Interview with Fabrice Gallay - Industrial Designer at Erca
What professional career have you pursued?
I started my career with a manufacturer of school products in the consumer goods sector for France and the United Kingdom. I created and designed writing instruments (pens, correctors, highlighters) and primary packaging (bottles of paint for children and bottles of liquid correctors). In parallel, I participated in the technical design, modelling, prototyping, product characterisation and industrial quality.
I then joined the design studio of an international group to participate in the development of the PaperMate brand around the world. This position worked in close collaboration with the marketing department, I had to modernize the brand’s emblematic products, design improvements in user comfort and integrate technical constraints.
How did you get into cup design?
Erca’s customers are in consumer markets whose challenges and distribution network I was already familiar with. I had also designed value-added packaging projects, some of them were marketed and are still on sale today under the Berol brand.
For me it has therefore been a continuity but also an openness to very diversified market sectors.
Designing packaging also means dealing with our customers’ large-scale ecological projects. The amount of material must be calculated as precisely as possible and the design must be adapted to the specifications of new materials.
On average, how many designs does ERCA create in a year and in how many designs have you been involved in?
The number of projects is numerous: around 80 projects are designed per year. I have been involved in approximately 320 designs which I created or modified.
With such a large number of designs, it’s easy to loose track. Are there some shapes that you like best and if so, which ones?
While even the simplest designs have a touch of style that differentiates them from others, some designs are truly built around a theme. As an example have a look on this elegant transparent «yogurt cup» in recyclable PET, created 1 year ago. The shape gently envelops the product and the cup walls are discreetly stiffened by a simple undulation that does not interfere with the passage of the spoon.
Three years ago there was a project that required the development of a range of ‘casseroles’ in a strong traditional style. Two recessed grips are integrated to improve handling. The product inside can be heated and consumed straight from the tub.
Another example is this beautiful cup for fruit juice. It has a faceted structure that gives it an attractive and high-quality look while stiffening the cup wall. This design limits the risk of spillage of the content by a safer grip.
How do you get new design orders? Only through customer requests or also through internal orders?
I have different contacts. Most of the time, the request comes from the project managers. They collect all requests and forward them to me so that I can work on feasible proposals. When it comes to realise a sketch for a preliminary project, it also happens that I receive very meagre briefs. In this case, I sometimes get in touch with the customer to better understand the project, share ideas and explain technical constraints.
Are you only designing cups for small companies or also for multi-nationals?
For me each request has the same importance – regardless of the size of the company. For the project, the challenge is the same: to supply and satisfy each customer, to be proactive. All manufacturers benefit from a quality, custom-made packaging design.
What do you have to take into consideration when working on a new cup design? Material, customer specialities, labelling solutions, etc.?
Every packaging design must take into account all aspects of the product to be filled: composition, filling temperature, viscosity, shelf life and type of preservation. All of them affect the shape of the package and its total volume.
Transport and storage require a certain chemical and mechanical resistance. The thermoforming (bottom web) material as well as the corresponding cup decoration (label) offer solutions, but also constrain the general cup shape, limit the cup dimensions and sometimes enforce visible details.
The design of the planned new packaging machine or those of the existing machine determines the proportions of the cup shape, limits the dimensions and requires certain details in the die-cutting.
Our packaging protects the products of our customers, but also has other additional functions serving either to consume the product directly out of it, or to transfer it cleanly.
Yogurt packaging will therefore not be designed like that of a dessert cream, a beverage, a compote or a vegetable purée. Each product has its market segment, its characteristics, in particular its viscosity but also its specific consumption requirements.
To sell well – to be highly visible and stand out on the shelf in the store – and to be easy to use, the packaging must guarantee efficient service functions such as easy spoonability, while maintaining a high quality, unique or classic visual presentation – such as for a beautiful object of tableware and kitchen utensils.
Do you also design several proposals for one customer so he has the choice?
If the design is not clearly defined in advance, I start the process by sketching 2 or 3 feasible designs with advantages and disadvantages. The customer can compare them and decide which one they would like to have and then we move to the next stage of the project.
After receipt of the internal approval for a design how do you proceed? Do you print prototypes on a 3D printer? Or do you have a laboratory machine on which you can produce small quantities with different materials to check if your design and the material work together?
In most cases, after the acceptance of a drawing, it is necessary to concretely evaluate it in the form of a model. It is thus possible to compare the dimensions of the designed cup with existing packaging.
For this purpose, a subcontractor specialised in 3D printing will create a model. Usually it is realised within 48 hours. Thus, in the next step, the cup material, color, appearance (glossy, matte, smooth or granular) or its transparency can be validated. For this purpose, our laboratory produces thermoformed models in a mold. At this stage, it is also possible for me to validate the technical performance of the packaging.
Where do you get new ideas and inspiration for the cup designs in everyday life?
I have a soft spot for art and when I look at a form that touches me, it can enrich my imagination. More concretely, I analyse existing packaging, but also other objects. I identify trends and references in terms of their functional, aesthetic, technical or environmental aspects. So I look around in stores and on the Internet; but I can also get information at trade shows. I observe and listen to the people around me and in the stores.
What do you think when you see other cups in the supermarket or even cups you designed?
I always loved to have a look at the shelves of supermarkets and department stores during my shopping. Sometimes I rediscover packaging and products that I designed recently or a long time ago. I like to see how they are positioned on the shelves and imagine their impact on sales and user satisfaction.