Pack-Age: a rich heritage of boundary-breaking design

Pack-Age, Aalto University's packaging design minor subject, is celebrating its twelfth anniversary as a developer of innovative packaging solutions. Originally launched in 2011, the course has grown into a multifaceted platform that combines student insights, diverse resources and an experimental design environment with challenges from industry.
Kuva: Sonya Mantere
Pack-Age Final Show, Dec 12th 2023. Image: Sonya Mantere

Pack-Age may be Aalto's most multidisciplinary minor subject, with students and teaching staff from different schools, and collaboration with the University of Helsinki and Lahti Institute of Design. The course solves challenges from industry and creates innovative future packaging concepts and prototypes.

"This has a quite different, network-like way of working. Multidisciplinary teams can look at a product from several perspectives at the same time," says Markus Joutsela, the teacher in charge of the course.

The role of design is important because it not only makes the product more attractive, but also solves practical problems.

Pack-age opiskelijoita työn ääressä. Kuva:
Pack-Age students at work. Image: Team Woamy

Packaging is an essential part of product development and branding

"Every day, we encounter and use hundreds of packages in our daily lives, some of which clearly work and some that don't. Packaging is a very effective and versatile medium and often also the interface to a product, for example to help you use it. It is just not always designed and used in a smart way, so there is a huge amount of work to be done to develop better and more responsible packaging," says Joutsela.

Pack-Age started in 2010 with a Future Packaging Design Project study led by Joutsela and funded by Aalto Media Factory, followed by the Interdisciplinary Packaging Design Platform project (2011), during which a Pack-Age pilot course was created in response to the growing need for new packaging design.

"I experienced frustration with traditional packaging design, which was often rather siloed, limited to narrow graphic and structural design. This inspired me to look for new approaches," says Joutsela.

"I wanted to create a design culture that could produce new types of packaging that would also inspire me and that I would like to see more of in the market," he says.

"I soon found business partners in my own network who were able to offer liaison work to the course participants."

Opiskelijoita työn ääressä
Pack-Age students at work. Image: Team Woamy

The project also identifies the product strategy

The course features multidisciplinary groups working on case-by-case basis. Each group will have its own client and unique challenge, which will form the basis of the group's design project work for the course. The course emphasizes that packaging development and design development is an essential part of product design, and its usability. Therefore solutions must be tested with the right target groups, for example in terms of image and functionality. users. User information drives the design, although other actors in the packaging value chain are also taken into account.

"For example, students visit different shops to benchmark competing product categories and products to better understand the environment in which packaging must operate, and what things are competing for attention and how to stand out," says Joutsela.

Design is also about communication and communicating ideas, so it is also useful to practice working with the client.

"When we do focus group tests, we can have a longer hand to show which solutions work better for consumers," says Joutsela.
Project work not only solves practical packaging problems, but also builds brands, creates desirability and maps strategic paths to market while products are still in the development phase.

Well-designed packaging highlights the product's potential. The packaging designed during the course has also been put into use. For example, Spices Chef seasoning packs have found their way into Kesko's assortments throughout Finland.

Products presented at the Pack-Age Final Show


    Woamy. Team members: Nea Paavola, Prem Sankaran, 
    Jenni Rimpiläinen, Matleena Liukkonen and Sara Spadinger.



    Lellikki. Team MetsäBoard: Erika Onishi, Katariina Angerla, Sanni Rautio, Beatriz Figueiredo, Sanni-Karoliina Louko


    Serene. Team Paptic: Liselotte Molin,
    Puck Verbeek, Vita Potočnik, Kristina Vasileva, Viveka Natri


    Team Woamy: Nea Paavola, Prem Sankaran, 
    Jenni Rimpiläinen, Matleena Liukkonen, with Sara Spadinger.


    Lellikki. Team MetsäBoard: Erika Onishi, Katariina Angerla, Sanni Rautio, Beatriz Figueiredo, Sanni-Karoliina Louko  


    Serene. Team Paptic: Liselotte Molin,
    Puck Verbeek, Vita Potočnik, Kristina Vasileva, Viveka Natri  


    Lellikki. Team MetsäBoard: Erika Onishi, Katariina Angerla, Sanni Rautio, Beatriz Figueiredo, Sanni-Karoliina Louko  

    International orientation

    This year, there were packaging design projects with Metsä Board, Paptic and Woamy.  

    "Woamy was a particularly interesting case, as the company is in the process of creating and mapping out different packaging applications for the wood foam it has developed, and there are no ready-made designs. So we are on the verge of something completely new, but the material is promising because it can replace various plastic solutions, such as polystyrene in packaging," says Joutsela.

    The Pack-Age team designed the packaging for Woamy, which will be presented at next spring's Luxepack trade fair in Paris, focusing on luxury products. The packaging is made for the Piston whiskey glasses designed and blown by Slate Grove, and Woamy's material is harnessed to protect the glasses. Wood is a unifying factor in both the production of Woamy's wood foam and the making of the whiskey, and it also inspired the students' packaging solution, where wood is seen, felt and smelled in many different ways.

    Joutsela is excited about the packaging developed during the course.
    "The group of students developed their very own method and tool for cutting the material into a neat shape and created a method for pressing patterns onto the foam, giving it completely new properties. The micro-encapsulated wood odor and the brand new UPM Raflatac sticker in the case structure have also been used in the packaging," he says.

    Pack-age Final Show. Kuva: Sonya Mantere
    Joutsela speaking at the Pack-age Final Show. Image: Sonya Mantere

    The challenges of continuity

    Pack-Age has also been an inspiration internationally.

    "I have received requests to develop a multidisciplinary packing course outside Finland, in the Baltic States, Portugal and the UK, but my own schedule has not allowed me to take on these international projects," says Joutsela.

    During the course's existence, nearly 40 companies have been involved in an average of four projects a year. Pack-Age has therefore been an important partner for companies that have been brave enough to explore new ideas and invest in a more experimental and innovative approach to networked packaging design.

    Although Pack-Age is now coming to an end, it leaves behind a rich legacy.

    "There is not enough time or resources to continue. Pack-Age has also been a minor subject, but now the visual communication design major is employing more students and demanding more attention. The rapid growth in student numbers has forced us to rethink our teaching. Not everyone simply fits in," Joutsela laments.

    "It's quite a big job to negotiate a business partnership and also to find suitable partners with tasks that are not only suitably broad, but also scheduling-wise possible for a course partnership. Everything often has to be agreed six months in advance. Such cooperation also involves material sponsors, printing partners and teaching staff, and student recruitment, which needs to be organized. So there are a lot of things that would need to be taken care of," says Joutsela.

    Pack-Age Final Show´n esittely. Kuva: Sonya Mantere
    Team Woamy's Pack-Age Final Show presentation. Image: Sonya Mantere

    "The collaborative network used is also a bit of a one-man show, and it's difficult to delegate it to someone else", he says.

    Pack-Age has also opened up collaboration on various packaging research projects and enabled the production of various public events. Joutsela cites the 2019 Aalto Packaging Design Symposium as one of the highlights, which attracted some of the best packaging designers from around the world to give keynote speeches.

    "In principle, it has been a challenge to put the pieces of the puzzle in place. But the side event has demonstrated the importance of preparatory project work and multidisciplinary collaboration, which can serve as a model for many other sectors," says Joutsela.

    Pack-Age has demonstrated the creative power of collaboration, proving that packaging design can also be an art, science and problem-solving activity aimed at future innovation and truly sustainable solutions.

    "This has also been a learning journey of sorts for me, as each challenge and project is always unique and I am particularly grateful to all the colleagues, business partners and students with whom I have had the pleasure of forging this journey."

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