Paper or Plastic: Reinventing Shelf Life in the Supermarket Landscape

We tend to assume that supermarkets are static, neutral spaces where little of significance ever happens. The supermarket shelf is actually a highly volatile, hyper-competitive dynamic market landscape. 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 an issue of attention-grabbing graphics applied to packaging has quickly become much more complex. The contemporary consumer in today’s strained economy demands tangible value from the products that he/she consumes. To survive, brands must wrestle with new 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 designers are uniquely suited to address.

This seminar will ask students to operate as brand strategists. However, rather than invent new products, students will instead innovate upon existing brands. Outdated supermarket products will be reconsidered from the top down (brand identity, consumer target, logo, tagline, packaging, etc.). Students will also be required to study their product’s shelf competitors and will learn by presenting their observations through visual arguments rather than those that are explicitly verbal.

Each seminar will open with multimedia presentations on topics such as conducting demographic research, global color psychology, brand architecture, 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 in front of a cross-disciplinary jury of business luminaries. The output will include a full-scale 3-D print of the product redesign supplemented by graphical data, renderings, and digital animations. Ultimately, the seminar’s ambition is to make real a scenario that finds designers sitting at multiple tables, tackling issues of economics, technology, politics, and media at macro and micro scales.