Young designers starting a career tend to think big and often dream of creating the next cool sports car, cell phone or iconic piece of furniture. Not many, notes Sam O'Donahue, picture themselves designing cosmetics packaging or lipstick cases.
O'Donahue, a Brit who earned an industrial design degree from Central St. Martins in London, said in a recent telephone interview that when he graduated he "didn't even know that designing makeup was a thing. I didn't know you could actually do that, let alone win an award for it"—which he and his New York-based firm Established have since made a habit of doing.
He formed Established in 2007 with his wife, Becky Jones (a Cambridge-educated lawyer with a background in film production who handles the business side), and today, they boast a portfolio of well-known clients, from Marc Jacobs and H&M to Ariana Grande and Rihanna.
Marc JacobsKiss pop collection. Brand: Kendo/ Marc Jacobs Beauty; Design Agency: Established
Their metallic-looking, bullet-shaped Kiss Pop lipstick package for Marc Jacobs has racked up major honors—from the 2015 Diamond Pentawards "Best of Show," to first place in the 2016 Dieline Awards, to the 2016 Gold Clio Image Award. In addition to designing many packages for Marc Jacobs Beauty, Established also received a 2015 Silver Pentaward for its bottle design for Marc Jacobs Mod Noir. The firm also has ranged outside the beauty field, executing a colorful redesign, for example, of Svedka vodka as one of its very first projects.
An Untapped Career Opportunity
O'Donahue says that more designers fail than succeed in the highly competitive arenas of housewares and furniture and the like, and that beauty packaging offers just as rewarding career opportunities.
"What I find interesting about cosmetics, fragrance and beauty packaging is that it requires the same skill sets as those people who would be good at designing furniture or housewares. I'm going to buy a chair because it has a sense of fashion or a sense of style, and I think that's the common denominator…. Any fragrance and any cosmetic has a function and a job, and that job is not particularly complicated. But at the end of the day, a woman will purchase it because she just loves it. It's fashion, and about being able to design things that feel current."
One also needs a good sense of form, color, finish and material, and an understanding of how these things go together, he said.
What can't be ignored, O'Donahue added, is that "the cosmetics and fragrance industry is enormous—billions and billions of dollars are traded in personal care, and it's on the rise." That means that a lot of design work is needed, and much of it is centered out of New York, even for European brands, because America is the biggest market.
"It can be a very well-paid job, as well," he said. "I think there needs to be more awareness that it's a career that more people should consider."
Indeed, a recent market study called "Global Cosmetic Packaging Market Research Report—Forecast to 2022," projects the global cosmetic packaging market will grow by 5.2% per year, and reach a value of $35.6 billion by 2022.
"If you look at Mac Cosmetics or indeed the work we have done for Marc Jacobs, the industrial design is just fantastic. I would suggest that if you took that to any design school, people would say it's really beautifully designed, with beautiful proportions, finishes and beautiful combinations of materials and finishes—it's just really cool stuff."
Understanding the Material Options
When it comes to material choice, O'Donahue noted how different plastics can finish in different ways, impacting how it feels in your hand. He said all his agency's clients have in-house packaging engineers and Established relies on their expertise to define the exact materials used. A lot of it involves giving designers the correct palettes for the finishes they want—for example, a particular satin gold, or a specific matte black, or something with extra gloss.
Marc Jacobs Mod Noir. Brand: Coty/ Marc Jacobs; Design Agency: Established; Photographer: Stephanie Dinkel
He referred to firms such as Malta-based plastics injection molder and toolmaker Toly Group, which does work for Chanel, or glass makers such as Saint-Gobain or Groupe Pochet, and said it is these companies that are coming up "with more and more tools for designers to indulge in."
Established uses plastics extensively in its work. The Marc Jacobs range of packages, for example, is all made of plastic, O'Donahue said. While looking like a silver bullet, his award-winning Kiss Pop lipstick case is a vacuum-metallized ABS plastic. Even when working with glass fragrance bottles, the cap and other components usually are made of very high-quality plastic. Some cosmetics packages, he noted, are injection molded out of Zamac, which is a German acronym of the materials that make up the non-ferrous and versatile alloy—zinc, aluminum, magnesium and copper.
On the topic of processes, O'Donahue said, "We couldn't do our job without 3D printing. There are huge amounts of subtlety in what we design, so a very, very tiny change to a curve will affect the feel of a shape or a product, and we care about that level of detail. The only way you can realistically check if one curve is better than another curve is to run [rapid prototypes]. Every day we send files to our prototype people, and the next day we get to feel it in our hand. It's absolutely vital as a part of the design process."
The problem with 3D printing is the volume. If a 3D-printed product is a runaway success, and one needs a production run of 200,000 at a time, then it doesn't work. The advantage is that it requires no tooling costs. One of the downsides in the cosmetics industry is that anything that is custom is very expensive due to the tooling. Limited runs can be cost-prohibitive, so this is where 3D printing might be able to help.
Some products, especially on the luxury end, can be very complex. A single compact case for Marc Jacobs, for example, might involve six to eight parts—a button, spring, top tray, bottom tray, etc.—plus very nuanced curves, slopes, colors (such as marrying a matte teal next to a champagne silver) and high-end, precisely controlled, secondary finishing.
When it comes to high-profile clients, O'Donahue has confirmed that Established is doing all the design work for Rihanna's broad, new line of cosmetics. "That's coming out in September, and I'm sure it will be a huge phenomenon in the market," O'Donahue said.
At the lower end, in terms of price point, they also do much work with Swedish retailer H&M, which relies heavily on good design to delight clients by surprising them with the quality and value they are getting for a very reasonable price.
