Q&A with Robert Croft, managing partner, Swerve 3D Brand Design, New York. Here's his approach to developing a prototype, single-serve bottle for premium-flavored milk.

Brainstorming with illustrations is the first step in package development.
Tools for Innovation asked Robert Croft, managing partner, Swerve 3D Brand Design, New York, to walk readers through the process of creating innovative packaging. Here¿s his approach to developing a prototype, single-serve bottle for premium-flavored milk.

Q. What preliminary research should be conducted before setting out to develop a package that screams "Udderly Delicious Milkshake?"

A. For starters, it is helpful to conduct an international audit of relevant and inspirational packaging. It is also useful to research materials and processes that help drive new packaging configurations.

When I did this, I found that there was opportunity with a structural package manufactured by the blow-fill-seal method. The package relies partly on the product to keep its shape, with the consumer crushing the package down in order to expel the product. Such a structural package has a high level of functionality and is all made from a single component.

Sketch models were used to validate ergonomics and aesthetics. A computer-aided design included graphics and straw.
Q. How did you identify viable concepts?

A. My research indicated that there were several directions that I could take to package a kids' milkshake. Around a dozen or so ideas were bounced around, with each concept representing a unique positioning strategy. Each direction lent itself to a different language, with varying functional attributes. Of course, the cow is quite a strong visual resource and it was tempting to represent it in two-dimensional packaging graphics, or in three-dimensions, making it part of the structural package.

Everything in the marketplace to date is quite conservative, mainly plastic bottles with a screw cap. It appears that little attempt has been made to cross-pollinate configurations from other categories, so I declared open season with a "blue sky" concept design phase.

There were some design criteria, or a list of "must haves" for this package. The most important item is that the product must be able to be merchandized by itself and in multi-packs and in a wide array of retail scenarios including c-stores and supermarkets. Ideally the individual units would have a straw attached. I anticipated that the storage of the straw would pose the greatest challenge. Also, cost had to be minimal, along with a low component count.

Other package criteria included ease of opening, portability and mess-free consumption, as well as being suitable for shaking, an expected ritual for a milkshake. With the development of this prototype, there were no restrictions to use existing production machinery.

I drew up several good ideas, which positioned the product in different ways. These ran the gamut from heritage-inspired milk urn designs with straw storage bays partially hidden under shrink-wrap, to asymmetrical shake-like hybrid packages.

Q. How did you decide on which design to go with?

A. A couple of ideas were merged together to create the ideal milkshake package. Besides meeting all the previously identified criteria, I wanted the final prototype to be ergonomic, to allow graphics to be applied without orientation and to include a revolutionary built-in straw.

By using layered low-density polyethylene and the blow-fill-seal process (a process frequently used with medical packaging), it was possible to make the package from a single component. The low density of the packaging material allows the package to crush down like a pouch, with no venting required. Essentially the design would be a low-cost, bottle-pouch hybrid with a straw exiting at the base of the product chamber, which is breaking new ground for the dairy category and would hopefully set a new standard for single-serve packaging.

The prototype was drafted in two-dimensional computer-aided-design, commonly referred to as CAD. A prototype was then manufactured from low-density foam in order to confirm the ergonomic performance. After testing a selection of profiles, a shape was selected that could be shaken easily by children and adults. The shape also allowed for a custom dip tube/straw to be molded onto the side of the bottle. The straw would blend in with the round profile of the container to allow for high line speeds and shrink-wrap application. Precautions would be taken to ensure that the end of the straw would be covered to prevent tainting at retail.

The final package proves that anything is possible when a logical and scientific approach is taken to package development.
Q. Finally, please describe the final design.

A. Having established a structural package that could serve as a robust platform for a variety of products and flavors, we moved to state-of-the-art digital modeling, in order to generate usable three-dimensional data for tooling purposes. This process also allows us to generate realistic three-dimensional renderings of the final design.

Packaging graphics that were developed on a parallel time-line were integrated into the digital renderings to create photo-realistic images of the final product. This seamless process of engineering and visualization allows the design to be accurately evaluated, as minor changes take place.

Once the data is complete, a short run of rapid prototypes is manufactured using resin transfer moldings and thermoplastic elastomers. If larger quantities of production quality items are needed, it is possible to work with vendors to produce a pilot tool and execute a short-production run.

In the packaging industry, this is how to innovate.