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Making the Barcode an Art Code in Packaging

Press Release – January 2008

Making the Barcode an Art Code in Packaging

The barcode ‘flower’ incorporating a logo that won first prize for Dave Herbert, of Natcoll Wellington. It was judged a good sized conventional barcode symbol with clever use made of surplus height


The “ugly duckling” of packaging – the barcode – is being turned into a swan by a collaborative effort of three organisations who want to encourage designers to incorporate the barcode into their art, as opposed to feeling it is an intrusion.

Barcode experts GS1, graphic arts training specialist Natcoll and the Pride In Print organisation have worked together on a world-first competition for up-and-coming designers that promotes that message that “holistic” packaging design must not only look good, it must also maintain the integrity and purpose of the barcode as a stock-taking necessity.

The best way to do that is have the barcode incorporated into the art in such a way that the overall quality of the printed product is improved.

Owen Dance, Technical Consultant at the Wellington office of the international GS1 organisation, says the barcode is an essential tool for stores and distribution chains that are prepared to reject packages that fail to scan correctly. But packaging designers always saw it as an intrusion.

This art book box by Kristofor Chappel, of Natcoll Wellington, was judged a “well-sized and technically correct bar code incorporated in an image appropriate to the subject”


This fragrance box by Nicolaas Van den Broek, Natcoll Christchurch, shows a “conventional correctly dimensioned bar code with embellishments”


“We've always known that designers aren't keen on having to stick a black-and-white striped rectangle on their carefully-created graphics and while we sympathise, we are the technical standards body and we could never approve of the size reductions and shortening that we often see.

“Barcodes that don't scan, or don't scan well, lead in turn to delays and inefficiencies right through the supply chain. Rather than play the policeman and try to enforce a conventional application of the standards we're trying to be creative and positive and send out the message that you can use colour and innovation to make the barcode an interesting and attractive part of a total graphical presentation.”

The idea of a competition was hatched by Bruce Pollock, GS1's South Island Area Manager in Christchurch, which is also Natcoll's head office and main campus. He approached Kate O'Keefe, at that time a tutor and coordinator of graphic design courses, and they developed the concept into the competition. Kate has since taken up an appointment with PrintNZ Training as a Training Coordinator and Natcoll’s Claire Larder, working from the Wellington campus, has taken over Kate's responsibilities.

Dave Herbert (right) receives his award from GS1 Chief Executive Peter Stevens


Entrants had to submit a portfolio with three items in it. Natcoll tutors treated the entries as a part of the course requirement and the overall design aspects and marked them accordingly, then GS1 technically assessed the bar codes for compliance. After this the Natcoll tutors selected a shortlist based on the design merits of those entries whose barcodes were technically sound, and finally the top entries were sent to the Assistant Convenor of Judges for the New Zealand Pride In Print Awards, Fraser Gardyne, himself a top designer.

Fraser said it was a progressive step for the “holistic” view of the role of printing and packaging, to see barcodes incorporated into design art.

“The purpose of packaging is to be functional first and then attractive and innovative second. Barcoding is an essential part of the retail and wholesale distribution chain and therefore it is essential designers respect the integrity of that function.

“We have found through this competition that the students used great creativity to integrate the barcode into their artwork. There were some eye-catching and fun ideas, showing that art and functionality can work in tandem.

Pride In Print Awards Manager Sue Archibald said it was positive to see students approach printers and barcoding experts for help.

“GS1 took the initiative in this and they deserve the kudos for conceiving an idea that helps the print and packaging industries enormously. We learned from his exercise that students will need more technical support, and more instruction from GS1 in the specifications required for a barcode to be functional. It was important to break the ice in this regard, and expose design students to the potential for technical shortcomings in their work.

“They found too that there is scope for innovation in colour and shape while staying within the technical boundaries.”

Sue said the competition was a step forward for the Pride In Print concept.

“Printers and designers come under pressure to ensure barcodes are accurate. Supermarkets in particular are being really fussy and are looking to refuse product that fails to comply, with huge implications for customers.

“Taking pride in the finishing product means marrying a ‘good look’ with sound functionality. By promoting designs that achieve both, we are helping both the design and print industries give their customers what they require.”

An unforeseen development from the competition is that GS1’s success has attracted international interest in doing the same thing.

Owen Dance said GS1 Australia is keen on doing something similar and he has been asked to do a report for the GS1 General Assembly that will be held in Croatia next March.

“My expectation is that several countries will take up the concept eventually. It is good to see New Zealand leading the field internationally,” he said.


The three winning entries were:

First - Freerangehuman Clothing Box Sticker:
Judge’s Comment: “I like the brand and pack which seem appropriate to the brand message. The bar code is fun, positive and works really well.”

Second -- Catalyst Live:
Judge’s Comment: “Whilst being huge, it is well integrated into the design and well camouflaged without being lost.”

Third - Calvin Klein Box
Judge’s Comment: “Whilst it goes a little against the grain to make the barcode the size of the total rear panel of the pack, it is quite fun and elegant.”


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