Cal Poly graphic communication students won first place at the Phoenix Challenge Flexo Packaging Competition for their design of new sustainable packaging and labels for a local business.

The Phoenix Challenge is a yearlong project in which students help a local small business rebrand and market itself with materials using the flexographic print process — a technique that uses a flexible plate to print on a variety of materials. This year’s theme is sustainable packaging for sustainable business. All the development efforts were focused on helping local small businesses to reduce packaging costs and help their brands to stand out.

This year, Cal Poly’s team consisted of graphic communications students Naomi Furuya, Mandy Ko, Isabel Lao, Kaitlin Sakae, Ashley Rubens, Madeline Wales and Sadie Curdts. They chose to work with a small San Luis Obispo-based business, SeaBreeze Cupcakes & Sweet Treats, to develop and design a cupcake carrying box, a three-pack extract box, and labels to help the business reach out to specific groups of customers and expand to new demographics.

‘I learnt a lot from the experience of iterating on a printed product with a team,’ Ms Lao said. ‘I feel like that hands-on experience prepared me for working in a similar setting in an industry. I also appreciated seeing the flexographic printing process from start to finish. It was helpful to know what choices go into selecting inks, substrates, specialty processes, etc. based on limitations and what the client wants and then seeing how those choices reflected in the quality during the press run. I can better envision the processes behind what we talk about in class now that I’ve seen them for myself.’

The students considered sustainability, environmental impact and efficiency while developing the packaging and labels. The cupcake carrying box and extract box are designed to use the minimum amount of glue, with dielines designed to cut out the maximum number of boxes from one single sheet of folding carton board. The boxes were made of unbleached boards with the minimum amount of ink to further reduce the environmental impact.

They also designed a set of labels for the business owner to target different demographics without changing the structure of the boxes. The labels are designed for efficient production to reduce the manufacturing cost.

The group spent the last academic year brainstorming different concepts, conducting market research on cupcakes and sweets, interviewing industry experts on regulations, packaging materials and structures, surveying targeted demographics for insights, iterating packaging structures and label designs, and printing on the flexo press in the lab for prototyping. Finally, they presented the works and the prototypes to a group of judges from the printing industry.

‘The experience students gain from this competition helps them practice and advance their skills in technology, team building and leadership. Participating in Phoenix Challenge is more than a competition — it has a long-lasting impact on students’ success after graduation,’ said team advisor and graphic communication professor Xiaoying Rong.