It's a pity that photos aren't edible, because Andrew Gibbs's Box, Bottle, Bag contains a lot of tasty looking packaging, which unfortunately contain soap as often as food. Taking the best designs from his website the The Dieline, Gibbs has produced a lovingly photographed book of packaging accompanied with copy about the agency that designed it, often including quotes about the project. Although it's broken ito six chapters, including Luxe, Bold, Crisp, Charming, Casual and Nostalgic, frankly, it's all pretty luxurious (even "Ugly Mug Coffee"). Instead, those categories serve to denote which cultural signifiers the designers wanted for their products. With the printed word harking back to Guttenberg and the development of script reaching even further into history, modern day graphic and package designers have an broad and deep lineage of visual forms to chose from.
Every font sends a message about the product's "style," and by proxy the style and persona of the buyer. The chapter that's called nostalgia, for example, includes visual references to the turn of the (20th) century, allusions to the Vargas girls festooned to the sides of WWII bombers and toys appropriate for the children of the men who fought in that war. To the modern buyer, wearing their pseudo-ironic Buddy Holly glasses, the whole of the 20th century can be appropriated as nostalgia. Designers now have computer tools robust enough to create virtually any visual impression, and they get to sell that to an audience raised in a media saturated environment that prepared them for all of those cues. In short, it's a pretty good time to be a packaging designer, and the variety and contrast of the products shown in Box, Bottle, Bag make a strong case that today's packaging designers can do more with a computer, a color printer, and the eponymous die cutting machine than their forebearers could ever do by hand. Left unanswered is whether being able to produce endless objects that look "luxe" and individualized is a good thing, when the products contained within often lack the loving care that their shiny outsides advertise.
In his introduction Gibbs asks if "you've ever been influenced to buy something solely because of its packaging?" He has, I have, and it's highly likely that his assertion that we all have is also true, at least living in the Western World in the twentieth century. Looking through the beautifully designed pages, I can't deny that if I consumed Melt chocolate, my brain would likely hijack my tongue and subtly influence my taste buds to have a better experience than one Hershey could provide, in part just because their crisp white and brown packaging screams out taste me by virtue of the five chocolaty fingerprints that mar its white surfaces. Likewise with the simple fonts and forms of Apothia hand wash, which manages to look as though it might refresh me more than liquid Dial, even though both ingredient lists probably clean me with the same sodium laureth sulfate.
Interestingly, although the Crisp section had the most cleansers and the Casual section had the most juices, the range of products was pretty consistent across all categories. In each section could be found lots of fluids (soda, juice, wine, and liquors), some semisolids (yogurts, soaps, cosmetics, etc.) and even fewer solids (chocolate and the jarring inclusion of a rubber band gun). Cynics might say that those liquid products are the ones with the highest markups ... the products with the least substance, literally. Perhaps more optimistically, those fluid products are the ones where the actual visual appearance of the product (yep, it's wine alright) varies so little and sends no signifiers that the graphic designer's role becomes pivotal. They have to visually broadcast taste. Precisely which one it is, unfortunately, is nearly impossible to disentangle from the same human emotional core that makes $100 wine taste better than $5 wine (they've done studies), but to see all of these products in such an abstract way allows the viewer to judge them on their visual merits alone, at least until we get our hands or mouth or nose on a what's inside a bottle of JAKQ cellars wine, it will be pretty hard to know for sure.