Rising Stars in Package Design: What Employers Can Learn


Growing up, Robin Matusik often played with Legos. She liked thinking of a creation and then making it a reality. Today, as a senior package engineer with Hasbro Toys, Robin thinks the same way about designing paperboard packaging. “You can build almost anything with paperboard,” she says. “I really enjoy coming up with the idea, figuring out how to make it, and then seeing the package at retail.” 


When Robin served as a judge this year in PPC’s annual North American Paperboard Packaging Competition, it felt like coming full circle in the industry. In 2005, as a college student, she took top place in the Paperboard Packaging Alliance’s (PPA) Student Design Challenge, a competition put on jointly by PPC and the American Forest & Paper Association, where university students compete to create the best paperboard design. Robin grew from a bright young student to a recognized design expert. 


PPC was fortunate to have another student design winner serve as a judge for our 2018 professional competition: Lynsie Gibson who is currently a senior packaging engineer at Performance Health. Lynsie competed in the student challenge twice, winning in 2009. Quickly creating a reputation for herself in the industry, 2018 marks the fourth year she has judged our competition! 


As an industry, we can learn so much from these rising stars. What made them pick packaging? How did they get where they are today? And, importantly, how can we get high performers like them to work at our companies? Below we’ve collected insights from Lynsie and Robin that should help to answer these key questions. 

Why Packaging? Why Paperboard?

When we think about recruiting top talent, it’s important to understand what motivates individuals to pursue careers in packaging in the first place. That might start with the individual’s mindset. Lynsie, who describes herself as a technical and creative person, says that packaging design allows her to express both those aptitudes. “My focus for the day could be in design and decoration, structural integrity, sustainability, supply chain efficiencies, or cost savings,” she says. “That variety keeps me in the industry.”


Robin’s motivation goes back to the process of designing and making, much like her childhood pastime of building Legos. When designing, “you think of an idea and then think about how the paper will fold and how you can make a 3D object. Being able to draw 2D in CAD and then prototype on a cutting table is instant satisfaction!”


Design versatility certainly attracts these designers to paperboard as a substrate, as does sustainability. Lynsie says, “My personal favorite characteristic about paperboard is its sustainability factor. Consumers recycle paperboard more than any other substrate, it comes from a renewable resource, and it’s also compostable when you shred it.”


Student Design Challenge: Kickstarting Careers in Packaging

During her senior year of college, Robin and her team of three fellow packaging science students entered the 2005 PPA Student Design Challenge. The team was challenged to create a promotional piece for the paperboard industry. Ultimately, they built a deck of slotted cards that graphically showcased paperboard’s attributes on one side and showed how to build recognizable structures on the other side by slotting the cards together. According to Robin, the challenge sparked her career in packaging design. It showed her how impactful design can be. “It was also a great resume and interview piece—and it got me into the door at Hasbro as a newly graduated student.”


Lynsie also brought a working sample of her winning student design to interviews after she graduated. Her team won the 2009 challenge, which focused on packaging for a series of “how-to” DVDs about financial planning. “I found the whole experience extremely beneficial during interviews for my first post-education employment. I could speak to working on a team, finding a solution to a problem, my own strengths and weaknesses, and the success of our project.”

Coming Full Circle: Judging PPC’s Competition

The judging of PPC’s professional competition takes place each year in July, and we’re always looking for new faces and fresh perspectives to add to the panel of packaging experts who review each submission. That’s why Lynsie and Robin were perfect additions in recent years! We appreciate their insights, and they have found value, not only in reviewing the outstanding carton designs but also in meeting other judges and growing their networks. 


For those of you who might be wondering how to succeed in the carton competition, here’s some advice from Robin: “The judges look for new ways to execute, unique shapes, cleverness, and something that stands out. It could be as simple as taking a technology from one industry to another and breaking the frame in the new industry. Or it could be a completely new design that stands out and is really cool.”

The Workforce of Tomorrow

For the first time in PPC history, we will be honoring the winners of the 2018 Student Design Challenge in conjunction with our own PPC competition awards at Fall Meeting in Atlanta. The winning students will be attending—which means that PPC members will get an opportunity to meet the top talent of the future. 


But what do future designers need to succeed in the workplace? Lynsie thinks it’s all about willingness to learn, especially about production: “Having the ability to be creative while staying within manufacturing capabilities allows the most success for both the individual and the employer.” For Robin, it’s all about passion. “You can functionally train anyone to use CAD tools,” she says. “But you can’t train someone to love what they do.”

The Best Advice

When we asked Robin for the best piece of advice she would give newcomers to the industry, she said this: “If you build it, they will come! There’s no idea that is too crazy. Think BIG.”


That’s a sentiment we can get behind. To become a rising star like Lynsie or Robin, thinking big is what it takes. And as an employer, you may very well have to match that expansive thinking in order to get the best talent to work at your plant! Start that thinking today. 



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