Over his 50-year career in the folding carton industry, Dick DePaul has seen it all. He’s worked in the converting and consumer sides of the business, designed for nearly every end-use segment, authored and illustrated both editions of PPC’s Ideas and Innovation design handbook, and has served as longtime judge of PPC’s annual North American Paperboard Packaging Competition.
During the recent judging of the 2018 competition, we had an opportunity to interview Dick. He offered many insights into his half-century in the paperboard industry, the secret to winning PPC’s Carton Competition, and why package design is an excellent career choice for the coming generation.
PPC: What attracted you to the paperboard packaging industry?
DD: As an industrial design student, I had one design assignment involving packaging, but I really didn’t have any interest in package design as a career at that time.
But near the end of my senior year, a representative from Container Corporation of America came to the school looking for a trained designer to fill a newly created design position. This lead to an interview and an opportunity to tour a paper mill and a folding carton converting plant. This was an eye opener. I realized that there was far more to packaging than I had ever imagined.
Container Corporation made me an offer of employment that I accepted. The rest, as they say, is history.
PPC: Why do you prefer to work with paperboard?
DD: While I was employed by a paperboard packaging company, I was given the leeway to incorporate other materials as well. But I found there were almost limitless possibilities working in pure paperboard. I had the good fortune of working with very technically sound and creative production personnel which permitted me to try things that had not been previously attempted.
We were almost instantly successful. In our first year working together we won two national packaging awards for outstanding design and conversion.
PPC: What is your favorite package you designed for a product and why?
DD: My sentimental favorite is one of my very early designs for Avon products. It had a nice sculptural quality. While it had vulnerable projections which would, under normal circumstances, make it difficult to pack and ship, Avon packed shipments of mixed product and used dunnage to protect individual items, so the vulnerability was not an issue. I created the package in my first full year as a carton designer (1956) and it went on to win a national design award in the 1957 Carton Competition.
PPC: What did you look for from this year’s Carton Competition entries?
DD: I looked for packaging that was visually unique in structure or graphics. I also looked for designs that offered excellent product protection while enhancing the virtues of the product. Finally, they had to be superbly converted.
PPC: What is the secret to scoring well in PPC’s competition?
DD: Each judge may see things differently, but to score well on my tally sheet the package must be outstanding in the areas outlined above. In addition, the accompanying story must clearly outline the positive features of the package and its impact on the desirability of the product.
PPC: What is the most interesting packaging project or design feature you’ve seen in the past year?
DD: I’m not sure when it was first produced, but not so long ago my wife purchased a Merle Norman Cosmetic Studios product. When she showed me the package I thought it was interesting from both a structural and graphic standpoint.
I also liked the GF Harvest IntegraFlexTM Collapsible Cup, which won the Innovation Award in PPC’s 2017 competition.
I’ve added both to my “Archives of Interesting Folding Cartons” which I’ve collected over the years!
PPC: Why is paperboard package design an exciting career choice?
DD: In a given month, the designer may be working on designs for a dozen or more end use categories. To do a professional job, one must become familiar with the product, the properties required to properly handle it through the packaging and distribution cycle, and how the product/package combination fits retail and consumer use requirements.
Each assignment is different, so the designer is always in a learning mode to ensure he or she has the right information to do a proper job.
PPC: What are the most essential skills new designers need to bring into the industry?
DD: First of all, they must have a creative flare. Second, they must have excellent communication skills. Communication skills are crucial for more than just customer presentations. The ability to communicate with personnel from other disciplines within the converting operations (i.e., sales, marketing, manufacturing) is essential to securing the right information to achieve a successful package.
PPC: Thanks, Dick.
DD: Thank you!