Nice Package, UQAM

September 11, 2014


By Louis-Pier Charbonneau, UQAM


The Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) is all wrapped up in its latest design endeavour, which opens today.


Sylvain Allard, a professor at the university’s school of design, has curated PACKPLAY, a landmark exhibition of 125 projects from students at nine universities in Europe and North America. The packaging design show is the first of its kind at the Centre de design de l'UQAM, and, Allard says, likely the largest ever staged in Montreal.


Allard, who made UQAM a major player in packaging design education, says his goal with PACKPLAY was to highlight student-based designs that focus on the user experience not only while interacting with the product, but on their reflections after using it.


“Is their experience positive?” he asks. “Is there any added function to the packaging? Is it dynamic, is it seductive? Is it going to guide them during their usage? All these things we take for granted, but aren’t always addressed.”


Allard explains that many products available today are not focused on the user, because they have bland or superfluous design, and unconsidered or obtuse packaging.


“I’m interested in research, innovation and creativity,” he says. “I’m dedicated to projects that are more unique, that are there to inspire. It’s about telling the story of a product, but including the user as one of the main roles. People want to be part of the story, and so the whole way of thinking of packaging as something more participative is changing.”


Allard says that is where student work is so exciting. “[Students] have a certain number of years of free creativity,” he says. “And then the reality of the market is going to hit them, and they’ll have to live with the reality of marketing, and selling, and cost constraints. But the first goal in university is to just let ideas live.”


That’s exactly what Allard did with this exhibition, which includes such ingenious designs as an accordion-like box of wine that can be pushed down to reduce space. Another featured design is “The Polar Beer” tote box, which houses several bottles of beer. The sides of the cardboard box are removable coasters, making less packaging waste when the user is finished with the product.


By Pascal Lefebvre, UQAM. Photo © Raymond Lanctot Photographer


Some designs are playful, such as the Viagra pill packets featuring phallic-shaped objects that appear to extend on opening, while others are taskmasters, like the design seeking to improve legibility on pill-bottle packaging.


Another object takes the North American tradition of crumbling crackers into soup to a whole new level: it’s a crushable, accordion-style package with soda crackers that the user can punch down. “Depending how hard you hit it, you can get bigger or smaller pieces,” Allard says. “It’s something you want to interact with. Why not make design fun, seductive, productive, functional and informative?”


By Mélanie Laviolette, UQAM 



At the show’s opening reception last night, several pieces took home awards after being judged by an international jury of 27 design professionals. Marine Lastère of Université de Montréal won the prize for functional design for the piece "Lait maternisé," Alex Sauvageau of UQAM won the communication design prize for the piece "L'epicier," and Michèle Beauchamp-Roy of UQAM won the grand prize for the vodka-jacket piece "BRRR."


Allard put out his call for submissions for PACKPLAY over a year and a half ago, advertising his idea on the popular Packaging | UQAM blog, which he has been writing for 10 years.


He says he started the site for fun, but quickly discovered people in the design community had a lot to say about packaging. As his blog’s audience grew, he connected with professors all over the world, who he eventually called upon when it was time to start curating his exhibition. They had three school semesters to get students to submit works for consideration.


One of Allard’s favourites included in the exhibition is the cranberry-cloaked vodka bottle, which was part of a student’s project to sell Quebec outside of its own market. “We have a lot of potatoes, so we could potentially do a vodka. And we grow a lot of cranberries, so this person designed this fabulous packaging of a vodka bottle that has a winter coat around it made out of cranberry juice bubbles. You can freeze the suit of bubbles and make it ice for your drink,” he explains. “It’s totally usable and visually beautiful.”


By Michèle Beauchamp-Roy, UQAM, grand prize winner. Photo © Raymond Lanctot Photographer


By Marine Lastère, Université de Montréal, functional design prize winner


By Alex Sauvageau, UQAM, communication design prize winner 


The designs featured in PACKPLAY are collected in an eponymous, bilingual book, soon available online for $30. Participating schools included UQAM, the Université de Montréal, FIT New York, HTW Berlin, Strate and ECV Atlantique (France), LUAS Institute of Design (Finland), Nackademin (Sweden), and the Politecnico di Milano (Italy).


The exhibition runs until November 2. “We’ve see things that are just plain fun,” Allard says. “And they’re such great ideas that we wonder why they’re not existing in the industry.”


By Alyssa Lagattuta, FIT New York 


By Myriam Bussière, Université de Montréal


By Gabrielle Saintonge, UQAM. Photo © Raymond Lanctot Photographer


By Anni Avela, LUAS Institute of Design


By Mario Bouthat, UQAM. Photo © Raymond Lanctot Photographer


By Hannah Lindholm, Nackademin


By Maude Paquette-Boulva, UQAM. Photo © Raymond Lanctot Photographer


By Ingrid Laflamme-Gordon, Université de Montréal


PACKPLAY runs Sept. 11 to Nov. 2 at the Centre de design de L'UQAM, 1440, rue Sanguinet in Montreal.


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