Engaging the Packaging Designers of the Future

Paperboard Industry Challenges Students to Think Outside the Box

Design a limited edition innovative paperboard toy package that can also be reused as an interactive structure for the toy. The Paperboard Packaging Alliance’s (PPA) 2015 Student Design Challenge (SDC) invites undergraduate students to put their design skills to the test. Over 200 university students have signed up to have their unique designs evaluated by packaging professors, paperboard industry representatives and a guest judge from Hasbro Toy Company.

The program, which celebrated its 10th anniversary last year, was created to promote the use of paperboard as a preferred packaging material, and to engage and inspire future packaging designers. “Participating in the SDC allowed me to build my portfolio, to present something tangible,” says Lynsie Gibson, whose design won the SDC in 2009. “I don’t know if I would have gotten my first job out of school without it.”

A Decade of Developments

“Paperboard can be just about anything – can build just about anything,” states Bill Wynkoop, adjunct professor of packaging at the Rochester Institute of Technology, which has participated in the SDC since its inception. Packaging made from paperboard is continually evolving, and the SDC strives to reflect this in the theme of each consecutive challenge.

Each year’s challenge mirrors what happens when a paperboard packaging company receives a new project request. Participating student designers take their ideas from concept to product launch. They get to experience packaging testing, develop targeted marketing and glimpse behind the scenes of the paperboard packaging industry.

Over time, the challenges have had a greater focus on sustainability and recyclability to reflect consumers’ increasing preference for these attributes in packaging. “Students who are entering the packaging design field need a multi-faceted background. They have to know the consumer side, the brand side, materials and technology, and they have to understand sustainability,” says Sandra Krasovec, professor of packaging design at the Fashion Institute of Technology, another long-time participating school. “The SDC exposes them to all of these considerations.”

But students’ entries also reflect emerging trends in the consumer packaging field. The SDC saw students tie social media into their package designs before it was the norm, and incorporate more interactive and multi-purpose elements into their designs as well. According to SDC judge Patrick Shields, who is director of structural design at RockTenn, “Every entry has a bright spot.”

A recent addition to the SDC is a guest judge from a consumer goods company that is relevant to the challenge scenario and requires packaging for their products. Representatives from top companies such as Mars and Unilever participated as guest judges in recent challenges, providing a different dimension to the SDC and an opportunity for students to showcase their skills to people who make final decisions on product packaging.

Industry Support, Supporting the Industry

PPA’s founding associations both have company members that produce and convert bleached, unbleached and recycled paperboard packaging, and they have a keen interest in the designs the students develop. “Packaging designers drive the evolution of the packaging that is manufactured,” says Andrew Johnson, vice president of global packaging innovation and design at Graphic Packaging International. “Innovation in paperboard packaging is a direct result of the push and pull between designers and manufacturers.”

The companies supply the participating students and schools with paperboard and are, in turn, exposed to the fresh perspectives and creative problem-solving skills of many up and coming designers, who are potential new employees of the paperboard industry. “Getting industry recognition is very different from just getting an ‘A’ from your professor,” claims Robin Matusik, who won the 2005 SDC. She is now a package engineer for Hasbro Toys and will guest judge the 2015 SDC entries.

The Next Ten Years

PPA will continue to work with faculty, company members and consumer goods companies to ensure that the program continues to evolve with the consumer needs and trends so that future SDC themes are timely, original and captivating.

Universities across the U.S. and Canada with packaging design and engineering programs and courses are welcome to take part in the challenge. Participating in the SDC will also make them eligible to receive classroom materials and student scholarships. Interested parties should contact ppa@afandpa.org.

The winners of the 2015 SDC will be announced at PACK EXPO on September 28th and featured on paperboardpackaging.org. Stay tuned for their incredible designs!

The Paperboard Packaging Alliance (PPA) was created by the American Forest & Paper Association and the Paperboard Packaging Council to promote the benefits of paperboard packaging.

Universities that have participated in the PPA’s Student Design Challenge to date are California Polytechnic State University, Clemson University, Fashion Institute of Technology, Indiana State University, Maryland Institute College of Arts, Michigan State University, Millersville University, Mohawk College, North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University, Pratt Institute, Rochester Institute of Technology, Ryerson University, San Jose State University, University of Cincinnati, University of Wisconsin-Stout, and Virginia Polytechnic and State University.