Q&A with Alex Center from Coca-Cola: The Future of Package Design
Alex Center from Coca-Cola: The Future of Package Design
Our fourth Q&A is with the lead designer for brands like Vitaminwater and Powerade at The Coca-Cola Company, Alex Center. In 2011, Alex was named one of the world's 200 Best Package Designers by Lurzer's Archive magazine. Alex will be speaking at The Dieline Summit, our conference this Fall in Paris (Nov 16-17).
We had the opportunity to ask Alex a series of questions that represent the theme of The Dieline Summit and overarching question:
What is the Future of Package Design?
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?
AC: I am just a kid from Oceanside, NY who grew up loving to draw and playing on computers. I took a computer art class in high school where I was first introduced to Photoshop and I’ve been making things ever since. I then went to college to study communication design and discovered that my hobby could actually be a profession. My first gig out of college was designing for Glacéau, the makers of vitaminwater® and smartwater®. In 2007, Glacéau was purchased by The Coca-Cola Company. Which means that technically, I’ve never left that first job. Over the years, I’ve been a copywriter, a designer, a creative director, a brand strategist, a business consultant, and countless other jobs without ever having to get out of my chair. And all of which I think make me better at my “real” job as a designer.
JS: Without giving away too much, what is your take on the future of packaging?
AC: It is my personal opinion that the future of successful branding and packaging is in-house. Design is intrinsic to a company’s success. Then, it just makes sense that the shift be to have your design team in house so that they’re part of the larger vision. In the coming years, I believe that all companies will become design companies in the same way that all companies have had to become technology companies. This will only grow the value of what we do and the importance of packaging as it relates directly to business. I think this means a great change in the industry, from the traditional multi-disciplinary studio down to the way young designers are educated.
JS: What intrigues you about design, and specifically product and packaging?
AC: I am fascinated by the genuine connections that people have with brands. Personally, my favorite brands have both a strong purpose and a unique personality. Packaging is the best place to communicate both of these things. I’m constantly intrigued by how people find and align themselves with the brands that have similar aspirations and personalities to their own. Great brands help us define who we are and how we experience the world. I love playing a part in that.
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?
AC: We are entering an age with a boundless number of consumer touchpoints. It is harder than ever for consumers to make sense of it all. To do so, the role of communication design is shifting towards building extremely flexible systems for the total brand experience. The next generation of design will ensure that each touchpoint is in line with the brand’s point of view and adds real value to the consumer. No more advertising simply for advertising sake. More than ever, marketing and branding will require the integration of design into all business efforts and departments, including customer experience, sales, and product development. So that there can be one cohesive brand tone through the ever growing number of fragmented communication channels.
JS: What does the next generation of designers look like?
AC: The next generation of designers are far more than craftsmen. That is really just the cost of entry. The future role of the designer goes beyond making things that look pleasing to the eye. It's now our job to be experts in behavioral psychology, anthropology, politics, sports, language, music, you name it. Knowledge of these things helps us understand people and what they love. Only then can we design for them. Design is no longer about making things that just look beautiful or stylish, it is critical to business growth. The future role of designers involves carefully crafting consumer experiences and product systems that not only make real connections with people, but can make a difference in their lives.
JS: What excites you about the future, specifically the future of package design?
AC: I get excited about the opportunity to make things that are more personalized. The future of package design is less about selling, and more about giving control to the people. I love that we are entering a time where the brand is no longer the hero, but the consumer is. To better serve their journey, packaging will only become more and more personalized, tailoring to the individual needs of each and every consumer. People will want to have a unique experience with their products that are customized to better serve them. Could you imagine a performance drink specifically engineered for your specific needs? I can. That’s exciting to me.
JS: What in design specifically has left a profound impact on you?
AC: The thing about design today that has had the biggest impact on me is how important it is to people. It feels like every week that a company redesigns it logo to either mass approval or widespread criticism. Everyone is involved now. Everyone has a voice. Everyone cares about the new Tropicana packaging or Airbnb logo. People feel that they are a part of a the process and have a platform to share their thoughts. People often describe a brand as “the one sentence people say about you when you leave the room.” Today people don’t wait for the door to close before they log on to facebook and voice their opinion.
JS: With your talk at the Dieline Summit, what lasting impact do you want to leave on future designers, brand, and product creators?
AC: That as designers, we are being paid more for our brains than for our hands. There are thousands of talented graphic designers in the world. That's just the cost of entry to the field. It's how we think about problems, make decisions led by emotion/empathy, and ultimately how we find creative solutions that truly makes us great.