The term “packaging” usually refers to how designers and manufacturers choose to wrap the goods they want to put on the market. But to a graphic designer who is fascinated with what people wear, “packaging” can mean so much more.
Outside the context of consumer marketing, I find it interesting that humans essentially cover themselves in garments in the same way designers cover goods with other materials. After examining everyday outfits, I’ve observed similar reasons for why we package goods in the way we dress ourselves.
A typical store-bought item contains several parts, whether it’s a sleeve of crackers or a pocket of batteries. Packages group these individual items into a handy unit to sell. Placing a loose handful of M&Ms on a shelf to sell is unmanageable since they would be hard to identify as one item and could easily spill everywhere. Similarly, clothing is used for modesty and management—well-fitting undergarments, like a camisole, allow the rest of your clothing to neatly pull a look together.
Especially in the case of food, packaging serves as a means to preserve the quality of the product. Milk lasts longer when sealed in a plastic jug, and hairspray is more effective when it comes from an unpunctured aerosol can. Packaging that is constructed to protect what is inside can even prolong the lifespan of a product. Humans also need extra care. Sunglasses protect eyes from harmful rays, and rainboots keep feet warm and dry. With the proper safeguards, humans can lead full, healthy lives.
As any packaging designer knows, what an item announces at first glance is everything. A box or label has the power to entice, instill confidence, or horrify the consumer in a single glance. As practical as clothing is for humans, they too dress to impress. Society’s biggest flaw is judging a book by its cover—how much thought do you put into an outfit for an interview, first date, or important occasion? People dress themselves to express who they are and what they believe in order to attract those around them.
I used to evaluate why I consider what I wear. Is it vain or materialistic? Am I wasting my energy by coordinating my sweater with my socks? After interning creatively at several agencies, I noticed positive reactions when I thought through my clothing choices. Because I made original, professional statements by what I wore, people were more likely to judge me as creative, responsible, and aware. Like a well-designed package, I was marketing my attitude in the workplace with confidence. To quote a wise professor of mine, Gordon Salchow, “Consider everything. Consider where you eat, what you buy, what your home looks like, how you talk, and what you put on your body. You are an informed designer; present yourself well. Consider everything.”
The Hershey’s candy bar has been covered in the same brown and silver wrapper for ages. That simple label contains the chocolate, protects it from spoiling, and entices you to enjoy the sugary delight inside. A light bulb went off in my head one day as I learned the names for outerwear in “The History of Fashion 101.” Fashion designers have named coats many ways—sport, tail, bomber, waist, duster, and more. But the most striking term to me is “wrapper.” Your winter coat wraps you up, protects you from the cold, and shares something about who you are. I love how a single word so clearly illustrates that packaging is more than a box on a shelf. It is how you present yourself as a person everyday.
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Kendra Doherty is a senior studying Graphic Design at the University of Cincinnati, College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning. Kendra is currently a co-op designer at Landor Associates. She has also co-opted at Anthem BlueCross Blue Shield and Christie’s auction house in New York.