small advertising agency. From there I went to work for one of my clients. I always knew I would return to the agency side of the business, but I wanted to develop greater empathy for my future clients, understand all of the pressures they are under from day to day. After that I went to work for an agency that largely focused on innovation and new product development. And then to Landor Cincinnati where 16 years ago I started as a Branding Director, moved to leading the Client Services group, then led new business development and was then asked to be Managing Director for our Cincinnati and Chicago offices. Almost four years ago I was promoted to President and CEO and while I enjoyed the roles very much, the travel requirement was about 70%, which kept me away from home and family far too much. I helped to onboard our new CEO late last year and in the beginning of 2014 I started my new role of Global President, Consumer Brands, which I am enjoying very much.


JS:  Without giving away too much, what is your take on the future of packaging?

MZ: Packaging will only become more relevant in the future, though its form, materials, presentation and will undoubtedly continue to change. I think the redesign of packaging moving forward will live in three buckets.

1) When designed with the consumer and environment in mind we will likely see more refillable and second-life packaging.

2) When designed strictly for the consumer we should see more customized packaging and opportunities for personalization.  

3) When designed with the company and efficiency in mind I’d expect more streamlined approaches to packaging across branded portfolios.  Does any one brand really need 23 different neck closures and 47 caps? 

Even in the midst of all this change packaging will continue to be highly relevant. Not only because it will house and dispense the products we desire, but because it will continue to be the part of the marketing mix that enjoys the most intimate connection with consumers. Consumers handle packaging in a different way than any other media. They touch it, squeeze it, hold it, and drink from it. Packaging sits in our cupboards, refrigerators, bathrooms, bedrooms, garages and cars. It is an inescapable part of our daily lives.


JS: What intrigues you about design, and specifically product and packaging?

MZ: Design is most intriguing to me because of its paradoxical nature. Design must be aesthetically pleasing, but it also must function. Something that functions but is clunky or difficult to operate, or lacks intuition is a product, but not a well-designed one. In the same way, a product or package may be aesthetically pleasing, but if it fails to function or appropriately communicate or connect, it may be a nice graphic treatment, but it is not good design.

Design is also paradoxical in that it is both creative as well as analytical. Of course design requires creativity, originality, innovation. But design exists to solve problems, create opportunities and improve experiences. So the designer must analyze current state, recognize trends and opportunities, and having designed toward that, must dispassionately analyze the design’s ability to make a difference. 

Another paradox--While materials will become more hi-tech and advanced, their application will strive to be more kitchen-logic and human. While some packaging materials will be designed to disappear, others will be designed with second and even third lives in mind.

The other paradoxical facet of design is that the designer must be able to tap into their own originality and creativity, apply their unique and personal touch to all that they do, all while designing for someone else. Design is an inherently empathic undertaking. Design is always done for someone else. It is insight-based, others based. Designers are uniquely different than artists because they spend their careers creating for others, looking for ways to improve life and leave a lasting impact through their works usefulness in every day life.


JS: Our world is facing complexity that is leading to uncertainty. We are bombarded with so much information, that it is becoming increasingly difficult to retain so much. What does the next generation of design and communication design look like?

Simple, simple, simple. I agree that the world is only looking more complex. People are bombarded with information and I guarantee that in most cases, it is the last thing they want. I know that lots of choice seems like a luxury, but there is research that proves that more choice actually drives consumer purchase interest in a category down. People do not like ambiguity. When faced with too many choices, and none of them clear, rather than feel stupid or endure the anxiety that comes with making a blurry choice, consumers will opt out. Smart brands will find the path to purchase, and increasingly that will look like profoundly simplifying choice for consumers. 

J.S: What does the next generation of designers look like?

MZ: The trend will continue that more designers will be able to work across mediums and platforms. They will only grow more technologically savvy, but I also think we might experience a return to some of the lost arts like an ability to sketch and illustrate, if only to trade in the realm of ideas and possibilities a bit longer before hurtling toward finished, pristine execution.  But the best designers will still be more empathic, more insight-oriented, more practical, and more able to think laterally for longer periods of time than the average person.

I think we will also see more designers that collaborate more with writers and designers who use the gift of language themselves to create great stories. There are so many examples of package launches that help forward the “conversation” at shelf. Packages that really make an emotional connection through tone of voice, such as Herbal Essences nomenclature Innocent smoothies., and Nine Suns based on an ancient Chinese legend. 


JS: What excites you about the future, specifically the future of package design?

MZ: Everything I’ve said above. It is only becoming more relevant, it’s a profession that by definition connects you to humanity, it’s a balance of the creative and the analytical, etc.

The future of packaging will create and bring seemingly endless possibilities for something that for generations was considered static, with lead times way too long, and too expensive to produce. The future of packaging will be more fluid, with say “ smart” face panels that could change based on promotions, design collections able to react to current events in real time and more.

In other words, seemingly endless possibilities for something that for generations was considered static, with endless lead times and once finalized, way too expensive to make changes. The future of packaging will be much more fluid, adaptable and responsive.


JS: What in design specifically has left a profound impact on you?

MZ: I consider myself very lucky to work in a profession that by definition connects me to humanity, other’s as well as my own.  For others because to design for someone you must know them. To know them you must have insight about them, you must consider their needs and motivations, not necessarily your own. 

Design also connects me to my own humanity, because it allows me (or forces me depending upon the day) to exercise my full mind capability, the rational and emotional, the highly analytical and creative, left and right. Most professions require the higher development of one half over the other. That breeds imbalance. Designers are beautifully symmetrical in that they have equally well developed left and right brain capacities. 


JS: With your talk at the Dieline Summit, what lasting impact do you want to leave on future designers, brand, and product creators?

MZ: I’d like to reinforce to them the reasons they chose to be in this business in the first place. Because they all know there are easier jobs out there. But we were all drawn to this one. Because we seek punishment! Just kidding. Because we all seek to apply our creativity in order to affect an end. We all believe in creativity with intent. Designers don’t stumble upon ideas. They study, analyze, explore, uncover insights, create, iterate, prototype, test, and launch. Designers do far more than ask “What If?” They breathe life in to the “How” and “Why”. 

We would like to thank Mary for her detailed and insightful answers on her career and the future of package design.  She will be speaking at The Dieline Summit in Paris November 17th. 

See full schedule below:

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