Apr 23

The best of Italian package design

Posted by Packaging Sense in Design | Uncategorized

Is it today possible to distinguish one design style from another when it comes to package design in a highly developed market as Europe?The answer is no doubt, yes, as package design is a sort of folk art i.e. it can express a country’s culture as design in general and package design in particular. In this article we will have a look at italy.

Once I wrote an article called “First you design, then you decorate” which, I believe, well expresses my view on package design. Great package design must tell an interesting story and provoke a reaction and of course, most of all, incite to buy the product. I myself need to be emotionally involved, be it with music, art, literature, photography or good food.

The other day I fell on an Italian pasta package and I asked myself why do I like so much those great Italian packages, especially in the pasta category? It struck me that all great Italian packages do really involve me through typography, illustration, layout or an icon. There is a human touch to Italian package design in opposition to the British ‘minimalistic’ design style which can be both witty and unique, but which tires me very quickly as it seldom follows the rule I mentioned above, i.e. First design, then decorate.

At Nestlé where I worked for almost 40 years, I had a basic aversion to seeing people on packages. In fact, there was only one good example and that was on the coffee label “Taster’s Choice”. The reason was that if on petfood packages the animal brings emotion to the design, people are in general just ‘stuck on’ to show a happy consumer not explaining anything about the product.

However, in Italian package design I haved found great examples of human beings/faces on the pack. One example is the sympathetic face of Giovanni Rana, another the old man on the “Grissini Piemontesi” and last, but not least, the charming Olivia and Marino on the Pavesi packages. The attentive reader certainly noticed that I used the words sympathetic and charming, both highly emotional words for a package design.



In all these cases the human touch is well integrated into the design and does not disturb, i.e. does not take away the attention from the products. The layouts are totally different which proves my theory that there is not one way of creating an interesting layout. Unfortunately however, 80% of all packages today follow the scheme

  • • Corporate brand in upper lefthand corner;
  • • Product brand below;
  • • Product illustration at the bottom,

not to forget the triangular ‘New’ in the upper righthand corner!


This emotional touch on Italian package design can also be a kind of vignette illustration as on De Cecco (the harvest girl), on Agnesi (the clipper), on Voiello (the ‘Pirandello’), or the most famous of them all, the mill on Molino Bianco. Once again I refer to highly emotional symbols which you will never forget and that is what branding is all about, isn’t it?

Add to this the years these brands were created, i.e. 1879, 1886 or 1824 and you tell quite a story about these brands. I once suggested this approach to Buitoni, i.e. to incorporate the Casa as a great symbol, but unfortunately never succeeded. What a pity.

Speaking of figures, my favourite pack Barilla does not fit into this article as its design is far more rational and hardselling. However, it incorporates “No 1 in Italia”, one of the best sales argument an Italian package can have. This has been cleverly copied by Giovanni Rana as he is number one in the chilled pasta segment, Barilla being dried pasta.


Let us for a moment leave the cereals aside, and “brew” the cereals, which gives us beer, let us have a look at Peroni’s Nastro Azzurro, a label almost as great as San Pellegrino. This is a masterpiece in layout, typography and words chosen. I am sure Giambattista Bodoni or Aldes Manuzio would have given a great applause had they still been alive.

Speaking about typography the step over to calligraphy is not big. Italy has a number of great calligraphic label designs. I have selected two,

Vicenzi di Verona which show how great calligraphy can render a special touch to a package design. Calligraphy has to be specially made by a calligrapher and not used as a typeface as in less good examples as Col SapOri di Napoli, and Corsini’s Cantuccini.

A cross section like this would not be complete without the unique “Amaretti di Saronno Autentici“ which is not a design masterpiece, but which follows the abovementioned design style with interesting typography, a very special icon, a window and last, but not least highly traditional.

To sum up, Italy has given us a very special emotional style of package design which proves the fact that package design is folk art to a great extent whilst today retailers and brand owners unfortunately do not use art as part of package design by being too rational and global. What a pity!

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3 Responses

  • Congratulation, Lars with your http://www.packagingsense.com. I’m looking forward to follow the development of this exiting initiative.

    First of all: Interesting points on how and why Italian packaging design is understod and prefered by you (see the article “The best of Italian package design” by Lars W.).

    Reminds me of the time when I as a child collected stamps – how the marks where divided into countries, different categories or year. But who could deside the value of the stamps?

    Isn’t it a personal matter to like or unlike certain designs – just like stamps, music or oral taste is subjective.
    And why is certain groups of packaging designs decided by country boarders and not by product category, time of apperence on the market or other causes.

    “I like greek packaging design because I have been in Athens as a child and like the sunny Islands of Greek – they just know how to enjoy life – and exact that spirit is reflected in the pagkaging designs”, one could argue.

    So my point is that to be able to judge a certain packaging design (in terms of information design) you have to consider to factors: The objective matters, fx readability, level of information, and print quality. And secondly you have to take account in the subjective matters, fx style, cultural preferences, and the level of attemp to seduce the byers.

    I, for example, think that IKEA or Apple packaging information designs are succesfully worked out – their mutual preference is the globalization and standardization which leaves the users in front of the interpretation of the packaging.

    So how are we able to deside whatever a certain packaging information design is good or bad?
    Besides using target group analyzes you could rely on your packaging experience and knowledge about the buyers.

    But how can we in a smooth way share opinions on good or bad packaging information design?
    I think that this is the realy interesting question which you haven’t answered in your article about Italian packaging.

  • Great discussion. And I REALLY like that you practice what you preach. That’s when you can tell a post has come together.
    And I’m also fascinated by how fresh you made the routine [admit it: what you just shared has been regurgitated millions of time. ;-)].
    Ben Johnson said people don’t need taught as much as they need reminding.
    Good work.



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