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Packaging designer Mat Bogust thinks cardboard is sexy. Is he right?

Cardboard. A good medium for designers to work with? "Sexy?" Something with a bright future? Yes, yes, and yes - or so says Mat Bogust.

Mat Bogust thinks cardboard is sexy.

At least, when it comes to designing things.

“What’s awesome is it’s flat, you can make it into a form, you can make it 3D or 2D,” he says while sitting near the back of a bustling Auckland café on a muggy Tuesday morning. “I think that shows craft (if you’re good at it). That’s what it’s all about, whether it’d paper design, furniture design… it’s about that craft.”

Fair enough. That “craft” has served Bogust well, too. After all, his company, Think Packaging, is an Auckland based, structural packaging design studio that makes things out of cardboard. Established in 2010, the company’s purpose isn’t about “fame or money,” but is instead “to rub out sub-standard box templates and send shivers down the spines of blister packs everywhere.’

Yeah. As Bogust puts it: “I like to do things differently.”

Some of Mat Bogust's cardboard design work for Orcon.

That “doing things differently,” going against the grain and taking a risk that seems to be a hallmark of many New Zealand designers, recently manifested itself during a project Mat worked on for Orcon, with the telecommunication company’s senior designer, Stef Clark and his team.

“We came up with this quite bold idea to create paper models,” he says. “We basically had free rein to do whatever we wanted to do.”

The result was a collection of paper models that Orcon used to illustrate their website. The brightly-coloured models – the definition of retro-futurism if there ever was one – are blended together with real people, lending an absurdist tone that helps portray Orcon as a fun, imaginative brand.

One of Bogust's cardboard designs for Orcon.

“The idea was to make it more engaging,” says Bogust. “If someone were to visit the [Orcon] website or see the ad campaign, you’d actually be drawn into this ray gun shooting a pizza. And naturally you’d be like, ‘what is that?’”

Huh. So that’s that. But, as Bogust says, there’s a whole lot more to it than just arranging the cardboard into pretty shapes. For one, there’s sourcing the cardboard locally. But there’s also something more – the belief that a good product can be ruined by poor packaging. And good packaging? “Look at what Apple has done. It’s great packaging.”

Bogust has been involved in packaging design for 17 years – half his life. He says “tangibility has come back” in recent years. In other words, he says there’s an emphasis on “premium” packaging because, due to the rise of the internet, receiving a physical product in its own packaging feels like a “premium” experience. As Bogust says: “There’s an emphasis on sexy packaging. People are slowly coming back to the thought that it (packaging) can be cool. It isn’t nerdy.”

When it comes to design, Bogust emphasises there’s something that’s sometimes overlooked by designers of all levels, and no matter where they live or what medium they work with: the “why” of design. “You have to think, ‘why is that?’ Why are you doing what you’re doing?”

Once that “why” has been sussed – or at least the outlines of it fleshed out – everything else falls into place, claims Bogust. And, more importantly, whatever is being created will “be interesting.”

And if there’s one thing Bogust could make if he could make anything out of cardboard? A full-size Lego figure. And why? “It’s fucking incredible.”

But, more seriously, “I’ve already done a lot of that (created “dream” projects and designs) in my work. I like taking ideas and bringing them to life.”

Naturally, 17 years of working with packaging design means Bogust has some sage (monstrously cliché as the term is) advice for other designers. “Keep going,” he says. “If you love what you do, and I fucking love what I do, do it. [What I do is] is not the kind of job most people would have heard of or thought was cool. So I kind of pushed it myself and proved – almost to myself – that creativity can be in anything. So, believe that you’ve got something to offer, and just do it. See how it goes.”

He has some other piece of advice he has, too: “Listen. Don’t get hung up.”

The number 8 wire mentality embodied? Perhaps – but Bogust says he’d prefer that wire be made of cardboard.

Fair enough for someone who makes a living working with the stuff.

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