Guest of honor at Luxe Pack Monaco this year, Ross Lovegrove discusses his approach to design in our exclusive interview.
How would you describe your design aesthetic?
In the context of packaging, you can’t be so prescriptive as one has to address a number of parameters that may not have existed in the past: environmental issues, for example, which I tackled full on with the Cordon Rouge champagne project. Those parameters are led by the brand’s ethos and culture; it’s not so easy to influence through design. If you address the parameters that you put into place and you do it well, you’re going to arrive at timelessness. The difficulty there is when it comes to changes in technology, but I’ve long integrated that into my work. More generally, I’d say my aesthetic keeps pace with the mood of our times.
What is your approach to technology in design?
It’s not about things whizzing around you, but about infusing energy and a life force so that the object remains animated. I became involved in the digital realm about 20 years ago, and with that came an aesthetic change. With the computational realm and new programs and so on coming into play you have a truly new way of visualizing new ideas, which I find incredibly stimulating. And after all these years there is an alignment between production processes, materials and aesthetics. With that generally comes a possibility for more complexity: it could be decoration, optical qualities or indeed the way structures are built. Yet I’m not sure any of this could relate to high-volume manufacturing. But look what is happening at Adidas, with their 3D printing of shoe soles. It’s tough and the investment is high but you get this incredible positioning. It exciting and it describes a new potential.
Do you look to use more sustainable materials in your process?
I’d say that it’s usually not about materials, but about how much of the given material you use. Some of the work I’m doing now is related to 3D printing, a process which uses material hyper-economically as you only consume what you need. That being said there are other concerns, such as energy consumption.
Your work, almost across the board, features sensual shapes, with very few hard edges.
Indeed. I used to say that if you are blind you’ll like what I do. That’s an aesthetic provocation of course, but it shifts the focus from solely an aesthetic perspective—the primary avenue of attraction—into the realms of sensuality and tactility. Certainly with primary packaging we’re dealing with things that are held, touched and carried and there is a kind of ceremony there.
What appeals to you in packaging design?
Every time I’ve touched packaging, it’s not because I particularly like packaging, but because as a designer each territory represents a challenge for me to leave a disruptive mark. The trouble with packaging is that it’s devalued as something single-use and disposable. That’s a big question right now; you need to understand the big picture or at least to imbue the design with some kind of added value be it artistic, sculptural or cultural.
I’m not attracted to excess in any way. If the end product is irrational, irresponsible or decadent it must be a reflection of the designer and therefore the brand and the culture. That’s not something I want to promote.
However, you can get great results that really shock people while all the while be making money for your client. For Mumm Cordon Rouge I halved the production costs: there is less glass and no paper label that goes wrong... that’s something that is rarely mentioned.
You see technology as freeing up the imagination, but you believe that the packaging industry isn’t keeping pace?
If you look at what’s happening in architecture, aviation, car design, sports equipment… it’s transformational and very different from what we saw in the past. Yet a lot of companies in cosmetics packaging are stuck in the past. They haven’t come to terms with what a younger audience might be interested in, what they can afford, what philosophy they buy into… It’s based on another kind of approach, which is more ‘luxury in attraction’. Yet with a little bit of risk-taking and confidence you can get some stunning results!