How Packaging Design is Influenced by the Digital World

By Danielle Sauve

Recently I was intrigued by a Digital Year in Review as jotted by Nestlé’s global head of (all things) digital and social media, Pete Blackshaw. As a digital influencer at one of the world’s largest consumer goods companies, it’s easy to infer that connecting physical products with digital experiences is part of Blackshaw’s mission. His point of view should make all of us in packaging lean in, listen closely, and consider:

What is the role of physical, tangible consumer packaging in our digital lifestyles?

Blackshaw’s point:
Digital content is about giving and giving (not a zero-sum game of give and take). Blackshaw himself generated content (or “content”) on Messenger, Skype, FitBit, Snapchat, Pinterest, Canva, and many more platforms. He is a content creator and appreciates others who create content.

The packaging implications:
Packaging is the mother of all content for consumer products. Think about what packaging gives to consumers: assurance that the product is safe (best before dates), accurate information about what’s in the product (ingredients and nutrition facts), and an expectation of what kind of experience they are about to have (imagery, color, texture). And packaging gives back to marketing: the effort that goes into composing and quality-checking packaging can be re-used in the form of content assets, symbols, ingredients, romance copy and even pack shots. These can be leveraged in consumer marketing programs as well as online retail channels in a consistent brand experience.

Blackshaw’s point:
People still long for relief from technology pain. Having his Instagram hacked and dealing with complexity of passwords and accumulated emails caused Blackshaw a lot of stress. There are still miles of progress to be made toward simplicity, reduction of work, and ease of use wherever technology is present in our lives.

The packaging implications:
Packaging is the offline brand experience that allows people to unplug from the digital world. When we unplug, we spend more attention on tactile moments and appreciate the unique craft of physical objects. Interestingly, the codes and images on packaging have the potential to provide an easy (absolutely easy) gateway to digital brand experiences, giving consumers the option to plug back in easily.

Packaging is a very technical discipline with unforgiving standards (print within .001 of an inch and <2 Delta E, please) and high stakes (people could die if information is missing or incorrect). The technology solutions to discrete tasks at discrete points along the packaging workflow is currently a complex, dizzying swarm that can leave industry professionals confused about what new skills they need to learn. Thus, the technology arm of the packaging industry has a lot of opportunity to merge applications and create platforms that can handle many parts of the packaging supply chain. Integrations that weave together physical hardware with digital software are necessary to continue to relieve pressure and pain in the packaging ecosystem. In other words, the packaging industry is ready for relief from its own technology pain.

Blackshaw’s point:
People just want to have fun. Technology has been intimidating and functional for too long. Blackshaw mentions the fun and ease of using Alexa vs. Siri. When technology is fun and simple, it becomes a diversion you can enjoy with your family: Blackshaw feverishly narrates five different adventures in technology that included his kids.

The packaging implications:
As with technology, packaging that is only functional is not selling the brand. Packaging must be fun to look at AND fun to use. Packaging can even be entertaining when the use case is appropriate (games on the back of a cereal box) or by giving it multiple functions (like this Tostitos bag that will call an Uber for you). Also, people tend to interact with and consume packaged goods during the prime of their lives, and so I think we can expect packaging to take a cue from digital and provide more entertainment in the package experience.

People are looking for ways to further integrate their lives by sharing experiences across devices, geographies and generations. Products with packaging that broadly appeals to a diverse consumer base will be able to bring families and friends together as they use and consume the same products in pursuit of shared experiences (which are so tweet-able).

Similar to an influencer like Blackshaw, “regular” people experience life singularly, not in a digital life/physical life duality. How important is it, then, that digital product experiences (marketing) set the stage for physical product experiences (packaging), and vice versa? And that each plays off each other in one consistent brand experience, just like our cohesive, fluid consumer lives? I think Blackshaw would say: 😉


Danielle Sauvé is an accidental marketer (theater major) and mother of four consumer-goods-consuming, digital-and-physical children. Having held positions in many portions of the consumer packaging ecosystem (consumer goods manufacturer, promotional agency, brand strategy and package design firm, premedia firm and workflow software), she now works with a platform of global companies under the Danaher umbrella that help simplify the packaging value chain (Pantone, Esko, X-Rite, Videojet, Laetus).