L’Oréal’s Jacques Playe lays out ambitions to drive packaging science & UX design

L’Oréal’s Jacques Playe lays out ambitions to drive packaging science & UX design

L’Oréal is out to reinvent the consumer experience and packaging will play a vital role in this transformation. In our exclusive interview, Jacques Playe, appointed Global Head of Packaging & Product Development earlier this year, speaks with Luxe Packaging Insight about the creation of the beauty group’s first-ever UX design lab, its new Packaging Science Center, its upcoming launch of a paper bottle with Paboco and his vision for the years ahead. The full interview will be published in the upcoming issue of our sister publication Formes de Luxe.

You took up your new position as head of packaging and product development at L’Oréal in June. What are your priorities?

My objectives for 2021 are in line with the Group’s three main priorities for the coming years: sustainability, performance and experience.

We express this in the form of "design to". Design to Sustainability concerns environmentally friendly products that accompany the circular economy. Design to Performance is all about products that are increasingly efficient for the end consumer; where the pack is not just a container, but contributes to performance. The way a mascara brush is designed in relation to the formula plays on performance, for example. On less straightforward issues, such as active ingredients in skincare, the idea is to push into the territory of highly innovative packaging in order to amplify product performance.

For the third axis, Design to Experience, the consumer experience will connect the pack’s practical aspect with everything that it generates from an emotional standpoint. Traditionally when we talk about design, we’re referring to a beautiful object, but our idea is to have a 360° design approach around the experience — one where nothing is left to chance.

What role will technology play in user experience?

I prefer to say that science will have an impact, and more precisely consumer science, simply because the user experience is a science in and of itself: ergonomics, sound, touch... To make a gorgeous pack you need two things: an engineer, and therefore technique, and the user experience. This ‘marriage’ has all the ingredients to create a truly innovative object. Sometimes innovation is a result of technique (new materials or technologies, for example), and in other cases we reuse proven techniques, but in an intelligent way in the context of ‘user science’.

One of our priorities in 2021 is therefore to build this UX design science and we’ll point our packaging research in this direction.

How will you build the science of UX design?

There are already designers, UX designers and researchers in our packaging teams, but next year L’Oréal is creating a dedicated UX design laboratory. The idea is to go much further in the science of experience by calling on our in-house expertise. As far as open innovation and collaborations go, we aim to use external designers or academic partnerships and to engage R&D in these areas.

One of your flagship projects in 2019 was the development of a paper tube with Albéa. What are the next steps for this product?

Our goal remains to have less plastic in the tube — in line with L’Oréal’s focus on replacing plastic with other materials — so the development is ongoing. We are also working to make the tube recyclable, which is not the case today.

The tube first launched for La Roche-Posay. Will it adopted by other L’Oréal brands?

The tube is also part of Garnier’s portfolio and further roll out will be done by capillary action while taking into account each brand’s identity. But we are not going to “embolize” our brands with a single initiative; rather to pick and choose from different solutions within the framework of our six levers for sustainable packaging: Recycle, Reduce (lightweighting), Replace (certain materials by others), Refill, and Reinvent (to reconfigure an existing product). On this last point, Garnier is the best example with the recent launch of a solid shampoo that is packaged not in a plastic bottle, but in a simple cardboard box.

The cardboard tube is a key part of the Replace axis. Some of our Luxe division brands will surely adopt it, while others will opt for different solutions that correspond more to their DNA. We offer a complete palette and each brand selects what is the best fit for them.

Where is L’Oréal in the development of your first paper bottle with Paboco?

We are launching our first version, a watertight paper-cardboard bottle that will be industrialized with Paboco, in the first half of 2021. If all goes well, this will reduce the use of plastic by almost 60% on a product from a brand in our portfolio that will be the first to embark on this adventure.

Will the first paper bottle be recyclable?

This is currently under study. What is particularly interesting about the concept of recyclability, which will be of great interest to us in 2021, is the fact that it has no universal definition, as it depends on each network in each country. We have to approach the issue with a macro lens country by country and monitor the evolution of recycling technologies. In 5 to 10 years' time, I believe the field will be revolutionized: progress in AI, for one, will most certainly have a significant impact on how sorting centers operate. We are looking at all this in detail.

Would you agree that truly disruptive innovations don’t often come from the luxury segment?

Absolutely not! Luxury is just as innovative, but on different issues, and in addition it provides us with an exceptional laboratory to work on all three axes: fragrance, make-up and skincare. Luxury consumers are demanding and don't compromise on the performance, experience and perceived value of their products, not to mention sustainability. And since innovations are often more expensive to implement, we tend to test them in the luxury space and then roll them out to other divisions.

Of course the Luxe division is working on recycled or reduced packaging, but its big lever is around refill and reload formats. A few examples include Lancôme’s Idôle fountain that allows the consumer to refill her bottle in store and My Way from Armani, for at-home refills, which reduces the use of plastic by 64%, 55% of glass and 75% of metal. Reloads, illustrated by Yves Saint Laurent’s Pure Shots skincare line, are another major area of research. And rest assured, a lot of new things are in the pipeline for the months to come!

Implementing the six Rs will have a major impact on your suppliers as well as their own suppliers as they have to reinvent their offers.

Indeed, we’ll be seeing a lot of changes if only because R&D is moving at such a quick pace. In-house at L'Oréal, in the same way we are creating a lab around UX Design, packaging science is poised to become even more important. To structure this, we are founding our Packaging Science Center, which will gather together the group’s experts in the field. My eight years within the group's Research & Innovation division was a great inspiration for the creation of this new entity. Our existing Packaging Center of Expertise will be bolstered with even more stringent research programs and we will go further in our own expertise, while structuring our external collaborations.

A lot of exciting things are going to happen in the next decade when it comes to packaging science and technology — it's already underway — and we intend to accelerate this within the group. Material science, the transformation of materials and recycling, applicators and dispensing... The paths are very broad. I believe that in not too long the industry will be able to inject cardboard, biomaterials will be totally disruptive... We're all on-board in this movement and we'll work with our Tier 1, 2 and 3 suppliers, with start-ups and others to progress!

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