The Glass Polymer Portfolio
When it comes to material choice for beauty packaging, one firm working to broaden the options for brands and designers is Eastman Chemical Co. Based in Kingsport, Tenn., this century-old plastics and chemicals supplier has developed a range of products called the Glass Polymer™ portfolio, which it bills as "the clear choice for luxury packaging."
"The Diamond Concept" by Gaggione uses Eastman's Glass Polymer™ family of cosmetic materials; Photo: Eastman Chemical Co.
The range includes six grades of Eastar copolyesters, and one grade each of Tenite cellulosics and Tritan copolyester. These grades can be injection molded, extrusion blow molded and stretch blow molded. Eastman touts their attributes of sustainability, performance and luxury.
"We are here to magnify the brand's products, and to extend the experience of the brand," said Cedric Perben, Eastman's Lyon, France-based technical platform leader for global cosmetics and personal care packaging. "Many brands, especially on the luxury end, want transparent packaging that shows the cream or product inside."
The packaging also must deliver in terms of functionality, to preserve and protect the cream, with no adverse effects in terms of migration, with no stress cracking, or problems with chemical resistance, or breakage or product safety.
Glass, of course, has traditionally been the material of choice for such types of high-end packaging. It offers clarity, weight and a luxury feel, but also has several drawbacks, especially given some changing consumer habits. The same weight that gives glass a hefty, quality feel, also can be a negative, said Perben, a 13-year Eastman veteran with a Ph.D. in plastics processing.
Chasing Consumer Habits
For example, consumers today are more mobile and they value portability in their products. When they wish to carry their cosmetics with them, the weight of glass can be an issue, Perben said. There also is increasing use of refill systems, which allow consumers to travel light and use cartridges to replenish the contents of their products once they reach their destination. The ability to reuse the original container also makes for a good sustainability argument.
Consumer purchasing habits factor into the equation, as well. With online shopping growing at warp speed, the shipping of heavy glass containers not only requires significant protective packaging, but also has negative sustainability implications.
"The biggest problem for glass is that it breaks," added Renske Gores, market development manager for specialty plastics packaging in the EMEA region. "What opened the door for our materials was brands looking for more durable packaging that doesn't break," while its lighter weight also was a major advantage.
Perben said: "We do not compromise on the transparency or on the gloss, and we also can add more functionality than is possible with glass." The Glass Polymer materials can easily be colored and can accommodate a variety of secondary operations such as printing, silk screening and various special effects. "So you have much room in terms of design flexibility and innovation."
The Growing Environmental Aspect
Sustainability also is growing in significance. "We now talk about sustainability on every project. But every brand defines it differently." Interests and corporate strategies on this topic range widely, to include a focus on one or more of the following: lifecycle analysis, carbon footprinting, lightweighting, durability, eco-design, use of bio-based or renewable materials, end-of-life recyclability, etc.
Chronos Flavonoides de Passiflora by Natura Brasil features a durable, refillable bottomless jar; Photo: Eastman Chemical Co.
Take Natura Brasil, for instance, Brazil's largest cosmetics maker. Natura specified Eastman's Eastar™ AN014 high-clarity copolyester polymer for the packaging of its Chronos Flavonóides de Passiflora line. Its aim was to highlight the elegance of the Chronos brand with the look and feel of glass, but with added functionality.
Natura's design for this product has a durable, refillable, bottomless jar that requires fewer raw materials and less energy. Mechanical performance was one key, and Eastman said its resin helped to fill the thin wall clips that abate breakage thanks to excellent elongation.
Meanwhile, to make its environmentally friendly Tenite cellulosic resin—another member of the Glass Polymer family—Eastman uses wood pulp from sustainable forests. The resulting compound can include anywhere from 35-55% content of these renewable resources, Perben explained.
Gores, who is based at Eastman's regional headquarters near Rotterdam in The Netherlands, said its Glass Polymer materials also can "mimic the weight, so it feels like it's weighty without being as heavy as glass, in terms of touch, because we can make it so thick and still so clear. It can look the same [as glass] and have the same luxurious feel."
A lot of show-and-tell is involved with explaining the Glass Polymer materials, she said, to help designers and brand owners to get over any possible anti-plastic bias that might exist.
An Emotional Business
"There are a lot of emotions involved" in the look, feel and even sound (of clips snapping, case lids closing, etc.), Perben said, suggesting that Eastman can address all these with its materials.
One challenge, he conceded, that his company still faces is the issue of cold-touch. Because the polymers are based on organic materials, they always feel a bit warmer than glass. "There is nothing we can do here," Perben said—"either the designer will like it or not like it."
Elo, a perfume for Claudia Leitte by Jequiti; Photo: Eastman Chemical Co.
Also, for mass-produced items such as, for example, glass nail-polish bottles, "we never will be able to compete" in terms of price. But when it comes to lower-volume, luxury items, the Glass Polymer resins offer many advantages, he said.
Packaging is changing a lot, as brands are trying to enhance their customers' emotional experiences with their products. There also is a trend toward more "smart" packaging that allows consumers to interact with the package via their smartphones, for example.
If Sam O'Donahue has his way, more industrial designers will emerge from college with a clear vision of the opportunities that await in beauty packaging design. And if Perben and Gores get their wish, those designers also will understand the diverse materials palette available for such applications, including Glass Polymer resins that they say offer beauty packaging brand owners the clarity, durability and enhanced sustainability they desire.
I'm a communicator, connector and creator, with a manufacturing-and business-focused journalistic background but with an affinity for design and a desire to get these groups to collaborate more closely and effectively.