When most people think of the Target brand, the image of a red and white bullseye often comes to mind. But Tim Murray, the company’s creative director and head of its Creative Vision Group (an internal consultancy that guides the creative strategy of the company), looked to change that when he was charged with directing the development of the graphic design system for Up & Up, Target’s standalone commodities brand.
When discussing the brand’s successful 2009 launch, Murray is quick to share credit with the Creative Vision Group and Wolf Ollins-the branding agency that Target partnered with. “Target is a company that has deep roots in collaboration,” he says. “We know we can’t do it alone and we know we need strong partners who can help us get where we want to go and who can also hold us up to our highest ideals.” Murray’s focus on collaboration and compromise is evocative of how he has approached design throughout his 20-year career.
Although a writer by training-Murray began his career as a copywriter for The Sharper Image-he says he is really a “brand guy” at heart. “I think of brands as living entities that have relationships with people and that have responsibilities, moods and friendships,” he explains. “And thinking about the good that brands can do in the lives of people is what I enjoy.”
Infusing that philosophy into his work at The Sharper Image, Murray helped craft a distinctive voice for the retail brand, then worked his way up to become creative director with responsibilities for visuals, layout and catalog design. He then went on to do similar work for Smith & Hawken. In 2004, Murray joined Target as a creative manager and, in 2009, was promoted to creative director. Today, he also leads the company’s Creative Vision Group.
After the brand was distilled down to the idea of elevating the everyday, Murray turned to packaging to communicate the new positioning. “Packaging has the last word. It is the part of the brand that is taken into her home and that she has the opportunity to interact with totally outside of the Target store experience,” he says. “We have a moment there where we can continue to communicate to her, either viscerally or directly, through the way that we contain the product.” Rather than go down the national brand path of loud graphics and bright designs, Murray and his team chose to keep it simple and clean with a classic white background and color-coded arrows. In some cases, they also used photography to identify the product (e.g., a lamb character for baby formula). “We wanted to create a new packaging system that elevated the guest’s everyday experience of buying commodities, but we didn’t want it to look expensive. It was a tricky balancing act,” Murray says.
That design challenge is further complicated by the constant tug of war between business and design. “I think that the biggest challenge, and this has been throughout my career, is convincing our business partners of the value that creativity brings to the organization, and that we belong at the table in the decision making, from beginning to end,” says Murray. As a result, he constantly strives for synergy. “I try to really understand the business problem that they are trying to solve, and then I hope to help them see that, while I am looking at it from a different perspective, we are both striving toward a common goal.”
The shared objective? Murray says it’s the goal of satisfying the guest-and that’s where he directs his energies. “By being able to get inside her head and walk [in] her shoes, that helps everybody focus on the right thing-making her life easier and more rewarding,” he says. “If we can all focus on that, then we have common ground to do what’s right for her.”
Murray is the first to acknowledge that this process is not easy, but he affirms that it is always enlightening. “We have people within the company who have a very strong point of view about promoting packaging innovation. And we have very strong merchants and business people who are looking at the metrics associated with loyalty and sales of particular brands. And they come to the table with different points of view,” he says. “[But] the magic comes out of that process-the friction creates sparks that can, if carefully managed, put something on the shelf that satisfies it all: the guest, the business side and the design aesthetic.”
Since Up & Up’s launch, the brand has had double digit, year-over-year growth, and Target hopes to continue that success by pushing the brand into new categories. Beyond Up & Up, Murray is constantly consulting with the owned brands team and with Target merchants to ensure that the packaging design systems keep Target’s owned brands in common categories (e.g., Archer Farms and Market Pantry in food or Target’s Home brand and Room Essentials line in home furnishings) teased apart. And as he continues to stretch the boundaries of what store brands can be, Murray looks forward to what he calls “a constant process of enlightenment, collaboration and compromise.”