Pigeon-holed into packaging?

Hi all,

I graduated in ID this semester and started my new job as a Packaging Designer. I took the job because I find the work interesting and there is a lot of opportunity for designing outside the box (pardon the pun). There is also a lot of face time with clients, on-site production, and an opportunity to learn the full process of design. I thought all of these skill sets would help me if I wanted to transfer to another type of industrial design. Recently, in the office there have been some jokes made that, “once you’re in packaging you’re in it forever”. My question, is will I be pigeon-holed as a packaging designer if I spend the next 3-5 years there? Also, if I switched to another type of industrial design after working as a packaging designer would I have to start at entry level again or would my skills be considered transferable?


Oh the old packaging question…

I will say this is all up to you. I personally started in packaging. I work for Mars Chocolate and had very similar concerns to you. If you let yourself become a structural packaging designer, only focus on structure and material and don’t learn other aspects of the business, then yes you will stay there. But that is to be said about any area of ID (e.g. Consumer electronics, footwear, jewelry, POP, etc…)

I found my self in a similar situation. As mentioned I started in structural packaging. I went through the typical career progression, Designer, Sr designer, then Design Manager. What I found was that like you mentioned, I was stuck in one segment of ID and I wanted to break out. I struggled for a bit, kind of felt a bit lost, but eventually I took a step back and started to look at the business around me. What I realized was that there were many different areas of the business that could use ID. I started to create ideation methodologies around how to prototype new food. I got to know our food scientist and culinary partners and noticed that there were opportunities to inject myself into chocolate mold design to enhance the sensorial experience of eating the chocolate. From there I partnered with our consumer research team and started to bring design methodologies to research. Through this the organization has started to understand design past structural packaging. Also it has allowed me to grow as a designer and manager and has earned our team a seat at the table when it comes to solving large business problems.

So I guess what I am saying is “pigeon-holed” is self inflicted. Im not sure who you work for, but I would tell you if you love what you do keep doing it. Continue to stretch yourself. Even if you are in a CPG organization there is plenty of opportunity. Open your mind into understanding where design may bring value. It may be in places that are not overtly obvious. Also if you look at many large CPG companies out there at the moment, PepsiCo, J&J, Unilever, etc…, These guys are hiring designers from CPG, as well as other segments of ID and most of the time they are in leadership innovation roles. The reason for this is ID brings an interesting cross-functional view on their organization.

Hope this helps.


This might be better coming from someone more senior than myself but I think I’ve seen a few posts that have suggested this when one of us fears being “pigeon-holed”

To keep yourself diverse then you could design different products in your spare time to show you have the ability to apply the design process to all aspects of ID. Granted it will never be something that is put in to production but if you can clearly showcase good development from idea, research, concepts and to execution then any future employer not in the packaging world how you handle a project. Challenge yourself in designing an innovative kitchen product, a game changing consumer electronic etc etc.

But I have to say PackageID’s advice is pretty solid and sounds like a really good way to progress up the career ladder, as well as being incredibly interesting. Also, places like Unilever etc have silly money to spend so you could be guaranteed a hefty pay packet. Believe me, I have friends in places like that and they earn far more than my friends in consultancies…