2011 FiFi Award and Pentawards winner Harry Allen gives Beauty Packaging the lowdown on the unorthodox techniques he used—and the challenges he faced—in designing the bottle for Marc Jacobs BANG, and explains that while packaging “found him,” he likes to keep his projects diverse.
BP: You have won numerous awards for the fragrance packaging you created for Marc Jacobs BANG. Do you specialize in packaging for the beauty industry?
HA: I do not specialize in packaging for the beauty industry, or packaging per se. I do a wide variety of work, but the beauty industry is a great consumer of design, and my first job out of school was for Prescriptives so I have done a lot of work in the category.
BP: Please describe the process of designing the bottle for BANG. Did you just take the name very literally and focus on that? Any thoughts of a gun, perhaps?
HA: The BANG project was very unique. I was hired by Coty Prestige and I did not meet Marc Jacobs until after the process. They provided me with much information about the person, the brand and preliminary direction for the new fragrance, but the only concrete piece to the puzzle at that point was the name. “Bang” however is very evocative, so I just went from there. I explored many solutions—from a color burst, to a cartoon burst, to a variety of forms literal and abstract. Everyone was pretty sure from the start that they wanted to stay away from artillery.
BP: Why do you think BANG captured so much attention?
HA: I think the form we arrived at is very unique. I literally took a piece of metal and hit it with a hammer, and then transferred that information to the bottle. This is not the way most packaging is developed. The engineers at Coty did an amazing job realizing the project and keeping the design intent intact. It is rare that you see such an artful piece of commerce and I think that is why it has grabbed so much attention.
BP: What other packaging designs do you have under your belt? In beauty? Other?
HA: Some of my most prominent packaging projects include the primary packaging program for Aveda’s color line in 1999; primary packaging for both solid and liquid fragrances for Sonia Kashuk in 2001; the First Aid Kit for Johnson & Johnson in 2005; BANG of course in 2010; and a soon to be launched, not yet announced project for MAC.
BP: When are you typically brought in on a project?
HA: For most of the above projects I was brought in right at the beginning, issued a brief, and kept in the process until the end of development. That is the best way to engage a designer.
BP: How do you typically approach a new packaging design?
HA: In general I am both practical and personal in my approach to design. I was weaned on form-follows-function modernism, but I am a very personal designer. I try to give each of my projects a little piece of myself, or my aesthetic interests (which fortunately are very broad). For BANG, I created a signature form, by hand, and then applied it to a bottle. That aesthetic is an extension of my REALITY work. I have a whole line of products, called REALITY, that are all cast from real life. The cornerstone of the line is a piggy bank that is cast from a real pig. They are very artsy and the aesthetic is perfect for Marc Jacobs. I am very sensitive to my clients’ needs, so the perfect design is an intersection of my aesthetic, and my client’s brand.
Harry Allen’s design for Marc JacobsBANG won both a FiFi and a Pentaward.
BP: What was the most challenging packaging project you’ve worked on—and why?
HA: I think BANG might be the most difficult packaging project I ever worked on because I was never allowed to speak directly with Marc Jacobs himself. Communication was filtered through Coty. That was the deal, so I am not complaining, however, it is always much easier to work with the decision-maker directly. Sometimes there is as much to learn from the designs that aren’t chosen as there is to be learned from the designs that are. So I like being in the room to gauge reactions, hear nuance, etc. I am very good at processing information and coalescing various ideas.
BP: What is your all-time favorite packaging of a beauty—or other consumer product?
HA: From a graphic standpoint I love the logo blocks on the Malin+Goetz packaging—set in descending type size. It is such a smart, effective layout, and an inexpensive design solution.
Sometimes, however, even though I am a die-hard modernist it is nostalgia that gets me in the end. I have a place in my heart for the Paco Rabanne Pour Homme bottle. Not because it is such great design, although it certainly marks an era with its clean lines and chrome detailing, but because it played such an important role in my life. I recall thinking it was such a cool bottle, and Pour Homme was the finishing touch to my beauty regimen in the late seventies. After having spent hours in the bathroom popping zits and blow drying my hair, ten or twelve squirts of Paco Rabanne was just what I needed to feel like a stud. You could smell me from a block away. It was my first real love affair with fragrance.
BP: What are you working on now?
HA: No packaging at the moment. Some display work for a large cosmetic brand, a couple of apartments,
a yoga studio, furniture and lighting, and an award
BP: Any advice for up-and-coming packaging designers?
HA: Packaging sort of found me, not the other way around, and I am happy that it did, but I would never want to work exclusively on packaging. I like working on a variety of projects across many disciplines. As much as working on one area gives you an expertise, it can also stifle your creative juices. Design, for me, is all about cross-pollination. Often, if I learn something in one area of design, it informs my work in another area. For instance, I have designed many retail spaces and it is great to have that experience as one is designing packaging of products to fill the shelves. So I guess my advice would be to keep it diverse.
BP: What should brands keep in mind when planning a new product/package as far as the practicality of design?
HA: The design process itself is a great problem solver. Start with design, get practical later.
BP: What do you have to keep in mind as far as suppliers—and how your vision will be transformed?
HA: The end product is rarely as beautiful as the rendering. That said, a knowledge of manufacturing, and the way things will go together can help one anticipate problems and avoid a multitude of sins.