The aisles of a supermarket teem with the firm's handiwork — Betty Crocker cake mixes, Jell-O, Coca-Cola, Chock full o'Nuts, Perrier, International Delight, Heinz, Kool-Aid, Kodak, Colgate, Gillette, Smucker's, Poland Spring, Campbell's. The list continues. Shelves are filled with packages festooned in a rainbow of colors, a variety of scripts and logos, in all manner of shapes.

Stevan Lipson can easily spend the better part of two hours roaming the supermarket aisles. He heads a firm in Cincinnati that has, for 50 years, played a large part in designing and redesigning the packages of products that appear on supermarket shelves, stacked deep and beckoning. To him, the visual stimulation is intense. And exciting. It's his business.

"I'm at the point where my wife won't go with me to the store, because I'll be there for hours," Lipson says. "I could be there for a while just walking down the aisles. I'm not just looking for the things we did. I'm looking for trends."

Consumers do not necessarily know the creative impetus behind the packages on the shelves, but within the industry of design, Lipson Alport Glass & Associates (LAGA) is a heavyweight, one of the world's largest branding/ packaging design firms, with headquarters in Cincinnati and offices in Chicago and New York. It has a staff of 200, with annual revenues of $40 million. Its headquarters at Eden Park Drive and Gilbert Avenue is a modern, airy building with a sweeping vista of Eden Park.

Designing the package for a product is not just a matter of aesthetics — although it plays a part — or even the singular vision of a design artist sitting at a drafting table. Indeed, according to Lipson, it takes months, a ton of research, and teamwork to bring a design to supermarket shelves.

"It's creating a package that engages the consumer, and design is very strategic," Lipson says. "It's more than a surface decoration. It's a strategic integration of consumer insights, business intelligence and creative problem solving."

There's no one magical formula for breaking through the clutter of supermarket shelves. "There [are] certain visual cues that attract attention," Lipson says. "Color being one, product structure and shape, typography. It's really that synthesis of color, typography, form and visual imagery."

The redesign of the Betty Crocker cake mix box, for instance, took a year and a half to realize. The box had been on the market for more than 80 years, and General Mills recognized it needed a makeover. LAGA conducted a predesign study. Researchers interviewed hundreds of consumers. The firm worked within the parameters of what it called "equities," or given components of a brand — in this case, color, the spoon on the box and a Betty Crocker script — and then worked from there.

LAGA centered the spoon on the package, fine-tuned and also centered the signature, softened the border around the package, and made the name a bit more prominent. More than 20 people worked on the design, from researchers to designers.

Lipson sits on a couch in his office and points out the changes on the Betty Crocker box with the tip of his pen.

"We did a whole study on the importance of the packaging," Lipson says, circling the pen point over the script and spoon. "Just what is Betty Crocker all about? It manifests primarily in packaging. We study the visual material, like the cake. You see the visual image of the end product — it appeals to the senses. It looks pretty good, looks moist."

Chock full o'Nuts coffee and the Manhattan skyline on its cans posed a different kind of challenge. The Sept. 11 attacks obliterated the World Trade Center. Yet, Chock decided, based on research from LAGA, not to erase the landmark from its packaging.

"We conducted some consumer groups and they felt that Twin Towers were part of the skyline, and they also served the memory of that date, to memorialize that date," Lipson says. "Consumers were very much in favor of keeping Twin Towers on there. That was a big discussion."

For Lipson, the aisles of a supermarket represent a research lab. "You walk in there and there's all this visual stimuli," Lipson says. "You see what products are doing in each category. You go in there and see what the competition has done — the trends, the structure, the material.

"Do I enjoy it? It's very exciting to see your work in the marketplace."