By: Sabina Svensson Senior Innovation Manager

A few weeks ago, I had the chance to visit and participate in the Mobile World Congress 2017, held annually in Barcelona. With around 120,000 visitors networking and keeping up with the latest inside a venue of eight big warehouses that held nothing less than a smorgasbord of technology; endless variants of smart watches, VR headsets, and connected all sorts of things.

On a day to day basis at NINE, a big part of my job is about questioning what these tech-infused phenomena will mean for the future of packaging, the consumers, and of course the brands and their organizations who can now add another tool to the box. So, thinking of how I can help industry peers and clients gain from this event experience, I want to share some of my reflections when it comes to IOP (Internet of Packaging). Because, however much or fast, the progression of connected products and services continues to rise, and the buzz of the “Internet of Things” keeps going on constant replay, we need to make greater efforts at shaping the digital future of packaging with our feet on the ground and a human-centric approach to create real value.

Technology is a vessel for experience, not the end-product.

An observation I have made is that people tend to talk about technology as if it was a product rather than a tool or a new means to solve a problem, in some way adding something that makes our lives better. Something we must keep in mind, is that technology should be seen less as the selling point and more as the enabler to enhance what is being sold. It’s like having a digital strategy. Can you really have that when everything is digital? Digital is a new channel or tool for your overall strategy, and that goes for packaging too. Meaning, you start with the end in mind, as per usual. This kind of tech implementation in products and services, which many times is invisible to the user, allows for more unique experiences and better user-ability, but it is not the end game.

Tip: Starting with the end in mind is what will lead to new ideas on how to serve and connect with your target group. The solution to how you get there is probably a combination of a great offering, fabulous design execution, and perhaps technology as a new element that can amplify your execution and make it more interactive. Technology is a tool, not the idea.

To create value with your new digital tool, you need to have empathy.

Empathy, empathy, empathy. The most important element in innovation. If you haven’t realized it yet, here’s why. Creating products and services that are useful requires understanding the lives of your consumer (who are humans) and knowing their feelings and needs so that you can actually make them something they want and need. Think about how you can help your consumer make their lives better. Understand what they do for fun, who their friends are, what frustrates them, what eases their pain, what they love or hate. Help them make their daily challenges run a little smoother, give them more freedom, more control, and the option to optimize their capabilities and make their lives better.

Tip: Empathy is key to any good innovation, whether its digital or analogue. Practice your empathy skills every day to amp-up your user-experience skills. Hang out with your customers, observe people in the store, on the bus, talk to strangers or your family to understand why they do what they do and what frustrates them. If you meet a frustration somewhere, you are probably on to something.  

Packaging is an old and new way to the consumer’s heart.

Why is packaging so interesting as a digital channel? Don’t we have enough media to keep track of? Given all the information and choices that the consumer is faced with today, we understand that the attention of our consumers is getting harder to hook by the minute. Some industry leaders even suggest that we might have to pay consumers in the future to get them to look at our content. But, despite that, one thing is for sure, one way or another, a product’s packaging will always end up in a consumer’s hand. And, when every other channel is saturated, we can explore how to use that intimate moment of packaging-consumer interaction as a platform of communication where brands can tailor messages according to the consumer’s reality. This can allow us to create a brand experience that exceeds expectations on personalization. Getting more personal and transparent as brands is something we know has been emerging over the last years, and will surely remain and even increase in importance in the years to come. As such, we see that packaging has the opportunity to become a much more authentic and transparent platform for communicating with the end user.

Tip: Practice your thinking on your products at home. If they could talk, what would you like to know from them or say to them/the people who made them? In what way could it offer something that is just for you?

Be friends with gimmick.

It has bothered me a bit, when looking at all the tech-gadgets out there, that some felt a bit silly and more like a “one-hit-wonder,” only fun once. But looking at how society has behaved in earlier paradigm shifts, I’m convinced that we might actually need the gimmicks. Because, that’s how we learn, in the same way as when we would draw silly little doodles for our parents when we were kids. Allowing for gimmicks is allowing for prototyping, a key part to innovation. Some people like to talk about “failing fast,” but I like to think of it as “learning fast.” The software industry has model behavior when it comes to prototyping as a tool for learning, releasing several beta models that are subjects of constant improval. Building something concrete quickly, allows us to understand what it is, so that we can make it better, or try it out before spending our full budget making it perfect- not knowing if it will be a hit or win.

Tip: Keep in mind, if you don’t know what’s bad, you won’t know what’s good either! So, prototype wherever you can, not only on products but on everthing! Meetings, project set-ups, presentations. The results will come from the doing, and a prototyping culture is what takes you from a desktop idea to reality (and take you out of the research swamp). Allowing for this type of exploration is what builds a real innovation culture.

Design is how it works.

Finally, a key learning from the tech scene to bring into packaging innovation is that design is not only about form and aesthetics, but functionality too. In a way, packaging has always been interactive, but that notion of interactivity is only becoming more obvious today with digital in the mix. This will challenge our design capabilities in a positive way as it forces us more than before to consider the user experience. Tranforming design language into function is not a big leap however. We have always used visual language as a way of communicating information quickly. Take road signs for example, there’s a reason they have images and not text. That’s because visual communication is quicker and has a higher degree of emotional connection with human beings -hence more impactful in a situation of rapid decision making. If you can combine a beautiful identity of a product or packaging with a great digital experience that adds something to the consumer’s life, you’re designing a fuller experience of the product, which I think is really amazing.

Tip: Pay attention to how much design exists in your everyday life that makes your life easier, and think not only about its looks but how it passes on information to you in an intuitive way. Practice on broadening your perspective of what design is, and imagine a world where you can prototype and re-design anything at all – from your morning routine, to your doctor’s visit, your workspace and everything in between.