As a writer with joint passions for both food and design, I get a little geeky over gorgeous packaging for edible and drinkable brands: artisan jams with homespun labels, chocolate bars wrapped in patterned papers, craft beers with killer labels. It’s not just boutique producers who embrace well-designed packaging; case in point: The Fresh Market. This small-ish chain of upscale food shops has a delicious design aesthetic for its house brand products.
Alex Blake and Andy Kurtts are the two creative minds behind The Fresh Market brand as it applies to goods on the shelves. (The two also collaborate as the indie studio Buttermilk Creative, working for startup brands and nonprofits.) They’re making their second appearance at The Dieline Conference in Boston in May.
We recently asked Kurtts about how he became a packaging designer, how he breaks out of those inevitable creative ruts and where he turns for inspiration. He cites Patricia Curtan’s gorgeously illustrated and letterpress-printed work in her book, “The Menus for Chez Panisse,” and his 1-year-old daughter both as sources of beauty and wonder.
Working in-house, even on cool package design projects for a progressive independent grocer, you’re bound to run into creative ruts. What do you do?
Get out of the office! Sometimes we just take a walk around the parking lot; other times we’ll actually drive somewhere, whether it’s a coffee shop, another retailer, or a park. Just getting out and clearing your head is so important.
Looking at your packaging design career, is there a fave project that stands out to you?
One of my favorite projects is one of the most recent ones we’ve worked on—it’s packaging for a really tasty crisp bread/cracker line. These little breads are the perfect accompaniment for cheese and cocktail parties, so for the packaging we shot serving suggestions and ingredients scattered on a chalkboard (meant to look like a serving platter), we hand-lettered the item names on the chalkboard, and then photographed the whole thing. The final product looks really great, and because it has the dark chalkboard background and pops of color, it really disrupts the specialty cracker/crisp bread shelf. The photo shoot went really well and it all came together, which was nice because that’s not always the case.
In your session with Alex at The Dieline Conference, Oops I Became a Package Designer, you plan to share some of those projects that didn’t come together perfectly, and talk about how to learn from mistakes and move on. What prompted your presentation topic?
Our session is inspired by our journey becoming packaging designers—a story we think is very relatable to a lot of working packaging designers out there. We don’t go to school to become “packaging designers”—often, it’s a job that falls into your lap and you sink or swim. Not every project goes smoothly, especially starting off, so we think its important to not only celebrate the successes but also talk about the ones we stumbled on.
Learn package design from the field’s best and brightest at The Dieline Conference, including designers from brands and agencies including The Fresh Market, Little Big Brands, Make and Matter, Beam and Method Products.