Paper or Plastic: Reinventing Shelf-life in the Supermarket Landscape

The supermarket shelf is a highly volatile, hyper-competitive space. On this shelf products struggle to maximize every possible advantage, all in a ruthless effort to lure consumers away from competitors. However, what may have once been merely a beauty contest of packaging has quickly become a much more complex issue. The modern consumer in today’s strained economy demands tangible value from the products that he/she consumes. To survive, brands must negotiate issues that include the ergonomics of the hand, the complex geometries of the refrigerator, and even sustainable material innovations that determine a product’s afterlife and its impact on the environment. These are multi-scalar, spatial life-problems that the architect is uniquely suited to address.

This seminar will ask architects to operate as brand strategists. However, rather than invent new products, students will instead innovate upon existing brands. Outdated supermarket products will be considered from top down (logo, tagline, advertising, etc.). Students will also be required to study their product’s shelf competitors, and will learn by presenting their efforts through visual arguments rather than verbal ones.

Each seminar will open with multi-media presentations on topics such as conducting demographic research, barcoding, case studies in product launch failures, creating brand touchpoints, crafting a visual argument and making an effective pitch. These conversations will be supplemented by readings from the business and financial sections of several newspapers, magazine articles, and blog interviews with brand experts.

The deliverables for the seminar will be presented in final-review format and will include a full-scale 3D print of the product re-design, supplemented graphical data and drawings. Ultimately, the seminar’s ambition is to make real a scenario that finds architects sitting at multiple tables, tackling issues of economics, technology, politics and media at macro and micro scales.